Sullivan: A hot summer for the first family of Tonawanda golf
John Edholm Jr. has loved golf ever since picking up a club for the first time at 12 years old. In the early ’90s, he left home to attend Coastal Carolina, in the Myrtle Beach area of South Carolina. He tried out for the Coastal golf team but found out he was a little bit over his head.
Edholm didn’t make the team, but he found the best prize of all, a member of the women’s golf and volleyball teams who would one day become his wife. Laura, a native of Vero Beach, Fla., was a four-year volleyball star for the Chanticleers, but she quit the golf team after two seasons.
“I kicked myself for not continuing the golf,” she said. “But it is what it is. I got a lot out of it. I was a shy freshman, far away from home. I can still picture it, a business-sized card that said ‘Coastal’ and ‘Myrtle Beach.’ I could play absolutely any golf course for free. I didn’t use it at all.”
Laura and John fell in love and she wound up even farther from her Florida roots. After graduating, she became the rare soul who moved to Western New York from the south during that time, rather than the other way around.
“John’s mom has always said, ‘When we knew you guys were serious, we thought we lost him to the South forever,’” Laura said with a laugh. “Little did she know I would uproot and move north. It was so funny. I moved up here before we were engaged and everyone thought I was nuts. You’re moving to Buffalo and you’re not even engaged?”
Laura moved to Buffalo, raised two boys and went to work in the Medaille athletic department. She also became part of what you might call the First Family of Tonawanda golf. Really, has any family made a bigger mark on the sport in the town over the last three decades?
John Edholm Sr., the patriarch, was a fixture at the Brighton course for years. He owns a home along the par-3 17th hole, where he’ll often walk out with a beer to greet friends walking up to the green. John Sr. won a club championship in the Champs class in 1999, the same year he bought The Grill at the Dome, the thriving restaurant and bar inside the Paddock Chevrolet Golf Dome.
His other son, Josh, runs the Grill and is a pretty fair golfer when he finds the time. John Jr. runs Sportzone, which houses seven sports simulators systems across the hall from the restaurant. John Jr. is also one of five investors who bought Pendleton Creek Golf Creek on Tonawanda Creek Road — formerly Tan Tara — in March of 2021.
Last summer, Laura Edholm won the first women’s club championship at Pendleton Creek — one week after her son, Ryan, won the men’s title shortly before starting his college golf career as a freshman at Canisius College. He narrowly beat his older brother, Tyler, for the title.
But this summer has been the most memorable yet for the Edholms. Last month, Ryan was medalist with a career-low 65 in the New York State Amateur qualifier at Lancaster CC. On Sunday, he returned from a family golf trip to the Ozarks and defended his title at Pendleton Creek with a one-stroke victory.
It gets even better. Tyler, who plays for Niagara (he’ll be a grad student in the fall), failed to qualify for the State Am last month. But he entered the “Last Chance” qualifier in Syracuse on Sunday and was medalist by four shots with a 68. On Tuesday, he and Ryan will both compete in the first round of the State Am at Onondaga Golf and Country Club in Fayetteville, just east of Syracuse.
“It’ll be fun to be competing against him,” said Tyler, who tied for 31st in last year’s State Am. “It’s always a good battle. On vacation last week, we split pretty even down the middle. I got him sometimes, he got me sometimes. There’s an iron-sharpens-iron thing. We’re always making each other better. It’s always a battle. My mom always gives us a good run, too.”
From a young age, Laura and John Jr. impressed on the boys the need to honor the game, to play golf with integrity and to represent the family well
“My mom always said when we were growing up, ‘You’re an Edholm,’” Tyler said. “‘Everybody knows you. You need to act like you know what you’re doing and be smart.’ So, it’s very important to us to represent our name in a good way.”
The boys have done that in three sports. Tyler and Ryan both played hockey, baseball and golf at Sweet Home High and were captains. That says a lot about how they were perceived by their coaches and teammates. Tyler was a senior and Ryan a freshman on the Sweet Home team that won a state hockey championship in 2018. Tyler had three goals in the final.
“That was one of the moments I’ll always remember,” John Jr. said. “They both qualified for the states every year in golf. Sweet Home almost dropped golf after Tyler left. They were down players. Ryan actually recruited some of his baseball and hockey teammates to play in the fall so they could have a team. He turned a few of them into golfers too and they still play together.”
