Michigan, LPGA, Golf World Mourn Passing of Pioneer Shirley Spork

(l to r) Shirley Spork, Betty Richart, Mary Fossum

Shirley Spork was one of the 13 original founders of the LPGA with the likes of Babe Didrikson Zaharias and Patty Berg, but first she was a self-described Tomboy from Michigan who loved golf.

The Michigan Golf Hall of Fame member, who just recently found out she was finally going into the LPGA Hall of Fame, died Tuesday in Palm Springs, Calif., at the age of 94.

  “She was always very gracious and would come back to Michigan to help out Eastern Michigan (University) and was always willing to support women’s golf in any way she could,” said Sara Wold, president emeritus of the Golf Association of Michigan and a Michigan Golf Hall of Fame member.

  “She was easy to be friends with, just so friendly and funny with all her stories. I remember when she came back for the 100th Michigan Women’s Amateur celebration. She told stories all night long and we all learned a lot from her and laughed with her.”

  Shirley started playing with one club, an old putter from a dime store bin at age 10. She became a regular visitor to Bonnie Brook Golf Course in Detroit (8 Mile and Telegraph), where hole 17 was next to her family home. Her father served as the property’s caretaker while the country emerged from The Great Depression.

  The boys laughed at the girl with one club, but she endured and became one of the world’s best women golfers.

  While attending Eastern Michigan University (then called Michigan State Normal College) to earn a teaching degree, she was the individual winner of the 1947 Intercollegiate Championship, in essence a forerunner to today’s NCAA championship. At home she won the Women’s District Golf Association’s Match Play Championship three times in four years, and then won the 1949 Michigan Women’s Amateur Championship.

After graduating from EMU where the golf team hosts the annual Shirley Spork Invitational these days, Spork taught in the Detroit Public Schools, but she decided she would rather play golf.

  She turned professional in 1950 at the urging of Zaharias and played on the original LPGA Tour. Her top finishes included a second in what became the LPGA Championship and she tied for eighth in a U.S. Women’s Open.

  “Babe put her hand on my head and said I deem you a pro, and that was it,” Spork said in an interview at Spring Meadows Country Club in Linden six years ago. “We had quite a group and I have some great memories of our adventures on the road.”

She admitted she found tour golf a tough road, especially while also getting a Master’s degree in education and teaching golf while at Bowling Green State University. She then became a golf pioneer again as a teacher, helping found the LPGA Teaching Division in 1959 and is in that group’s Hall of Fame.

  Spork was honored in recent years ago by the Women’s Michigan Golf Association with celebrated Michigan State coach Mary Fossum and former USGA and GAM leader Betty Richart of Ann Arbor, and she came home to Michigan and took part in the 100th Michigan Women’s Amateur celebration in 2016 at age 89. At that time, she was still giving putting lessons to anyone wise enough to ask.

  Marlene Hagge is now the only living LPGA founder.

  “The game gave me so much and I just try to give it to others,” Spork said in 2016. “I love teaching the game, love to see somebody get it and enjoy it. I love watching these young women play today. I let them know there were some great players who paved the way for them and great women who made it possible for their opportunities to play today.”

  Wold said Spork, a 1989 inductee into the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame, was very proud of being the Founder of the LPGA Teaching Division, probably her most important contribution.

   “She was also proud of reaching her goal for her Endowment Fund at Eastern Michigan University for the Women’s Golf Team,” she said. “Shirley embraced all her friendships and was always ready to tell a story about the Founders of the LPGA. She was an inspiration to so many.”

The GAM and Michigan Golf Hall of Fame will pass along memorial and funeral information as it becomes available.

Michigan Golf Hall of Fame Mourns Mr. Never on Sunday, Jack Van Ess

  We learned of the passing of Jack Van Ess in the days leading up to the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame inductions of 2021 last Sunday.

  The local golf legend from Grand Rapids –  Mr. Never Golf on Sunday as a promise to his father even when it meant withdrawing from tournaments as the leader –  Jack took his heavenly putting stroke and warm, friendly personality home.

  He was 94, and that was never his score.

  “Jack was the best putter I’ve ever seen, including pros, anywhere, ever,” said Randy Lewis, a fellow Michigan Golf Hall of Famer from Alma.

  John O’Donovan of Grand Rapids, a friend, fellow Egypt Valley Country Club member and a president emeritus of the Golf Association of Michigan, was instrumental in Van Ess being elected to both the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame and the Grand Rapids Sports Hall of Fame.

