If you’re from Ontario County and play golf, there’s a good chance you have a story or two about Roc Furfare, who ran Winged Pheasant Golf Links in Farmington. My experience with Rocco occurred in the summer of 1969 when I was 10 years old. I remember my father taking my brother and me to the Winged Pheasant golf course and walking into the pro shop to register for our first nine holes. We only had one golf bag with eight clubs, but four of them were left-handed for my brother. My father was a well-known basketball coach and teacher at a local high school, and when my brother and I were formally introduced to Roc, it wasn’t a complete surprise to me when it was apparent that my dad already knew him. After paying the greens fees, I couldn’t help but notice that Roc was whispering something in my father’s ear. I learned later that Mr. Furfare told my father that we could go ahead and play the round, and if we liked the game and continued to play, perhaps we might want to check out his discount on bags and clubs. Unlike most golfing establishments, which would have turned us away, Roc gave us an opportunity to play and in his own way, showed us proper golf etiquette.
East Rochester roots
Rocco was born in 1922 to parents Thomas Furfari and Harriet Bontiempo. His father was 14 years old when he immigrated to the United States from Calabria, Italy. Shortly after his arrival, Thomas learned the masonry trade and became one of the masons to build the stone wall that surrounds the Sonnenberg Mansion in Canandaigua. For a while the Furfari family resided on the corner of Jay and Kent on the north side of the city of Rochester, but they eventually settled in East Rochester. It was here that Rocco and his buddies Pooch Durant, Boom Scumaccio and the Urzetta brothers worked as caddies after school. Among the golf clubs for which they worked were: Oak Hill, Monroe Golf Club, the Country Club of Rochester, and the Irondequoit Country Club. Rocco preferred working at the Irondequoit Country Club because there the caddies were treated quite well by the predominately Jewish membership, who would send a car to pick them up, buy them lunch and even invite them to an occasional golf outing.
Off to war
After graduating from high school, Roc enlisted in the Army Air Corp. As a result of his small stature and high scores on the motor-reflex test, Roc was placed in gunner school. Following his training he was assigned as a nose gunner on a B24 with the 756th Squadron. With World War II in full swing, Rocco found himself in peril over European soil.
In 1944 Thomas and Harriet Furfari experienced a parent’s worst nightmare when they were informed that their son had been shot down and was missing in action. Rocco had been shot down during a bombing run over the coast of Italy, but he had bounced off the Adriatic Sea and was resting on a sand bar near Rimini.
Though the crew had survived the crash, they were far from being clear of enemy advances. Some were later killed by German patrols while others became prisoners of war. Rocco survived, however, and because of his ability to speak Italian, he was able to get along better than those who couldn’t speak the language. He eventually found a barn to hide in and a civilian who fed him and gave him a change of clothes. His fear of being recognized by a fascist and turned over to the Nazis reached its pinnacle when he learned of a prisoner exchange for the anti-fascist. He had no choice but to flee and made a run for the British lines at night. On the way he encountered Gurkha soldiers who were fighting alongside the British.
Before being sent home after the war, Rocco was admitted to a Cincinnati hospital and treated for wounds he had received prior to the crash. He knew when he got home he could expect to eat his mother’s pasta fagioli and catch up with his buddies from East Rochester. Shortly after being discharged he took advantage of the G.I. Bill and enrolled in college. In 1949 he graduated with honors from Cornell University with a degree in English literature and journalism. He then became a journalist for a local Rochester newspaper. One of the highlights of this job was when he covered legendary golfer Ben Hogan.
From classroom to golf course
Over the next several years, Rocco began teaching high school English for Bloomfield Central School. He was well respected by teachers and students alike, and was named departmental chairperson. Though he enjoyed teaching, his passion for golf still remained, so he decided to build a driving range behind DiPacific’s restaurant in Farmington, on the corner of routes 332 and 96. Soon after, Rocco’s brother, Pete, and Frank Commisso purchased the nearby Power farm for $10,000 and began to turn it into a golf course. A year later Rocco bought Frank Commisso’s share and by the mid-1960s the course, called “Winged Pheasant,” was completed.
Since its inception Winged Pheasant has added subsequent holes, including “The Liberator” in 1976 and then “The Roc” in 2005 (the latter named in memory of Rocco himself). Today the Furfari lineage is carried on through Rocco’s sons, Peter and Phillip. Peter, who also graduated from Cornell University, manages the business while Phillip continues to succeed as one of the area’s top course superintendents.
Throughout the years, many interesting characters have set foot on the greens of Winged Pheasant: Frank Stetson, whose Scottish anecdotes prevailed over deer flies; Otis Schuppenhauer, who was notorious for playing before sunrise; and Walter Benjamin, who always wore a sport jacket. Though these men made Winged Pheasant an interesting golf course, it was ultimately Rocco who made the course what it was and is today. Memories of him will no doubt continue to be told by the regulars: Nino Macri, Dom Vitticore, Tom Coyne, Mike Taylor, Steve and Eddie Tills, Isaac Moses, Stu Gwilt, Red Ricci, Brian Bissell, Jeff Yonker, Charlie Zonneville, Butch Getner, Josh and Jake Allen, Rick Beaton, Scott Forbes, Doc Albright, Bill Henry, Chucky Howell, Doug Nicot, Bob Romeiser, Rusty Munn and the Barry boys – Jack, Chris, Ryan and John.
For me, the spirit of Rocco J. Furfare lives on when I’m playing the 13th hole. As the winds whistle through the pines, I hear a whisper: “You can still make par. Now take out your eight-iron and choke down … remember: short back swing. That’s it, good job. You now have a 2-foot putt for par.”
by Tim Munn
Legends, Landmarks and Locals is the fourth book by historian Tim Munn. Using over 300 photographs and dozens of interviews, Munn offers a rare glimpse of Ontario County by uncovering the stories of its people and places. The book includes a surname index with over 1,000 names. It is available from the Ontario County Historical Society in Canandaigua, OCHS.org.