John Jr. caddied for Ryan in the State Am qualifier and will be on his bag Tuesday. Tyler’s caddie when he was medalist in the Last Chance qualifier on Sunday was Joe Torrillo, a close pal and former Sweet Home teammate who played on that state title hockey team.
In fact, Torrillo was texting back and forth Sunday afternoon with his father, Mike, a member at Pendleton Creek. Mike would update Joe on Ryan’s match in the club final. Joe filled him on Tyler’s performance in Syracuse. Ryan wound up winning a second straight title by one shot on the final hole.
John Jr., who never seems to stop smiling, said it was a crazy weekend for the Edholms. Ryan and Tyler flew back on Friday and literally had to run to get their connection in Chicago. They were worried about their golf clubs, but the clubs made it home, too. The rest of the family drove back from Missouri.
“We just got back from the Ozarks about 1:30 on Sunday,” John Sr. said. “So about 2:15 we went over to Pendleton and watched Ryan on the last four holes. At the same time, we were getting updates (from Torrillo) on Tyler. He shoots 68 with a 7 on a par-5!”
So, who is the best golfer in the family? At this point, Tyler and Ryan appear to be dead-even. Their grandfather says Ryan, who turned 19 last week, is ahead of where his brother was at this stage of his career.
“I’d like to think so,” Ryan said. “It goes back and forth between me and my brother. My mom’s up there, too. It can go all three ways, depending on who’s having a day. It’s fun when me and Tyler get in good matches. It makes me better and keeps me wanting to get better to beat him.”
John Jr. won back-to-back club championships at Brighton in 1995-96. He and Laura were both club champions when they were members at Bridgewater in Fort Erie. Work and raising kids made it hard to stay sharp, but they’ll play more now that the boys are grown. Oh, Laura will defend her women’s club championship at Pendleton Creek next weekend.
The boys are in the spotlight now, and the older folks all agree that the most important thing is that they conduct themselves with class, that they dignify the great sport of golf and the Edholm name.
“It feels great,” John Sr. said about both boys making it into the State Am. “But the thing that I feel the best about is they’re great kids. They’re humble; they’re respectful, and they’re just good, good kids. They make me very proud.”
John Sr. said both his grandsons appear to be taking their game to a higher level. After those amazing medalist performances in the two qualifiers, he said it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them contend in the State Am this week.
“That (65) was my best ever,” Ryan said. “I think I hit 13 of 14 fairways and 16 of 18 greens. Everything clicked. I chipped in for eagle and made another putt for eagle. Everything was really good. You shoot that score, you can get to thinking big. But I’ve had some big numbers, too, so it kind of keeps me honest.”
Laura said the rivalry between her sons is “awesome” and she’s glad to know that John Jr. will caddy for Ryan in the State Am, keeping him at an even keel over a three-day tourney.
“It doesn’t get any better than that,” she said. “I’m jealous. I’ve offered my services, but they haven’t taken me up on it.”
She’s not lacking for things to occupy her these days. Talk about a great month for the family. Just before the Edholms left on that annual golf trip to the Ozarks, Laura was named the athletic director at Medaille University, where she has worked in the athletic department for 25 years.
Laura is the men’s golf coach at Medaille. John Sr. once served as the men’s coach, with Marlene Davis as his assistant. Laura coached the Medaille women’s bowling team to three consecutive conference titles (and was AMCC coach of the year all three years) before turning the reins over to Jeff Walsh two years ago.
Oh, there’s volleyball connections in the family. Josh Edholm’s two daughters play college volleyball. Dana plays at Keuka and Erica will be a freshman at St. John Fisher this fall. Laura enjoys seeing the volleyball tradition carried on by the Edholms.
“I do, I do!” she said. “And they’ll be coming to Medaille, so that’ll be fun for me to have them come and play in my gym, in my sport.”
There’s a lot of resilience in this family, and much of it derives from someone who stands back in the shadows — Sharey Edholm, wife of John Sr. and the matriarch of the clan.
“My mom is probably the toughest person I know,” said John Jr.. “Oh, yeah. She’s been battling MS for 30 years. Her mobility isn’t what it used to be. But she still delivers Meals on Wheels once a week. She won’t give in to it. She’s something else. We all draw a lot of thankfulness from that.
“Nothing slows her down,” he said. “She’s determined.”
Evidently, it runs in the family.
Jerry Sullivan is an award-winning journalist who joined the News 4 team in 2020 after three decades as a sports columnist at The Buffalo News. See more of his work here.