  “He was an incredible person, everybody’s friend,” O’Donovan said. “And he was an amazing golfer, one of the most talented golfers Grand Rapids or Michigan has ever seen.”

  Everybody knew Jack it seemed. Once in Florida I was paired up with a trio of older guys with great golf swings on the first tee. I remarked: “You guys are players, where are you from?”

  They said yes, they played a little golf and offered up three different states of origin. I told them I’m from Grand Rapids, Michigan, and I’m not in your league.

  They all responded at once: “Do you know Jack Van Ess?”

  Jack may be the most unusual of all the members of the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame because he only played in tournaments that ended on six days of the week, and yet he had a sterling career.

  He was the first to win Michigan Senior Open and Michigan Senior Amateur titles. He won the Dale Morey Society of Seniors event in South Carolina and World Super Seniors 80-and-over title in North Carolina. He won the club championship at Egypt Valley 10 times over four decades.

  He also played in the U.S. Amateur, the North and South Amateur at Pinehurst, the Western Amateur, the U.S. Senior Amateur and the U.S. Senior Open in Minnesota. He led Western Michigan Golf Association tournaments five times going into Sunday and then withdrew. Never on Sunday.

  His biggest Golf Association of Michigan moment came in the 1976 Michigan Amateur at Belvedere Golf Club in Charlevoix.

  Mount Pleasant’s Dan Pohl had won the 1975 state title and was expected to win again when he ran into Van Ess in the second round. It was classic Pohl the bomber headed for the PGA Tour against the little guy with the smooth putting stroke who never played on Sunday. Van Ess won 3 and 2. Pohl came back the next year and won the ’77 Amateur.

  Jack went on playing, mostly at his home club, but around the country as a senior making putts and making friends. Rest in peace Jack. We have one of your hickory-shafted putters at the Hall of Fame and we will take care of it.

-Greg Johnson

  Click here for the link to his obituary.

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Michigan Golf Hall of Fame to Induct 2021 Class on Oct. 3

   BIG RAPIDS – The Michigan Golf Hall of Fame class elected in February of 2020 will have its induction day on Sunday, Oct. 3, at Ferris State University’s Katke Golf Club, home of the Ken Janke Sr. Golf Learning Center and the hall of fame.

  In early 2020 the newest MGHOF class was announced. It includes David Graham, former executive director of the Golf Association of Michigan, Holt’s Julie Massa, a dominant senior golfer, Bay City’s Roy Schultheiss, a winner of both the Michigan Amateur and the GAM Championship, and Dick Stewart, a celebrated former head PGA golf professional at Kalamazoo Country Club.

  Their induction was originally scheduled for June 6, 2020, but it was postponed due to pandemic concerns.

   “We will induct what is now the 2021 class with a day of celebration,” Greg Johnson, chairman of the MGHOF said. “We opted on the side of safety for all concerned in the last year and we appreciate the patience of all those involved, including the inductees. We have a date and we will announce the times and details of the day soon.”

  The MGHOF also announced today its Hall of Fame Raffle for 2021 which will offer 20 prizes of golf foursomes at elite courses across the state. A total of 550 tickets will be sold at $20 each to fund the administration of the hall of fame through the Michigan Golf Foundation. The 20 winning ticket will be drawn on induction day, Oct. 3. To learn more and purchase tickets follow the home page link at www.mghof.org.

  The MGHOF is a heralded collection of portraits, plaques and memorabilia that currently commemorates 127 members, including Walter Hagen, Chuck Kocsis, Walter Burkemo, Shirley Spork and more current notables Dave and Mike Hill, Dan Pohl, Meg Mallon and Kelly Robbins. The collection is housed and displayed in the Ken Janke Sr. Golf Learning Center at Ferris State University’s Katke facility. The late Ken Janke Sr. is both a co-founder and a member of the MGHOF.

  The MGHOF is administered by the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame Committee, which is funded through the non-profit Michigan Golf Foundation (501(c) (3) since 1996 and includes 17 people representing a cross-section of the state’s golf associations as well as golf media. The MGHOF committee conducts an annual election to recognize the achievements of competitive Michigan golfers, but also accomplishments of individuals who have contributed to the growth of the game.

For more information and to learn about the current members of the Hall of Fame, visit mghof.org, or contact MGHOF Administrator Loretta Larkin at llarkin@michigan-golf-foundation.com, 248-719-0650.

