Rebbie Turns 90
March 21, 2018
In honor of former MGA Executive Director, Warren J. Rebholz, celebrating his 90th birthday today, we have reprinted a feature from his retirement in the fall 1992 issue of Minnesota Golfer magazine.
Rebbie Leaves MGA With a Rich Legacy
By Les Layton
As the warm fall sun streamed through the fourth-floor office windows, Warren Rebholz got up and tugged at the pants that always seem to be just one inhaled breath from dropping around his ankles.
He sat down at the conference room table located in front of his desk in his comfortable Edina office . . . but then he quickly got up again to straighten a commemorative
picture he received not long ago at Shinnecock Hills' Centennial Celebration. He looked out through an office window at the beautiful fall colors, itching to get outside for a casual game at Hazeltine on this spectacular fall day.
The Shinnecock clubhouse photo from the famous U.S. Open course where Raymond Floyd won the national championship in 1986 is among many special treasures in his MGA office. It sits not far from the personally signed leader board cards from Tony Jacklin, Payne Stewart and Billy Casper. All three won national championships at Hazeltine National Golf Club, where this man known to golfers throughout the world as "Rebbie" has been a charter member for the past 30 years.
Hazeltine also is the club he helped build into one of the nation's most famous and respected, serving as president and in many other roles -including being personally involved in just about every change that enabled it to shed its 1970 "cow pasture" reputation to become one of the United States Golf Association's (USGA) premier U.S. Open sites.
The persistent efforts of Rebholz and former MGA President Reed Mackenzie, now a USGA executive committee member, convinced the USGA to bring the open back to Hazelttne, enabling the club to add $2.8 milion to its coffers from the tremendously successful 1991 event in which Rebholz was so instrumental.
Although he'll be doing part-time work at the MGA for at least two years, Rebbie is retiring this year from the state golf organization he has built into one that top USGA officials readily call one of the nation's finest. Under Rebholz, golf has flourished in Minnesota, which is the only state selected to host every USGA national championship.
The state has more golfers per capita than any other and some of the nation's finest players. The MGA now stages 10 excellent state tournaments for players of all age groups and has devised an innovative points system to rank the top players, including juniors and seniors.
John Harris, one of the United States' top amateurs and a former PGA Tour player, says Rebholz has fathered most of what has put a star next to Minnesota on the country's golfing map. Local golf officials - as well people from around the country - recently honored Rebbie at a special dinner atWoodhill Country Club hosted by current MGA President Dick Howell. Many marked the occasion as the passing of an era, a legend leaving our midst to become a monument of our past. Ross Galarneault, his long-time assistant, has been named to replace Rebholz effective January 1.
Although he'll be 65 in March, Rebholz could have remained the MGA s chief executive for many more years. Ifs not as though he's retiring to play more golf. And the only fishing he does is looking for his errant golf shots in water hazards. But Rebholz remembers the late Al Wareham, the MGA s only prior executive director, being forced to retire at 75. Wareham threw the keys on a small office desk one day and bitterly told Rebholz that he was now in charge of the state's golf association. His annual pay then: $15,000. His first assistant lasted one day, never returning after stuffing tournament entry forms into envelopes all day. When to leave was a Wareham lesson that Rebbie never forgot.
"I don't want to stick around and become inefficient," Rebholz said, sipping on a Diet Coke and eating lunch at his conference room table . . . just as he has done so often over the past two decades when he isn't out running one of a constantly growing number of popular state golf tournaments or traveling around the country for a USGA or golf administrators meeting. I want to give others an opportunity (to run the MGA). As you get older, you don't have as much enthusiasm and you're not as mentally sharp. You gradually lose those things."
No one who has worked with him, including fellow 1991 U.S. Open Executive Committee members, can recall Rebbie losing much of anything - other than his golf game which was once good enough to win three Hazeline club championships and thrice qualify for USGA national tournaments.
He and professional George Bayer once won the two-player pro-am before the old St. Paul Open at Keller Golf Course with a gross best-ball score of 59. OK so big George shot 62. It's still hard to contribute three strokes to a person playing that well. Although he once was among Minnesota's finest players, Rebbie was elected last year to the Minnesota MGA-PGA Hall of Fame for what he has given to this great game rather than what he received from it by playing in competitive events. LPGA Hall of Famer Patty Berg couldn't say enough nice things about how Rebholz has brought Minnesota golf to the top of the mountain . . . even though our courses are closed and ponds frozen for nearly half the year.
"It's hard to over-state what Rebbie has meant to golf in Minnesota," says Howell, the current MGA president. "He's come to be the model for golf administrators. He's very much admired and respected by the USGA and the other state golf associations.
