Bodenhamer Will be Missed in Northwest Golf Circles

By: Jeff Shelley

The appointment of John Bodenhamer as the senior managing director of Rules, Competitions & Amateur Status for the United States Golf Association comes with mixed emotions for those of us in the Pacific Northwest. The initial response is that we're happy the upper left-hand corner of our country will finally have a true representative in national golf circles, and that the world's largest amateur golf association will be getting such a classy guy.

It's also uncertain what impact Bodenhamer's move on August 1 from the Seattle area to USGA headquarters in Far Hills, N.J., will have out here on the "Left Coast." But it's clear that the legacy left by the fellow known to local golf insiders as JB is huge.

Since Bodenhamer took over the executive director position of the Pacific Northwest Golf Association in 1990, and as ED of the Washington State Golf Association two years later, I've worked closely with him in a variety of initiatives and projects. As a member of the inaugural PNGA Publications Committee, I was part of the group that helped shape Pacific Northwest Golfer magazine, a quarterly four-color publication that is now distributed to well over 100,000 members in British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

John's primary directive was to make the publication self-sufficient, with little or no subsidization by the association or its members. Though it's not sold on newsstands and is mailed directly to PNGA members at considerable cost, the magazine - primarily through ad sales - has managed, for the most part, to not require augmentation from association coffers to survive and, indeed, occasionally manages a nice little profit. It's also the best-looking and well-written golf magazine in these parts.

John also hired me to be the co-author - with Vancouver, B.C., historian Michael Riste, editor and de facto publisher of the PNGA's history book, "Championships & Friendships: The First 100 Years of the Pacific Northwest Golf Association." During our early discussions we hashed over what he envisioned for the book, which had to be completed in time for a black-tie ceremony at Seattle's Paramount Theater in early 1999, the association's centenary date.

We bandied about different ideas, evaluating cost options, design, book format and the like, all of which would help shape the ultimate printed product. In conjunction with the PNGA's Centennial Committee, JB had enough confidence in me to proceed with a Mercedez-Benz of books instead of a Volkswagen. We ended up with a 438-page, cofeetable-sized, four-color tome that weighs in at over 5 pounds.

John really wanted the book to be special, so each of the 3,000 copies was individually numbered (I believe he did the hand-lettered calligraphy for each book); the first 75 were leather-bound. When a good friend, Dr. John Wagner, a former president of the WSGA who writes golf book reviews for Cybergolf, later went back to the USGA Museum in Far Hills, he was told by the head librarian there that our book was the best of its kind ever written.

Much of that credit goes to JB, who trusted me and my wife Anni - the graphic designer - to pursue a fun non-"history" book with small chapters for easy readability; fanciful use of color and sidebars; lots of photographs of the people, golf courses, tournaments and places that helped shape the PNGA; and an index that still makes it the primary reference source for amateur golf in the Northwest.

During this time John and I also worked closely trying to see how best to further a relatively new nonprofit organization - the Northwest Golf Media Association - that I co-founded with Bob Spiwak. Bob lived apart from it all in north-central Washington and I was in Seattle, trying to broaden the scope of the NWGMA to various news outlets and establishing the group as an entity that would encourage media in the region to promote and support golf in our region.

John, a founding NWGMA member, helped me with creating bylaws and a hierarchy with elected officers. We asked Angie Wean, the PNGA's director of publications at the time, to serve as the original NWGMA executive director (a position with a modest annual stipend) and to help with mailings, meeting agendas and all the myriad other "administrative" details that were bogging me down. He also put me in contact with an accountant who stepped me through the requirements of the NWGMA becoming a nonprofit organization; we're now a 501c7 group.

John's attention to detail is legendary, from the crafting of the bylaws catered to our organization, to his editing of the PNGA history book, to his oversight of the magazine, to the huge upgrades in PNGA championships that will forever bear his indelible mark.

Another trait of JB's is his unabashed modesty; the guy simply won't accept plaudits when they're thrown his way. (Indeed, he insisted that his story didn't warrant a chapter in the PNGA history book; I won that argument and am glad I did.) If John reads this encomium he'll probably start blushing.

Perhaps his greatest legacy is the creation of The Home Course in DuPont, Wash., south of Tacoma, the city where John grew up and developed into a top-notch amateur player. The process to obtain the course, which was built by a development arm of Weyerhaeuser on the former Superfund site of a DuPont explosives plant, was tense and arduous. But in the end, JB - along with a dedicated team of volunteers (I was on the original maintenance committee working with the superintendent) - pulled off the improbable and attained a long-held dream of Bodenhamer's and the PNGA.

Despite the country's economic travails and the downturn in golf rounds, The Home Course has done well, offering low-cost green fees on a venue that was considered good enough to serve as the second stroke-play course for the 2010 U.S. Amateur Championship at Chambers Bay in nearby University Place.

In a June 9th "Note to Friends" announcing his decision to move East and go to work for the USGA, Bodenhamer said, in part: "This decision was extremely difficult for me personally, as well as for my family. It has been a true labor of love to have worked alongside so many dedicated volunteers, fellow staff, and friends who care deeply about the good of the game of golf and our Associations. I will always consider these the best years of my life."

He then listed his fondest memories:

His first day in the office on March 1, 1990.
The reorganization of the WSGA that commenced in August 1992.
Tiger Woods' victory in the 1994 PNGA Men's Amateur Championship at Royal Oaks CC (in Vancouver, Wash.).
The PNGA Centennial Gala at Seattle's Paramount Theater with Fred Couples, Peter Jacobsen, JoAnne Carner and Anne Sander being honored during a magnificent black-tie evening.
Acquiring The Home Course on May 30, 2007, and opening it just 29 days later!
Hosting the 100th U.S. Amateur at The Home Course this past summer.

For me personally, my fondest memories of JB are his unerring kindness and politeness toward me, my wife and daughter; his sense of detail (he was the one who came up with the idea of using wooden TNT sticks for the back tees at The Home Course); his preparation for every daunting task presented him (including soothing innumerable touchy issues over the past two decades with club and course members before, during and after the annual WSGA and PNGA meetings); and above all, his uncommon courtesy which, in this day and age, is rare indeed.

So who will replace John Bodenhamer and carry on his tradition of selfless and skilled leadership of the PNGA and WSGA?

It's hard to say. But when someone says he or she will need big feet to fill John's shoes, they'd better be size 14 or larger.

Jeff Shelley is Cybergolf's editorial director.