MGHOF Mourns Member Gene Bone

 The Michigan Golf Hall of Fame learned this week that 1988 inductee Gene Bone passed away on May 25. He was 89.

Here’s his bio that can be found at mghof.org

Gene Bone, the head professional at Bay Pointe Golf Club for 27 years, won almost every possible title available to Michigan PGA Section professionals while battling with the likes of fellow Hall of Fame members Walter Burkemo and John Barnum.

His back-to-back Michigan Open Championships of 1965 and ’66 and his Michigan PGA Professional Championship wins of 1966 and 1975, top the list. He also won back-to-back Assistant Professional Championships in 1957 and ’58 and was part of winning teams in the Section’s state Pro-Am, Pro-Pro and Pro-Assistant tournaments.

In 1966 he was the Michigan PGA Player of the Year, and in 1977 the section’s PGA Professional of the Year. He was just the second golfer to win both those honors following fellow Hall of Fame member Horton Smith.

Bone was first a golf professional at Warwick Hills Country Club, starting in 1959 and worked with the team that presented the first Buick Open Championship, which became a longtime PGA Tour stop. He had a local television golf show in Flint on WJRT briefly as well. He also played on the PGA Tour from 1963 to 1966 before returning to Michigan and Bay Pointe.

Bone died May 25, 2021. He was 89.

The Detroit News did a story, and the link is here: https://bit.ly/3zbe1Ro

MGHOF Mourns Member Arthur Hills

The American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA)announced today that Past President Arthur Hills passed away today, May 18, in Florida. He was age 91. Visitation and funeral arrangements are below.

 Hills love and passion for the game were rooted early on when as a youngster he worked on the maintenance crew at Ann Arbor’s Barton Hills Country Club.

 A graduate of Michigan State University (1953) and the University of Michigan (1961), he played for Michigan State’s team and was the 1950 winner of the Ann Arbor City Championship. 

 Armed with an advanced degree in landscape architecture, the Ohio native designed over 225 golf courses around the world, including Bay Harbor and 15 others in Michigan. He also renovated 125 golf courses, including Oakland Hills Country Club and 19 other Donald Ross courses as well as several U.S. Open venues.

His work at private and public facilities has been recognized with the industry’s top awards, and three times he has been named “Golf Course Architect of the Year” by his peers and golf publications. 

He formed his golf course architecture firm in the 1960s. Today, Hills * Forrest * Smith, Golf Course Architects continues to, as their website states, “create golf course designs that stimulatethe senses, display creativity, and honor the hallowed traditions of the game as they relate to strategy, shot values and aesthetic character.” 

 An environmental pioneer, Hills designed the first Audubon Signature Sanctuary courses in the United States, Mexico and Europe. ASGCA Past President Pete Dye dubbed Hills “the Mayor of Naples” for the number of private country club courses that he designed in and near that coastal Florida location.

 ASGCA Past President Steve Forrest said, “He started the business by placing an ad in the Toledo, Ohio, Yellow Pages under ‘Golf Course Architect’ while operating a landscapecontracting business. I had the great privilege of learning all aspects of golf course architecture from a distinguished professional practitioner and humble gentleman over 42 years. Arthur became a father-like figure to me who was a mentor, an instructor, exhorter and admonisher while always trying to improve his own skills and increase his personal knowledge every day.”

 Hills is also a member of the Ohio Golf Hall of Fame and received a lifetime achievement award from the Michigan Golf Course Owners Association. He was inducted to the MGHOF in 2011.

 He is survived by his wife Mary. They had eight children, 24grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Visitation will be at Reeb Funeral Home, Sylvania, Ohio, on Sunday, May 23, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Funeral Mass will be at St. Joseph Catholic Church, Sylvania, Ohio, on Monday, May 24, at 11 a.m.

Golf Community Mourns Michigan Leader Bob McMasters

Robert “Bob” McMasters allowed others to identify him as a caddie, golfer, family man and a guy from Royal Oak, but he would humbly deflect the many other things he was in life.

He was a gentleman philanthropist, fundraiser, trailblazer, salesman, successful business partner at McMasters Koss Co., Michigan Golf Hall of Fame player, rare and historic Red Run Golf Club character, proud Wolverine, renown golf leader on multiple fronts for leading organizations, visionary, mentor, friend, and an endless source of stories and self-effacing one-liners.

“If you have to tell them who you is – then you ain’t,” he would offer with his trademark toothy smile accompanied by an ever-present twinkle in his eye.

