How did Dick Bennett, from Greenhaven Golf Course, become the only person with a public golf background to serve as a member of the prestigious USGA Executive Committee?
A book could be written about Dick Bennett! Maybe it will. Maybe it should be. Every time we chat, I learn about a whole new segment of Dick’s life.
Dick Bennett’s lifelong golf adventure began 76 years ago as a caddie at Greenhaven Golf Course in Anoka. He was 10 years old. He joined the Greenhaven Men’s Club as a young man and served as Men’s Club President for eight years starting in 1982. “As Men’s Club President, I spent a lot of time at the MGA office. I became a Tournament Volunteer and worked with the Minnesota Public Golf Association.”
Early in his golf life, Dick developed an infatuation with Major Championship golf, especially the U.S. Open Championship. He has attended twelve U.S. Opens. “The drama is like nothing else in sport,” he says. “The U.S. Open, at Baltusrol in 1980, was my first. I witnessed Jack Nicklaus beating Isao Aoki on the 18th. I still recall the orange and brown stripped shirt that Nicklaus was wearing.”
Dick enjoyed a wonderful career with AT&T as a sales executive. He smiles as he says, “I worked for AT&T for 32 years, I have been retired longer than that, and they are still paying me.”
While working for AT&T, Dick was exposed to Hazeltine and met Reed Mackenzie. Hazeltine was the venue for the 1983 U.S. Senior Open. That year became a milestone in Dick’s life.
AT&T purchased a hospitality tent located on the dog-leg of the tenth hole overlooking the green and Hazeltine Lake. Dick was selected to manage all of the details for AT&T’s tent. “My relationship with Reed Mackenzie, lifelong member at Hazeltine and future president of the USGA, started there and then blossomed. Buying 800 weekly passes to the Senior Open was a big deal.”
Dick retired from AT&T in 1986, with his mind focused on serving the public golf community during his post-retirement years. The following year, Dick received an appointment to the USGA Public Golf Committee. As a member of that committee, Dick worked behind the scenes to bring the 1992 USGA Amateur Public Links Championship to Edinburgh USA in Brooklyn Park. He served on the Tournament Committee for the very successful event and when the Public Links Championship returned to Rush Creek Golf Club in 2004, Dick was Chairman of the event.
With an abundance of time on his hands, Dick joined the MGA golf course rating team in 1990. He has rated most of the golf courses in Minnesota. Individual course rating and slope are used to adjust an individual golfer’s handicap when a player moves from course to course. Each hole on every golf course is rated based on difficulty to make a par. Hole length is a major factor, but bunkers, penalty areas, green contours and other factors are included. Dick Bennett has rated over 850 golf courses worldwide, including Augusta National. (That is a story in itself.) At almost every golf course he has rated, Dick has met the owners, golf professional and superintendent.
One of Dick’s favorite stories involves ratings golf courses in the Philippines. At the request from the Philippines Golf Association, the USGA sent a group of golf course raters to the islands for a month to rate their top golf courses. Dick was a member of the group who rated 60 golf courses on many different islands. “We were treated like royalty during the trip. We even met the President of the country.”
Later Dick was invited back to the Philippines, alone, for another month to rate another 30 golf courses.
Reed Makenzie, USGA Executive, Hazeltine founding member, MGA Director and MGA President observed Dick as he worked a variety of jobs for the MGA and as a committee member for the USGA Public Golf Committee. Reed was impressed with Dick’s passion for golf, work ethic and organizational skills.
One day Reed asked Dick, “Have you heard from the USGA yet?”
“No, what would they be calling me for?” Dick answered.
“I can’t say, but they will be calling you.”
The next day Dick got a call and was invited to join the Executive Committee of the USGA. “They sent me a plane ticket and I was picked up by a limo. I have to say that a little guy from Greenhaven was pretty impressed. At the first meeting, I brought up the need for a 9-hole handicap. The Executive Committee was made up of private course players. I was asked, ‘Are there many golfers who play only 9-holes?’ We now have a 9-hole handicap.”
In 1993 The U.S. Open boomerang returned to Baltusrol. Riding that boomerang back to Baltusrol was Dick Bennett returning to the scene of his first U.S. Open this time as a member of the USGA Executive Committee. “As I was walking inside the ropes, I kept thinking, ‘What is a guy from Greenhaven doing here?’”
Among his awards Dick Bennett has received the Ike Granger Award from the USGA, The Warren J. Rebholz, Distinguished Service Award from the MGA, an award from the Minnesota Public Golf Association. He was also a member of the Western Golf Association Executive Committee.