PART 2: The second 25-year segment of the Michigan Section PGA (1947-1972)
This is the second of a four-part series produced in celebration of the centennial year of the Michigan Section PGA. The series is being published at michiganpga.com and released to the media over the 2022 golf season.
Mr. Rules, Warren Orlick, Makes Michigan and National Impact
Warren Orlick, dressed like a PGA professional from a foregone era in suit coat, tie and plus fours, shared a greeting and handshake with legend Gene Sarazen, stopped to chat at a table where six-time Masters winner Jack Nicklaus and his wife Barbara were dining with Robert Trent Jones Sr., among others, and then spied and made his way toward a table that included a golf writer from Detroit he recognized, Jack Saylor of the Detroit Free Press.
It was lunch time in the early 1990s inside the clubhouse at Augusta National during a Masters Tournament week. As he approached the table where Saylor was seated, he was introduced by Saylor to the group as golf’s Mr. Rules from Michigan.
“How many Masters is this for you now Warren?” Saylor asked.
“I don’t count them any longer Jack, I just count my blessings that I’ve made it to another one,” was Orlick’s response.
A part of golf’s elite leaders nationally and internationally as well as considered one of the leading experts on the rules of golf, Orlick is arguably the most prominent PGA golf professional ever to call the Michigan Section PGA home.
He was president of the section from 1956-58, but a leader through his 29-year career as head professional at Tam O’Shanter Country Club and before that an assistant to Wilfrid E. Reid at Indianwood Golf & Country Club.
In 1971-72 Orlick was the 17th president of the PGA of America. He’s the only golf professional to have led both the PGA of America and the Michigan Section. Horton Smith, a playing legend who was the head golf professional at Detroit Golf Club, was president of the PGA of America from 1952-54 but never served as president of the section.
This fall John Lindert, the director of golf at Country Club of Lansing, will become just the second Michigan professional to serve as both president of the section (2008-09) and the PGA of America. He is currently the vice-president of the PGA of America.
Mark Wilson of the Professional Golf Management Program at Ferris State University, a longtime PGA golf professional at Watermark Country Club in Grand Rapids, a past chairman of the PGA of America Rules Golf Committee, and like Orlick a Michigan Golf Hall of Fame member, said Orlick historically was the first PGA professional from the U.S. who was considered to be a peer of individuals from the USGA in terms of rules knowledge and contributions to the rules of the game.
“PGA professionals got involved in the rules of the game in the 1950s and Warren was the leader of that, the very first chairman of the PGA of America Rules of Golf Committee,” Wilson said. “He was an integral part of the rules committee at the Masters. He had regular phone calls with Clifford Roberts (co-founder of Augusta National and the Masters with Bobby Jones) and met with him in New York about various aspects of the tournament and how it could be improved.”
Orlick, whose start in golf was as a caddie at Grosse Ile Golf & Country Club at age eight, worked more than 50 Masters tournaments and was a part of the rules committee at Augusta National from 1957 to 2002. He was a Ryder Cup official multiple times starting in 1953 and was honored as the first rules official to serve in all four major championships at a 1996 dinner at the British Open (Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club in England).
While he served as president of the PGA of America in 1971-72 he developed the PGA Apprentice and PGA Master Professional programs. He was named the national PGA Golf Professional of the Year in 1960 and twice was the Michigan PGA Golf Professional of the Year.
“He made an incredible impact on the PGA nationally and at home,” Wilson said. “I was in awe of him. I remember being so nervous when I introduced myself to him for the first time at the 1985 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills.”
Jim Awtrey, then the PGA CEO said when Orlick died in 2003 at the age of 90 that he was a teacher of teachers and one of the great contributors to the success of the PGA.
“Warren’s combined love of the game and The PGA of America helped make us all appreciate how important our roles are in growing the game,” Awtrey said.
Jim Dewling, who would later serve as the Michigan Section PGA’s president twice (1980-81 and 2000-2001), remembers Orlick as committed to the profession of PGA professional being a player, an instructor as well as expert on the rules.
“He along with Don Soper and guys like Ray Maguire and several others – this is before we had executive directors to do a lot of the work – were hands on and doing the things to keep the section tournaments and business up to date,” Dewling said.
“Sometimes the board meetings would run long and be a little contentious because the old guard didn’t always agree with the younger guys and the job of being a golf professional was changing. Like with me, I became a pro and eventually the general manager at Great Oaks. Some of the board members didn’t like that I went to a salary and didn’t own the pro shop. They didn’t want to see things change.”
