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Middletown golf instructor wins prestigious World Golf Teachers Federation award

MIDDLETOWN — A career educator and major figure in the Middletown area golf community who has taught countless area players the basics and fine points of the game recently received the Teachers Award from the World Golf Teachers Federation.

This was the second time George Claffey of Berlin won the global award, and he is among only seven US golf coaches to receive the award for the 2022-23 period. He first won the prestigious award in 2010.

The federation represents more than 35,000 golf instructors worldwide.

Claffey, retired from a career as a school principal and educator for more than 40 years, has numerous ties to the Middletown-area golf community. He founded and continues to teach all golf classes for the city’s recreation division.

He is also the golf pro at Miner Hills in Middletown, and Torza’s Golf, a golf practice facility and driving range in Cromwell. Plus, he teaches junior clinics at the Timberlin Golf Course in Berlin, and for the First Tee of Connecticut in Cromwell.

“As an educator for over 40 years, we always try to make a difference in the lives of others,” said Claffey, “and sometimes we will reach people in a way in which we will always be remembered.”

The federation, in announcing the awards, said award recipients were selected for their “teaching acumen and accomplishments.”

In nominating Claffey for the reward, Torza’s owner Jodi D. Onofrio said he is “highly educated in … teaching, and his passion is clearly seen with each student with whom he works.”

One thing that sets Claffey apart is the fee — a lesson costs $25. Onofrio says he could get much more. “I have often suggested that he raise his prices, but his response is always the same… ‘I’m not looking to make a ton of money. … I just really enjoy teaching and helping people and that’s why I do it.’”

In addition to the uniquely affordable rate, Claffey said his ability to coach for different skill levels sets his coaching apart from others. “I teach a diverse group in terms of ability: from raw beginners to advanced players,” he said. “I individualize the lessons.”

He said he gives up to 50 lessons a week, and estimates he has taught thousands of people from 3 to 80. He estimated that 85 percent of his clients are either 12 and under, and older than 55.

Claffey has run the recreation program for 10 years on Mondays. He teaches youth in the late afternoon, followed by the adults.

He said the program began modestly and expanded to using the Miners Hill course. “The number of participants has grown, and the facilities have gotten better,” Claffey pointed out.

One of his goals has been to increase awareness that Miner Hills is a resource for area residents. “That’s where everyone in Central Connecticut seems to have learned to play golf from me — at Miner Hills,” Claffey noted.

Mark Moriarty, executive director of First Tee Connecticut, which uses golf as a vehicle to teach youth life skills, said Claffey’s education background makes him ideal to teach the game to young people.

“George’s background and understanding of how school works and how to work with parents is perfect for us,” Moriarty said. “He has incredible charisma, and that helps make sure the kids enjoy the classes and are engaging in the program. Whether it’s young kids or older kids, he’s as enthusiastic as anyone.”

Claffey said his gratification comes from enabling people to play a great game. “You want them to feel comfortable, enjoy the game, and get better at it,” he said. “And when people tell me they are getting better, it is really satisfying. I had a girl text me when she hit a drive on to the green. That means the world to me.

“You’ll hear people say, ‘George taught that to me,'” he said.