When George McNeill isn’t playing golf, driving his tractor, fishing, boating, cutting down trees or mending fences, he enjoys continuing a family tradition: The long-time PGA Tour professional is a private pilot who enjoys flying’s challenges and its serenity.
“I just like being up there; it’s quiet,” says McNeill, a native of Naples who lives in North Fort Myers. “I am just paying attention to what aircraft control is saying. I am usually following a flight plan, so I am also paying attention to that. I am in control. If something goes wrong
it’s my responsibility. But I don’t mind that; I’m all for it.”
McNeill, 44, who attended North Fort Myers High School and was an All-American golfer at Florida State University, also appreciates the joy of flying as a family tradition. His father is a pilot and worked for the Federal Aviation Administration. His nephew, like his father, is an aircraft mechanic. McNeill’s grandmother was an aeronautics pioneer. She was a pilot and an airplane owner more than a half-century ago.
“For a woman back in the ’60s to fly and have her own plane was very rare,” McNeill says. “Flying has been in my family for a long time; it’s in my blood.”
His zest for flying has worked well in his more than 20-year pro career. “I flew to quite a few tournaments, but I don’t play as much as I used to,” says McNeill, whose six pro wins include PGA Tour titles in the 2007 Frys.com Open in Las Vegas and 2012 Puerto Rico Open. “But a while back, I figured out it takes two things to fly: time and money. So once you have that, you can pursue it.”
McNeill currently has provisional (part-time) playing privileges on the PGA Tour. He finished tied for sixth earlier this season at the Sanderson Farms Championship in Mississippi, and also had one top-10 finish last season. But he’s finished outside the top 200 the past two seasons.
McNeill’s passion for flying is also shared by half a dozen other current and former PGA Tour players. Like other golfers who share hobbies from wine collecting to RVing, the golfing pilots sometimes gather to discuss their mutual interest. Neill still flies when his schedule allows.