Bob was an ultimate golf partner, too. At what he called his now-I-have-some-time senior golf point in his storied life he partnered with the much older Michigan golf legend Chuck Kocsis in competition and a few money matches. As Jack Berry, former Detroit News golf writer and Michigan Golf Hall of Fame member put it, they won a lot.

Figure this: They probably have a best-ball going a few ways against a couple of unsuspecting golfers today in the heavens. Robert Leroy McMasters, Jr., passed away in his sleep over the weekend from a recent health issue that was not pandemic related. He was 86.

Bob had caddied for Kocsis at Red Run long before he was his golf partner. Later he would be an Evans Scholar, the first from Red Run, become a great amateur golfer in his own right and eventually a member and president at the club where he had caddied, chairman of the Western Golf Association, president of the Golf Association of Michigan, Chairman of the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame and in 2002 a member of the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame, too.

He’s in the Western Golf Association’s Caddie Hall of Fame as well, and he was so proud and humble about those honors. He would offer a thank you, and of course, a story.

“Did I tell you about the time…?”

When he was elected to the MGHOF new members were asked to make a speech. David Robinson, a Red Run member who became the club’s second chairman of the WGA after Bob, remembered the opening one-liner and that Bob did not like to give speeches.

“As Henry the Eighth said to his sixth wife, this will not take long,” Robinson recalled Bob saying.

Bob regularly joked that his mom wanted him out of the house so he became a caddie at age 8 and in 1952 became the first Red Run caddie to earn the Evans Scholarship. He led a high school state championship team at Royal Oak High in 1951, won a state individual title and qualified for the U.S. Junior Championship in ‘52, became a University of Michigan man, captain of the golf team, and Evans Scholar chapter president.

He played in the Michigan Amateur championship and described it as fighting through qualifying 12 times and being a stroke play co-medalist twice before losing in match play and watching Glenn Johnson or Pete Green or somebody who could hit it like them go on to win.

He played better than he described. He qualified for six United States Golf Association championships, including the U.S. Junior, U.S. Senior Open and U.S. Senior Amateur and won many titles at Red Run and elsewhere.

He didn’t just take his swings, however. He served as a Director of the Western Golf Association for 20 years and was the first Michigan native to be elected President. Bob also served the Golf Association of Michigan as a governor for 25 years and was elected president in 1999. He was one of the founders of the Michigan Mid-Amateur Championship, and he received the GAM’s Distinguished Service Award in 2003.

He led efforts to raise significant funds for the Evans Scholar house at the University of Michigan and did the same when he was asked to help the house at Michigan State.

“I’m a Wolverine, but we’re all caddies, blue or green,” he told newspaper reporters.

McMasters also served as President and co-chairman of the Michigan Golf Foundation which oversees the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame. In fact, Sara Wold, a past-president of the GAM like Bob and his co-chair with the MGHOF for several years, said the Hall of Fame would probably not exist if not for Bob McMasters.

“From the very beginning he pushed for a foundation, and he had a drive and passion for the Hall of Fame, the history of the game in our state,” Wold said. “If he had a passion for something you could be sure he would follow through with activities and generosity. He was always willing to do the best thing for golf, and he was a great family man, just a wonderful guy.”

Michigan Golf Hall of Famer Pete Green called Bob a good friend for a long time through golf. Bob persuaded Pete to get involved with the Evans chapter in Michigan and called on him to be chairman.

“I was busy with my company, our kids were young, so I told him I would do it on one condition – that I get to have a co-chairman,” Green recalled. “He said that was fine and asked me who I had in mind. I said you.”

Green said he is perhaps proudest that in working with Bob they persuaded the Evans houses to revamp and become coed so that the female caddies could feel a part of the program in the full manner.

“He got things done, got the money raised, whatever it took,” Green said. “He used his own checkbook, too.”

In 1995 Green won his fourth Michigan Amateur Championship in a remarkable fourth decade as a competitor, and McMasters came calling in 1996.

“He was chairman of the WGA and he made it possible for me as Michigan Amateur champion to get an exemption into the Western (Amateur),” Green said. “I hadn’t played in it for several years, but with the exemption I told him sure. Then, he was involved in setting up the pairings for the first two rounds (of stroke play) and he asked me who I would like to play with. I told him Tiger Woods not thinking it would happen, and Raymond Floyd’s son (Robert) because I had played with Raymond back in the day. So I go play and I got to play two rounds with those guys. That’s the kind of thing Bob would make happen – special things you will never forget.”

