Winslow native Eric Veilleux warms up on the range prior to playing in the U.S. Senior Open in July. At right is Veilleux’s son, Will. Photo provided by Eric Veilleux

Eric Veilleux knows his way around high-level professional golf tournaments. He caddied for the game’s greatest player for more than a few of them.

But when he arrived at the Omaha Country Club in July for the U.S. Senior Open, surrounded by players who used to dominate the sport, the Winslow native could feel the nerves.

“I’d be foolish to say I wasn’t (nervous),” Veilleux said. “I know a bunch of the guys, but it is different. … It’s different when you’re the guy hitting the ball.”

The experience turned into a positive one for Veilleux, 53, who missed the cut but got to soak in a high point of his career as a professional. It’s one that’s taken him from central Maine to Florida and the company of Jack Nicklaus, for whom he caddied and today works as the director of golf at The Bear’s Club, the 18-time major winner’s course in Jupiter, Florida.

“I like it as much today as I did when I first started,” said Veilleux, who’s been at The Bear’s Club since it opened in 1999. “I enjoy all aspects of the business and the industry. … I have no interest in going anywhere. I enjoy the club, I really enjoy who I work for.”

Veilleux shot rounds of 76 and 79 at Omaha Country Club, where the Senior Open was held from July 8-11. It was his first time playing in the event, which 2003 U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk won by three strokes over 2001 and ’04 U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen and 2003 Masters winner Mike Weir.

“I played OK. I didn’t play great, I missed the cut, but for a first one, it was fine,” said Veilleux, a Winslow High School and Thomas College alum. “Hopefully, we get there again, and maybe things are a little different.”

Veilleux got in through an 84-player qualifying event, in which the top two scores got automatic entries. Two players shot 71, Veilleux shot 72, and he got into the field as an alternate.

When he arrived at Omaha, Veilleux, who plays frequently in tournaments around South Florida, saw that the Senior Open venue was going to be a challenge on another level.

“The biggest difference was the amount of elevation to the golf course,” he said. “You expect the fairways to be narrow, you expect the rough to be thick and heavy. … It’s what you get when you go to a tournament like that. You know what’s coming, and you kind of prepare for it. You know you’re going to play 7,000 yards with narrow fairways, high rough and fast greens. Buckle up your chin strap and get in there.”

Eric Veilleux, a golf professional from Winslow, poses with son Will at Omaha Country Club during the U.S. Senior Open in July. Photo provided by Eric Veilleux

Veilleux said he was impressed by the setup of the event.

“They might have limited the gallery, but it was great,” he said. “The atmosphere was awesome. When you’re playing in a USGA event, there’s an element of excitement to it. People are excited about it.”

Veilleux’s favorite part, though, was being able to have his oldest son, Will, as his caddie.

“How can it get any better?” he said. “They announce it on the first tee, international open, my son’s on the bag. It makes you look back, right? Look where we’re at now. It was special.”

Veilleux has had quite the ride through the sport. At The Bear’s Club, he works at a course built by one of golf’s greatest ambassadors, and he works with members of all talent levels who are serious and passionate about the sport.

“It’s not a country club, per se. There’s no pool, there’s no tennis. It’s pure golf,” he said. “That’s what it’s a testament about, that’s what we’re there for. And the members love the game of golf.”

Veilleux said he enjoys all aspects of the job, be it the business, playing or teaching sides.

“I like it all. I think when you sign up to be a club pro, you sign up for all hats,” he said. “I like the dynamic of it. I love being around the club, I love dealing with members, I love teaching and playing the game. … I’ve always enjoyed that.”

It helps when your boss is Jack Nicklaus. Veilleux met Nicklaus in 1990 shortly after moving to Florida from Maine, and caddied for him for five years. He said meeting someone of Nicklaus’ stature in the sport was intimidating at first.

“When you first meet someone like that who you’ve only known as a great player, you see him on TV and that kind of stuff, and next thing you know you’re working for a guy like that, it takes you back a little bit,” he said.

Since then, however, Veilleux’s enjoyed a working relationship of more than 20 years with the six-time Masters champion, and he said he’s come to know Nicklaus as an approachable person.

“He treats everybody great, and treats everybody with respect,” he said. “It got really easy to be around him, because it was no different than being around regular people, I guess you would call it, even though he is an icon in the game of golf.”

Even all these years later, Veilleux still gets asked what it’s like to know, let alone work for, the golf legend.

“Without a doubt,” he said. “You get a lot of questions on what it’s like to work for a fellow like Jack. I’ve probably answered it a million times, but I’m fortunate.”

Veilleux doesn’t lose sight of that last point.

“I’ve had some cool opportunities over the years,” Veilleux said. “I’m nothing special, I just happen to work for one of the greatest players. But I’m the same guy. I’m still a young guy from Maine, that’s just how I like it.”

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.