When the USGA thinks of golf in Minnesota, they think of Rebbie. And that’s why they think so much of our state association. Rebbie is the reason Minnesota is the only state chosen to host every single USGA national championship."
Ted Stark, a long-time golfing companion and former MGA presidentwho beatRebbie in the 1965 Minnesota Amateur quarterfinals at Hazeltine, says he doesn't think there is another golf administrator in the country more revered than Rebholz. He and Newell Pinch of the Southern California Golf Association are considered the deans of the business and men the USGA and upcoming golf administrators quickly call with any questions or concerns. Rebbie has served on the prestigious USGA Rules Committee and worked 16 consecutive U.S. Opens, making sure the world's top players honor the game's historic cannon. He has been one of the leading judges on Golf Digest's Top 100 Courses committee.
"I admire him most because he took something he liked to do (golf administration) and made a job out of it," Stark said. "It was kind of like Walter Bush bringing the NHL to Minnesota because he liked hockey so much."
When Rebholz sat alone in the small MGA office in 1972, staring at Wareham's keys that were disgustedly tossed on top of the desk after a well-respected tour of duty, he was confident the MGA could become far more than a nicely run, small golf association. He was no stranger to the organizaton, having served as president of the Minnesota Public Links Association and MGA president. Almost 10 years earlier, he had been the MGA's $500-per-year Executive Secretary, running the group from the trunk of his car. And he knew sports, having played baseball and basketball at Cretin. He led Cretin's 1946 baseball team to the private school state championship by getting its only two hits in a 1-0 victory over Winona Cotter. He learned golf from his late father at Highland Park Golf Course and fondly remembers once finishing second in the Northwest Father-Son at Town & Country Club.
People like Andrews Allen, who replaced Rebbie as MGA president 20 years ago and became his unofficial "boss," were just as confident the MGA directors had chosen the right man. Rebbie knew and loved the game and immediately had the respect of the state's top golfers whom he competed with and against. Everybody liked this personable gentleman who previously worked for more than two decades for a publishing company, leaving as vice president of sales when the firm was sold.
“The key to the success (of a golf administrator) is getting allthe good players on your side because they are all well-known at their clubs, usually vocal and can line up their courses for tournaments," Rebholz said, restlessly getting up from the conference table and fidgeting with another memento on a nearby shelf.
Staging well-run tournaments on the state's top courses helped build the MGA into an association that now has more than 75,000 associate members. When the USGA was considering the slope system to more accurately rate courses and handicap golfers, Rebholz and the MGA stepped forward as pioneers. To make it work, however, each course in the state had to be personally visited, measured, reviewed for dfficulty and given a course rating. Although he could have hired college kids for the assignment, he convinced Guy Green and Bob Evans to do the job. Rebholz wanted the best people he could find for the important assignment. Now, Green is a well-known radio talk show host and Evans is president and owner of a growing Florida golf equipment company.
The Minnesota legislature's threat to repeal the Greerr Acres law, which allows golf course property to be taxed at a much lower rate as recreational land, created Rebholz's toughest hour as executive director. Public officials were making a ruckus because several outspoken women country club members were precluded from some afternoon and weekend morning tee tiures. He and others were able to work out an agreement that made Minnesota a national leader in open tee times. Then he had to sell it to clubs who felt far differently than the state legislature. The settlement kept the favorable real estate legislation on the books that saves some clubs more than $100,000 per year.
“Warren has been a golfer for all people," says Tom Magne, who was MGA assistant executive director for more than eight years and now is a partner in a Twin Cities securities firm.
"He came from a public links (Highland Park Golf Course) background and was instrumental in the development of Hazeltine. It doesn't make any difference where people come from and who they are; he always treats them equally. Whether you are from the worst public course or the finest private club."
Before Rebholz became executive director, the MGA didn't even accept handicaps and scores from public courses and the only way publinksers could get into the national amateur was to win the USGA Public Links. He was instrumental in changing both. 'There's got to be someone out there who doesn't like Warren Rebholz, but I sure don't know who it would be," Magne said.
One of Rebbie's favorite plaques adorning his office wal1s is the one thanking him for serving as president of the International Association of Golf Administrators (IAGA). He turned that group into a significant organization hat now is housed at the MGA headquarters. Rebholz says the IAGA can take five years off the learning curve for a new golf administrator with its sharing of ideas and experiences, and he brings several MGA staff members each year to the meetings so they can grow.
Larry Adamson, USGA director of championship administration, says, "If all officials in my years with the USGA were like Warren Rebholz, it sure would make our job much easier. Dependable. Dependable. Dependable. This has been my experience with (him)."