Dennis Spaulding was an assistant to Orlick at Tam O’Shanter for five years before taking on the head job when Orlick retired. Spaulding spent almost 40 years as the head golf professional and he said Orlick taught him the business, as well as countless other professionals across Michigan.
“He was really proud of how many of his assistants went on to be head pros at other clubs,” Spaulding said.
Spaulding remembers him as a tough task-master.
“He was a really straight forward guy, everything was black and white with no gray areas. It’s the way he did things for the club and the members, the way he saw the rules of golf and even the way he taught you things. It was ‘this is the way to do it.’”
Spaulding said the members cherished him and the women at the club who were part of the Women’s District Golf Association honored him with a plaque that remains at the club. He said many times over the years he would think about Orlick when faced with a decision.
“What would Warren be thinking, how would he handle this situation,” Spaulding said. “His lessons stayed with you because they were the right things to do.”
In 1990, Orlick lost the use of one of his hands due to health issues. While going through his rehabilitation he established a weekly adaptive golf clinic. He went on to start adaptive golf leagues and tournaments, and in 2002 was presented the Rick Knas Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to Michigan’s athletes with disabilities.
Orlick said often near the end of his career that he was most proud of mentoring PGA professionals and being part of the committee that removed the “Caucasian only” clause from the PGA of America constitution.
“Warren was remarkable, and involved in a lot of ways with golf,” Wilson said. “He was the kind of golf professional we all should aspire to emulate.”
Orlick serves as the most accomplished example of the Michigan PGA golf professionals through the second 25 years of the section, but others are notable for their diverse talents and contributions like Ben Davis, Emil Beck, Joe Belfore, Soper and Lou Powers.
Ben Davis started teaching golf lessons in 1936 at Pine Crest Driving Range in Ferndale and then moved over to Rackham Golf Course in 1952. In 1966, he became the first African-American member of the Michigan Section. In 1954 he had become the head professional at Rackham, and reportedly was the first African-American to hold that position at a municipal facility in the U.S. He gave lessons to boxer Joe Louis and Detroit Piston Bob Lanier among other notables in Detroit.
He could play, too, and won the Michigan Senior PGA Championship in 1974 and the U.S. National Senior Tournament in 1979 in Las Vegas. In 2000, the Ben Davis Youth Golf Tournament was established by the Detroit Recreation Department. He is a member of the African American Golfers Hall of Fame, the Michigan Section PGA Hall of Fame and the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame.
Beck, Michigan PGA president for 1951-52 was a PGA professional at the Soo Golf Club in Sault Ste. Marie for five years and Black River Country Club in Port Huron for 25 years, also had impact nationally as a founder, national committee chairman and for 11 years director of the PGA Business School, which started as the Dunedin Educational and Professional Training Program.
In 1975 he won then PGA’s top education award. In 1962 he was the Michigan PGA Golf Professional of the Year. Beck, a Nebraska native, also was involved on the grass side of the business as a life member of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America. He is also in the Michigan PGA Hall of Fame.
Soper was president of the section from 1961-63 and also designed Royal Oak Golf Club, which is on Don Soper Drive. He is remembered by Dewling and others as involved on the officer level as a proponent of public golf facilities and greater access to the game. Three times he was named the Michigan PGA Golf Professional of the Year, and in 1978 he was the PGA of America Golf Professional of the Year. He is in the Michigan PGA Hall of Fame.
Belfore, president of the section from 1959-60, was a highly regarded player and teacher at Country Club of Detroit, and won the Michigan PGA Professional Championship twice (1933, ’37). He also had the business skills to serve in acting management roles at the club when needed.
Powers, in addition to being the president of the section from 1967-69, also made contributions in course design, most notably Burning Tree Golf Club in Macomb and Rattle Run Golf in St. Clair. His son Ed also became a member of the section at age 18.
Also during the era and remarkable for the PGA of America, but with less impact at the section level, the PGA Tour split from the PGA of America in 1968. Led by some of its top players including Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, the Tournament Players Division split from the PGA of America and five years later would become known as the PGA Tour.
The top players in the game wanted television money to pump up purses, while the PGA of America powers wanted to put the money in the PGA of America general fund. The PGA part of both names continues to confuse, especially because the PGA of America continues to own and operate the PGA Championship and shares the Ryder Cup among other professional events.
It’s generally regarded today that the split helped both organizations. The PGA Tour chased tournament golf purses, and the PGA of America professionals continued to run major tournaments, serve golf at the club and public course level while also having competition at the section levels without touring players.
COMING IN PART 3 (1972-1997) Golf booms in numbers of players and courses, the Michigan PGA decides to have executive directors, Ken Devine builds relationships and tournament opportunities and PGA professionals continue to wear many hats.