In his final writing piece before retiring from The Detroit News in 2008 Vartan Kupelian wrote that there was no looking back.
“It was a great run but it’s time to move on,” he said in the “Behind the Scenes” column he wrote with Mike O’Hara, who retired on the same day.
“It’s true that when you have a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.”
As a golf writer then for the Grand Rapids Press and competitor of Kupelian on the golf beat, I joked with him about that column when we played together a month or so later in a Golf Association of Michigan outing.
I told him nobody had ever accused him of working. He laughed, sort of. Then he bet me $2 three ways and beat me by about 10 shots. With a smile as we left the 18th green and I paid up he suggested I might need to work on my game.
Vartan, who died Thursday after battling heart issues and diabetes, is in the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame, and also served for several years on the MGHOF committee. He is also an honorary Golf Association of Michigan governor who also served as a communication committee chairman for six years.
He followed my mentor Jack Berry on the golf beat at The Detroit News, but I had known him several years at that point dating to my student days at Michigan State when he covered the Spartans.
On the golf beat I played a lot of early morning golf with him in a lot of nice places before working at tournaments. He didn’t talk a lot on the course, but I figured one day we had become friends when he invited me to play a round of golf with him and the daughter he often talked about, Lisa.
None of us played all that well that day, but Vartan was smiling especially when I praised one of Lisa’s shots. He was in his happy place.
In 2019 Vartan helped me and fellow Michigan Golf Hall of Fame committee members Jack Berry and Terry Moore edit biographies of the members of the hall. I had Vartan, Jack and Terry, inductees all, work on their own.
He sent it back the next day. It was cleaned up in Vartan style: comprehensively and quickly. He was never one to sweat a deadline. I worked in the same press rooms for golf, the NHL, NBA, MLB, MSU and more over the years, and I remember he was always packing up and leaving as I labored on.
He was elected to the MGHOF in 2014 and his bio follows:
Vartan Kupelian covered his first major golf championship in 1973 – Johnny Miller’s historic U.S. Open triumph at Oakmont Country Club. In the next 40 years, he covered more than 100 major championship across all tours.
A graduate of Wayne State University, Vartan began covering sports for The Detroit News, eventually becoming the hockey beat writer covering Red Wings hockey. His career included covering five Olympic Games, both Summer and Winter in five countries, and covering every major sporting event in the United States, including Super Bowls, Stanley Cup playoffs, the World Series and NBA finals before transitioning to writing golf full-time in 1994.
In 2009, he was elected to serve a two-year term as president of the Golf Writers Association of America, a group of 1,000 journalists from around the world.
As journalism changed, Vartan kept pace, becoming a lead writer for Masters.com, a weekly columnist at PGATOUR.com, Champions Tour Insider, Senior Correspondent for the Global Golf Post and Equipment Editor of PGA Magazine. As a radio/TV personality Vartan has appeared on the Golf Channel, CNN, BBC, and many local TV and radio shows across the country.
He is a recipient of the Golf Association of Michigan’s prestigious Distinguished Service Award.
Vartan and I shared many friends and connections. They reached out as they heard Thursday of his passing.
David Graham, retired executive director of the GAM for 18 years, called Vartan a great friend of golf in Michigan.
“During my time in running the GAM he was an extraordinary journalist who always asked good questions and wrote well thought out stories about the business,” he said. “I was so proud to be at the ceremony at the Masters when he became the president of the (Golf Writers Association of America). He was truly a credit to us from Michigan. He was a total professional who understood how to tell a good story and not make himself the story. He was a credit to the profession of journalism.”
Kevin Helm, executive director for the Michigan Section PGA, said he was sorry to hear of his passing.
“The world of sports journalism has lost a great one. Vartan was a tremendous friend to the Michigan PGA and the entire golf world and he will be sorely missed.”
O’Hara, his column writing partner at the The Detroit News, and a longtime Lions beat coverage guy, took to Twitter with a perfect Tweet.
“A sense of personal loss with the passing of Vartan Kupelian,” he wrote. “We worked together dating to our days at Wayne State’s Daily Collegian, and as partners on a column with The Detroit News. We left The News on the same day in 2008 and remained friends. None better than Vartan. RIP.”
Michael Patrick Shiels, radio host of The Big Show heard on a state-wide network, author and travel and golf writer, took to Facebook with photo of him with Vartan at The Masters.
Shiels wrote: “God rest my beloved friend and mentor Vartan Kupelian and comfort Betty and his loyal daughter Lisa. He literally led me to a writing career and around the golf world.”
Shiels also shared his thoughts via phone: “To this day I think of Vartan every time I am on the tee standing over a drive because he would always encourage me by saying, ‘Just get the hole started.’ It’s a great philosophy for life as well – from a calm, wise gentleman.”
The golfers reacted on social media and with personal messages, too. Michigan Golf Hall of Famers Jack Seltzer and Jeff Roth were among them. He knew many golfers from around the world and penned four books, including a notable one on Michigan golf legend Chuck Kocsis.
The GAM is in touch with the Kupelian family and we will pass along celebration of life information as we receive it