As the MGAs executive director, Rebbie has been known as the benevolent, congenial dictator who didn't waste time with excessive meetings or drawn-out decision making. He has made most of the decisions, rarely convening the or ganizatton's Exe cutive C ommittee of volunteers. Howell says that will change with Rebbie's retirement and 'jmore decisions willbe made from the bottom up rather than the top down."
The people who have worked with him over the years remember Rebholz with a smile. And there has been no shortage of laughter around the MGA office. Anita Hight, the drawling Texan who joined Rebbie 20 years ago as administrative assistant, chuckles recalling one publication mixing up the MGA telephone number with a local sauna.
"I got so tired of taking the calls that I made an appointment to meet one man downtown," Anita laughs. "He's probably still waiting for me."'
Guy Green, who served as Rebbie's top assistant for several years, chortles at the memory of Rebbie falling into a deep, muddy water hazard while racing over a hill to make sure a player knew exactly where his ball entered the hazard. Never one to pass up an opportunity for a wise crack, Green communicated to other officials over the association's walkie-talkies -"Official down. Official down on number two."
Rebholz's personality has helped ingratiate him and the MGA all over the golfing world, and those who have worked closely with him over the years contend he has worked hard and smart, been innovative, made good decisions, been willing to listen -- and when the day was done cordially sit down and enjoy a cocktail with just about any good-natured chap who shared his love for this crazy game. Each year, he leads a group of MGA directors to play some of America's greatest courses and is welcomed like a lost son by the various clubs and golf associations.
His favorite course? Cypress Point on the Monterey Peninsula. His job has not been without considerable perks, and Rebbie's many travels created a new definition with golf administrators around the country for the term "perfect golf," which he describes as "free golf, free carts, free food and free drinks." A former successful sales executive, Rebholz has been a master at getting people to cooperate with his MGA wants and needs.
'The other MGA directors were my peers. They were my buddies," Rebbie says, explaining why he has received so much collaboration over the years, "And the players who compete in our tournaments know that we'll be on time for tee times, won't over-pack the field and get top courses to play. They also believe that because I officiated at so many U.S. Opens, we know the rules."
Under Rebholz, the MGA has grown to 345 member clubs. Even though some course officials think they could save a few dollars by having their handicaps calculated on a local PC, they reealize that handicap income is what supports the MGA and appreciate the importance of having one strong organization that organizes and coordinates golf in Minnesota' Players understand they aren't allowed to compete in any MGA or USGA event - or guest day at Woodhill or the White Bear Yacht Club without that MGA handicap card.
Although golfers throughout Minnesota comprehend the importance of their handicap card, which Rebholz has continually made better as a national pioneer, it's his Christmas cards that people will miss most. Holiday greetings with family pictures are now common, but Rebbie has been sending out ones for 20 years that have brought smiles to the faces of up to 800 recipients. A favorite was the 1989 edition picturing him dressed in a trashman's uniform, standing in front of the Masters leader board at Augusta National with a bag of garbage. His name and factious score were naturally atop the leader board. The message: "Rebbie Cleans Up at Augusta. Have a Masterful NewYear." His 1990 card sent during the holiday season before the U.S. Open was coming back to Hazeltine invited folks to "Come See Our New and Improved Cow Pasture." Another pictured him with an O.B. stake on the Great Wall of China. His first holiday greeting 20 years ago - with a much younger-looking Rebbie - proclaimed what he feels golf is all about: "Rule One - Have Fun!"
"Every good salesman has his identification and (the holiday card) was mine," Rebholz said, sharing some laughs with a visitor and sorting through the various picture greetings. When the U.S. Post Office misplaced for about one month a bag of mail containing Rebbie's 1981 cards, he sent out a one-page explanation with the photo of him toasting the new year and the new colored golf balls replacing his eyeglass lens. He assessed the post office a nine-stroke penalty for an improper drop, undue delay, looking for more than five minutes for the lost sack, using more than 14 excuses and one stroke in equity for sending the executive director into deep depression for the holidays. Shortly after the one-page announcement went out, the post office found the mail' And Rebbie's phone began ringing frequently once again with jibes about the card and good wishes for the new year. That year's message: "Farewell Tradition. What will be new in 1982?"
Rebholz has a simple explanation why he places so much importance on communications and why those involved with the MGA hear from their organization frequently.
“You're only as good as you can tell people you are," he says seriously.
From the cards, letters and phone calls that have flooded the MGA since he announced his retirement, it's apparent that the golfing world feels Warren Rebholz has been very, very good indeed.