Lucchesi elevated his golf game

GURNEE, Ill. – He began working on his game at the Portage Lake Golf Course at an early age, but Dino Lucchesi was able to beat the odds and gain a prominent spot in the game.

The 1980 graduate of Houghton High School is currently the club pro at the Bittersweet Golf Course in Gurnee, Ill. – a position he has held for the past decade.

But he’s also a five-time Illinois pro titleist and competed in a few PGA events, incliding the 2003 PGA championship at the Oak Hill (N.Y.) Country Club.

“Golf and hockey were the two sports I was really into growing up,” Lucchesi said recently. “The problem with golf was … that the season up here … wasn’t all that long.”

Starting at the age of 11, Dino was a constant presence at the PLGC.

“I would golf 18 holes in the morning, go for a swim in the afternoon and then golf another 18 holes after that,” he said. “I think I got to memorize every blade of grass on the course.”

Bob Backon, who was his golf coach at HHS, said Lucchesi was devoted to the sport.

“The thing about Dino was that he worked at his game almost constantly,” Backon recalled. “It was something he took very seriously.”

The late Verdie Cox, who was the pro at Portage Lake and a coach at Michigan Tech, also provided the youngster with sound advice.

“Verdie Cox was always willing to give you a tip on how to improve your game,” Lucchesi said. “And he was a great guy to boot.”

While the Gremlins had success during his prep career, they usually were looking up at Ontonagon when the big meets came up.

“That was during an era when Ontonagon had the Strong brothers,” Backon said. “They were very tough to beat in those days, and they dominated our conference and the U.P. Finals.”

When it came to hockey, Lucchesi was a mainstay on some very good HHS squads coached by the late Don Miller. Chuck Lower, Dan Ruohonen, Dean Kari and Phil Field were other standouts on those teams.

He was among the team scoring leaders his final two seasons and also gained all-LSHC and All-State honors.

“We had a good bunch of guys and we made it to the state tournament a couple of times,” Lucchesi said. “Mitt (Miller) was a great coach, he made the game fun to play.”

In the 1980 title game, the Gremlins lost to Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook by a 6-5 score.

Lucchesi enrolled at Ferris State, fully believing he would get a shot to play hockey. That didn’t happen because of what he termed as “inside politics” at FSU.

“I don’t want to get into it too much, but I don’t think I got a fair shake from the coaches at Ferris,” he said.

He shifted his attention to golf after that and it’s been a good decision.

Always long off the tee, he had the chance to refine his total game.

That led to him being named Illinois Player of the Year in 1993, 1997, 1998, 2001 and 2002.

In the 2003 PGA, he had the chance to observe players like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Jim Furyk up close. Ironically, the tournament was won by unknown Shaun Micheel. And although he was far off the pace, the experience was an “eye-opening one” for the Copper Country native.

He now instructs youngsters and adults on the finer points of the game at Bittersweet GC.

“It’s a great job and a great area to live in,” he said.

He and his wife, Tracey, have two sons, Gianni, 10, and Dominic, 7. Not surprisingly, both are involved in junior hockey and golf.

Having recently turned 51, Lucchesi would be eligible to join the PGA Seniors Tour.

“I would have to work on my game to even consider it,” he said. “And I still have two sons who will be involved in sports for a few more years.”

Dino gets up to the Houghton area once or twice a year to visit his father, Frank “Ace” Lucchesi, who golfed a lot in his younger years.

“I have good memories from my days in Houghton. I always had good teammates and good coaches. That’s important.”