John Heine, Orlando Pioneer

As I watch the Arnold Palmer event at Bay Hill I’m reminded so much of John Heine.

In October 1966 John Heine and Mil Radler picked me up at the Freeport Airport as I started my job as an assistant at the King’s Inn.  John had a bit of a black eye, something to do with Mil Radler but forgotten.  Over the next three winter seasons John taught me quite a bit, about clothing colours (“don’t wear brown shoes with blue slacks”), socks (“if you must wear socks, they should be black”), VO on the rocks, differences between people from different states, always try to be a gentleman, the Marines (John was a Marine), brownstones, Battle Creek and Kelloggs – he taught me a lot and we had too much fun on the Swing’s the Thing staff. I taught him about Canada, sort of.

By 1970 we went separate ways, John moved to Orlando (“it’s going to become big”) and became the Pro/Manager of Cannongate Golf Facility.  It had a busy range and became home to many players who were playing in the new mini-tours, such as The Goosie Tour.  John friended many of the young and broke players, including one steel worker Walter Zembriski.  After a couple years John never heard from the owners of his property but he “managed” until finally someone showed up and said they owned the course, “what do we owe you?” .  Apparently it had gone through various ownerships, one being Joe Lee, Dick Wilson’s protégé.    Mike Mealia was one of the young players that I “sent” to John one winter.  When they sold the place John did OK.

Walt did quite well under John, cleaned up on the mini-tours then did great on the PGA Seniors Tour (Champions Tour).  John did everything for Walt, gave him his clothing marked Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc.  John Brindle became a PGA TOUR official and John looked after his place while he was away for weeks at a time.  John kept buying annuities for Walt,  I remember one Superbowl at John’s place, Charley Sifford and Walt trying to figure out what million dollar annuities were.

I got to visit and stay with John whenever I could.  He had a nice place on Dr Phillips drive, close to Bay Hill.  We played Bay Hill several times, loved the course even before Arnie added the rocks on 18 and other improvements for the Tour.  We played Disney’s courses quite a bit, John knew every young “pro” in Orlando.  He introduced me to Michael Eisner at Disney one morning, “Who the Hell are you John?  I know you are our only member, but who are you?”.  We went to many Orlando Tragic games, John was an original season ticket holder, four tickets on the front row mid court.  Later the owners bought back his tickets, giving John two in the second row and two a bit higher.  Great experience, watching half the game from one location, then after visiting the Clubhouse at half time, enjoying the second half from the other spot.  “Down in front” was John’s favourite cheer, meaning “lookie here, something notable is walking by”.  I only like basketball Heine style.  He could tell every stripper by their plastic surgeon, he knew all of both.  They went to Magic games, Doctors in the front rows, patients walking endlessly.  Down in Front.

Then in the late 1990s John was being sued by Walt’s daughter.  It really hurt him, his lawyer said he shouldn’t be seen at the basketball games (“the lawyer  used the tickets”) and John wasn’t the same anymore.  The case dragged on, cost a couple million, John won in the end, but other events had started to happen.  I won’t mention them, because I wasn’t there to help a friend.

John shot himself with his Marine 45.  A gentleman to the end he did it in his bathroom, surrounded by towels and phone books to absorb stuff.

I still feel that he shot the wrong person.  I know he did.   He’d love what Orlando has become, he predicted it.  RIP John Heine.

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Gary Slatter

Venerable Canadian golf pro Gary Slatter discusses his opinions on the state of golf, golf course design and construction, teaching and more, based on a lifetime in the business.

3 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Gary another great remembrance. You’ve done your friend proud. I now feel that I know John and am sure that you’ll keep him alive in your heart.

  • I knew John from 70-75 and we played golf together. He helped me with my game for nada. He was a kind and gentle soul.He got us in to Bay Hill to walk the fairways with Arnie and Gary Player in an exhibition. What a day!

  • I have been searching for answers as to what really happened to Mr.Heine. I just remember one day calling his condo at Bay View reserve & Denise telling me “he’s gone”, I recall breaking down in my car crying. Amazing man, at 11 years old he taught me how to play the sport I love till this day…I can write about him forever, love & miss him so much. Thanks for this article.

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