GAM History 1980-1989 #GAM100 – Michigan Native Jeff Rivard Guides Changing Association
by Greg Johnson
Editor’s note: This is the seventh of a 10-part series celebrating the Golf Association of Michigan’s 100th year of service to the game. #GAM100
FARMINGTON HILLS – One of Jeff Rivard’s favorite moments in golf happened late in his tenure as the executive director of the Golf Association of Michigan.
Just prior to the introductions of the final match participants in the 1992 Michigan Amateur Championship hosted by Oakland Hills Country Club on its North Course, Rivard, in a short ceremony, handed out medals to the two golfers who had fallen in the semifinal matches.
Gary Cauzillo, a local plumber, was one of those semifinalists headed home after the morning play, and before Randy Lewis of Alma would turn back Dean Kobane of Livonia 3 and 2 in the championship match.
“When we did that the semifinalists going home usually didn’t feel like talking, but we would ask them,” Rivard said. “Gary wanted to say something. He told everybody he had done a lot of plumbing work in the buildings there, been in and out of the clubhouse a million times. Then he said something I will never forget: He said: ‘To get the chance to play here for five days and play like I did; it is something I will remember the rest of my life.’”
Rivard said that moment and those words of a plumber and public facility golfer stuck with him as a lesson in appreciation, honor and the way amateurs should conduct themselves win or lose.
“That was just a great Michigan Amateur,” he said. “It had some rain, but we were at Oakland Hills, and it was perfect, and Randy Lewis was such a great player destined obviously to go on and do other things, and it was my last one with the GAM.”
Rivard, a Michigan native, came to the GAM as its third executive director following James D. Standish III and Bud Erickson in 1984, served through 1992 and was on the scene for the most significant change in the association’s history.
In 1985 the GAM changed its bylaws to include public golf facilities in the GAM family and services. Previously, and for 66 years, it has been an organization of private golf clubs only.
“We feel we are now truly identified with all golfers in our state,” then GAM President Jere B. Gillette of Orchard Lake Country Club said at the annual meeting of delegates.
Rivard said it didn’t change the membership numbers of the GAM dramatically because public golf facilities didn’t bring in large groups of new individual members, but instead made it available to their customers and leagues.
“It was the most significant change in terms of being the right thing to do,” he said. “Adding public facilities didn’t have a big effect on the bottom line at first, but it did affect the culture.”
Rivard remembers there were GAM governors and committee members resistant to adding public facilities, but that it happened without contention.
“Those who didn’t want it to happen knew they didn’t have the votes and stayed quiet,” he said. “Those who thought it was the right thing to do had worked on it behind the scenes presenting that case.”
It led to Paul Beaupre, the owner of Plum Brook Golf Club in Sterling Heights, becoming the first from a public facility to be a representative, governor, board member and finally president in 2003.
“I first met Paul Beaupre in 1958 or ’59 at summer camp, Camp Sancta Maria in Gaylord,” Rivard said. “My brothers and I went to camp and he and his brothers went to camp. Great guy. He was a golf course owner who gave back, and those kind of people were great additions to the GAM.”
Rivard said being executive director during the addition of public golf facilities to the membership proved fruitful once again in his career. After leaving the GAM in 1992 to direct the Western Pennsylvania Golf Association, he was asked to oversee adding public golf to that association, too.
“I remember asking the president there if when he walked out on the range at our amateur championship, he could tell which golfer was from a private club and which one was from a public facility, and of course, he couldn’t,” Rivard said. “So, I went through doing it again, and again the association was better for it.”
Another significant change during Rivard’s Michigan tenure involved the Michigan Amateur Championship.
Rivard thought it needed site changes and a format change to maximize it as the flagship tournament, and some board members, most notably Thomas W. Chisholm, who is in the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame for his administrative golf efforts, agreed. The Amateur had been played at Belvedere for 26 consecutive years at that point.
“My feeling was that the Michigan Amateur at Belvedere for all those years in a row was too clubby for my tastes,” he said. “Belvedere is a great golf course, and a great host site, but it’s not Augusta National. It’s not Oakland Hills for that matter. There are a lot of great golf courses, a dozen Donald Ross courses right in the Detroit area, and so many great courses across the state. I thought the state championship should move around to all the great courses and give more opportunity to players from all over the state a chance to play.”
Rivard said the GAM does it right these days.
“The Michigan Amateur is now one of the largest state amateurs in the country, a whole bunch of people build their summer golf schedule around it, want to compete in it and want to win it,” he said. “And now the fact it moves to various sites, including back to Belvedere once in a while, enhances that. To me the Michigan Amateur to the GAM is like the U.S. Open to the USGA. It is your most visible event, most-publicized product, most-popular tournament for players and that gives it a lot of reason to get it right and run it well.”
In terms of format for the Michigan Amateur, Rivard lobbied for a change to the qualifying. The large list of entrants had played in qualifying rounds at two sites near the host site to determine the starting field for stroke play.
“I called the week up in Charlevoix a Buffalo Shoot, which was harsh I guess, but like the U.S. Amateur and the U.S. Open, it is served better by having qualifiers around the state leading up to the tournament week,” he said. “It makes it a more open championship, gives more people a chance to qualify because they can play in a local qualifier.”
In 2012, a record 1,034 golfers entered the Michigan Amateur. It was hosted that year by Oakland Hills on the North Course and won by Drew Preston, who beat Tom Werkmeister in an all-Grand Rapids final match. The Amateur returns to Oakland Hills and the North Course this June 18-22.
David Graham, who will retire as the GAM’s sixth executive director in June following the Michigan Amateur and an unprecedented 18 years of service, has become friends with Rivard over the years at national conferences and invited him to attend the recent annual meeting of the delegates at Detroit Golf Club.
“Jeff has been a friend and an advisor and resource,” Graham said. “He’s from Michigan, so I think we have a special place in his heart and his mind.”
Rivard said Graham deserves accolades for his service to the GAM.
“David was a business guy and exactly what Michigan needed when he was hired,” he said. “I think he has done a great job. Even his golf game has gotten better.”
Rivard, who in his career has served as a rules official for multiple USGA national championships in addition to his Western Pennsylvania championships, retired after 24 years serving that association in 2016. He lives now in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
“It’s great if you like sunshine and golf three or four days a week all year,” he quipped.
He keeps an eye on golf, especially amateur golf and golf in Michigan. He grew up in Detroit, earned a teaching degree from Central Michigan University and was teaching in Holland at West Ottawa High School when he decided he would rather do something else. He went back to college, this time at Michigan State University and earned a broadcast journalism degree. Then it was back to CMU for a master’s degree in broadcast journalism.
“Then I ended up in golf and realized it was where I wanted to be all along,” he said.
Fritz Balmer, president emeritus of the GAM, said Rivard was perceived by some during his GAM tenure as a little rough around the edges.
“But he got people to look at things from a different perspective, and he was all about fairness,” he said.
#GAM History – Did you know?
Meg Mallon in 1980 was 17, a junior at Farmington Hills Mercy High School and GAM member through her parents’ membership at Edgewood Country Club in Commerce Township. She asked teacher Vicky Kowalski to help her and some of the other girls start a women’s golf team. With Mallon leading the way that first Mercy team won a regional championship and finished third in the state championships. In 1983, Meg Mallon won the Michigan Women’s Amateur Championship and soon embarked on a professional career that included four major championship wins, including two U.S. Open titles, 18 LPGA wins and eight Solheim Cup teams. She is a member of the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame and the World Golf Hall of Fame.