Golf Art gallery to close after 22 years in Ridgefield
Skip Rooney has worked with some of the greatest golf clubs in the world — framing artwork and clubs and designing award trophies over the last three decades.
But it’s working with people who walk into his Golf Art showroom on Ridgefield’s Route 7 that he’ll miss the most.
“When I first started out, there was a lot of foot traffic,” he said. “People would come in and talk about golf’s impact on their family. Nowadays, it’s a lot slower ... I don’t need the gallery and retail space anymore, but I sure will miss having the shop and having people walk in and show them around. It’s those conversations and those interactions that kept me going.”
After 22 years in town, Rooney has decided to close up shop at the end of the year and enter into “semi-retirement.” He will be offering a special sale through Dec. 24 before moving out officially on Jan. 1.
“It’s an end of an era,” he said, “and that always gives you pause. ... You tend to ask yourself, ‘Is it the right time?’ I thought about that question and ultimately decided that it was time. Sometimes you have to go with your gut, and that’s the real reason why I’m retiring. I could do it another 10 years but then I wouldn’t have as much time to enjoy my life with my wife and my kids. I’m relatively healthy and I want to enjoy this part of my life with them.”
Rooney isn’t leaving Ridgefield entirely. He will still serve as landlord of the building at 609 Ethan Allen Highway (Route 7). His current tenant, Claudia Newmaker who owns Litchfield Hills Marble and Granite, will be expanding into his Golf Art space in the new year.
“That made my decision for me,” Rooney said. “Claudia was looking at other locations to expand and I asked her if she thought she could make it work if she had more space here and we got to talking about it and one thing led to another and now here we are. She’s very professional and we have a great business relationship. I’m happy to know that this part of the building will help serve her as she begins to display sinks and cabinets and all sorts of things here.”
In addition to maintaining a presence in Ridgefield, Rooney will continue working with some local clients — most notably Ridgefield High School.
“I’ve been doing the engraving and framing work for the graduation awards and plaques for years now,” he said. “All the sports teams, too.”
“... There are about 15 to 20 clients that I plan on keeping in the New York metro area, including some really prestigious clubs,” he added. “Golf tournament awards are a large part of my business and nobody ever thinks of it but that demand has never gone away. There are events going on all year long and that means there’s a lot of trophies.”
Rooney, who lives in Woodbury now but has had homes in Ridgefield and Wilton over the years, said he built his business on designing tournament awards before expanding into framing and engravings work.
“I learned how to do the framing by buying up old frames at second-hand shops and deconstructing them in my garage,” he explained. “I would take them apart just to put them back together — that’s how I learned the process. Then I invested in some framing equipment and was doing that at my home in Wilton for a while. Pieces were all over the place, though, so eventually I had to get my own space.”
Before opening the shop on Route 7, he sold artwork in a tiny shop in Wilton in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Prior to that experience, he was selling corporate art for a number of years before deciding to combine his two biggest passions — golf and fine art.
“I always liked art,” he said. “I was lucky. As a kid, I got to see to see all the great museums in Europe with my aunt and uncle and that really stuck with me as I grew up.”
Rooney also like music, and plays in a local band with Ridgefielder Chris Haines.
“We play guitar and sing together,” Rooney said. “It’s always been a fun outlet.”
Of course, golf has always been one of his main hobbies.
“I love thinking around a golf course: Which way is the wind blowing? What is the slope of that fairway?” he said. “It’s a brutal game though. It brings you to your knees. It’s a good way of grounding you. If you’re ever thinking highly of yourself, the course always has a way of bringing you back down a peg or two. And dealing with those challenges is what makes it fun.”
Growing the business
He grew his business like so many other entrepreneurs: by cold calling. Rooney personally phoned country clubs up and down the East Coast to get his foot in the door.
“I called a lot of clubs when I first started out,” he said. “One thing I learned early on that surprises some people is that this is the No. 1 area in the country for golf. People don’t realize it but all the golf pros in Florida come up here in the summer, and that’s because we have the best clubs. ... If you want to make a name in this business, this is where you have to work. And that’s because it’s steeped in golf history.”
Eventually Rooney made a good name for himself in the business.
“I noticed that I doing OK when the high-quality pieces started finding me,” he said. “When I first started out — for the first 10 to 15 years, I had to find the art.”
Rooney’s two favorite places are both area courses — Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y., and Shinnecock Hills Golf Course in Southampton.
“I’m really lucky to work with the greatest clubs in the nation. ... We’ve had a tremendous relationship with Winged Foot for the past 25 years,” he said. “I think it’s a top 10 golf course in the world.”
His corporate clients include: Pepsico, Credit Suisse, Sherwin Williams, Chase Bank, IBM, PGA National GC, The American Kidney Fund, Fordham University and The Jimmy Fund.
His private clients include both former and current United States presidents — Bill Clinton and Donald Trump. He’s also done work for the King of Morocco, Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead and Tom Watson — just to name a few.
“Trump was in the late 90s before he became who he is today,” Rooney recalled. “That’s right around when I first got into business here.”
Back to the basics
Thanks to the rise of online shopping, a physical gallery has become less of a necessity for small business owners like Rooney.
“Online shopping has changed what I do significantly,” he said. “But it’s not all bad. Thanks to the changing habits, I can go back to the basics and work from home and still maintain a business.”
Part of working from home means he will have to go to his clients — something he’s always enjoyed doing.
“I built it by calling clients and continued it with the same persistent attitude,” he said, “and oddly enough that’s what I’ll be doing again — going back on the road. Anything that doesn’t sell before the end of the year, I’m going to load up in my truck and start calling clubs and nearby restaurants to see if there’s any interest. ... It’ll all coming full circle.”
He’s worked with clubs all over America — from California and Arizona to Florida and South Carolina. He’s also worked internationally in Scotland and Ireland, and even received a web order from Tasmania once.
“They wanted a piece of Augusta,” he said. “They got the art from me but did the framing work over there. That’s pretty far for a piece of art. I always get a laugh out of it. The print was $50 and the shipping was almost twice that.”
In a business that has gifted him plenty of surprises over the years, Rooney is looking forward to what’s next — even though he admits not knowing what the future might hold for him.
“I don’t know yet,” Rooney said. “This is the first time I’ve gone down this road. ... Semi-retirement just felt right for me at this time. When your gut talks, you got to go with your gut so that’s what I’m doing.”
For more information on Litchfield Hills Marble and Granite, call 203-431-5770 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on Golf Art, visit golf-art.com or call 800-283-3344.