David Graham, the executive director of the Golf Association of Michigan who retired in 2019, called McMasters a tremendous advocate of the Evans Scholars and Michigan golf.

“He was also a leader and mentor for many, including myself,” he said. “We had many one-on-one lunches over the years and we would talk about the history of the GAM, the foundation, Youth on Course and the hopes for the future. He truly made a difference in all those things and he was such a bigger-than-life man. I think of him as one of the guys, that gosh, you hope to grow up and one day be like him.”

Terry Moore, a Michigan Golf Hall of Fame member, golf writer and former editor of Michigan Golfer magazine called Bob inspirational.

“He was an almost larger than life figure,” he said. “He seemingly did it all after growing up as caddie and becoming a championship golfer. I treasure my time working with him on the MGHOF committee where his leadership and sense of humor always shined. He was the consummate golf volunteer, ever dedicated to the good of the game.”

Moore said the MGHOF is indebted to his preservation of the legacy makers of the game in Michigan.

“I always liked his apt quote on why he was so supportive of Ferris State University becoming the new home of the MGHOF (Ken Janke Sr. Golf Learning Center): “Individuals may come and go but an institution like a university lasts forever.”

Berry, who like Bob was one of the original members of the MGHOF board and interviewed him for tournament stories, WGA stories and Hall of Fame stories and videos via the Detroit News and Michigan Golfer, called him the absolute greatest volunteer I’ve ever known.

“Go through all the alphabet organizations, the GAM, the WGA, if they needed something done, he was the guy who got it done,” Berry said. “On top of that he was a wonderful man, a great personality. I remember that picture he had of him presenting a trophy to Tiger when Bob was president of the WGA. Bob was so proud of being part of that, and of being part of the Caddie Hall of Fame, too.”

David Robinson, who eventually became the second Michigan golfer to chair the WGA, met Bob as a Red Run member. Bob went on to become what he called his role model and a mentor who made historic contributions and told countless golf stories.

“He was a giant of the Evans Scholar program not only in Michigan, but nationally,” Robinson said. “He was one of the first Evans alumni to really start giving back in a significant way, and since he has inspired a few generations of Evans alums to dedicate themselves to giving back. We’re now over $200 million that has been donated by alums over the history of the program and Bob truly inspired that giving. Ask anybody, it was hard to say no to that man.”

Jeff Harrison, a WGA staff member since 1990 and currently the senior vice-president of advisory and special initiatives, native of Southfield and a former caddie at Birmingham Country Club as well as an Evans Scholar, said people don’t realize how rare it is for someone to start as a caddie, become an Evans Scholar and then one day become a member and eventually the president of the same private golf club.

“He was selfless in support of Red Run and the Evans Scholarship program in Michigan, he was truly a self-made man, dedicated to his work, his family and the golf community. Really, he was second-to-none in those things and a role model for so many of us who grew up as caddies.”

Loretta Larkin has served as the do-everything administrator for the MGHOF for several years. She noted that Bob recently donated funds for a historical records section to be developed on the MGHOF website, and in Red Run’s name donated significant funds for the Ken Janke Jr. Golf and Learning Center at Ferris.

She said, however, the true essence of Bob McMasters is that he was a caring person at his core.

“I worked with him for a long time and he did so much for the Hall of Fame, but he also became a great friend to so many people, including me,” she said. “He never forgot a thank you, would write nice notes and he would call me often when I was going through a difficult time in my personal life. He always reassured me that everything was going to be okay and that I would come out a stronger person. Bob truly cared about people, about his friends.”

Visitation, funeral information is available at www.desmondfunderalhome.com

See Jack Berry’s interview with him for Michigan Golfer from several years ago at https://bit.ly/2NLhRNL

Read about his recent donation to the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame at GAM.org

Bob McMasters Donates Funds for Michigan Golf Hall of Fame Historical Project

Bob McMasters Donates Funds for Michigan Golf Hall of Fame Historical Project

Golf Association of Michigan past president and Michigan Golf Hall of Fame (MGHOF) member Robert “Bob” McMasters has donated funds for the creation of a historical collection of data to be digitally housed on the hall of fame’s website.

“One of my long-term goals as a MGHOF board member and chairman over the years was to create a place for all of Michigan’s championship golf records to be chronicled and kept in one place,” McMasters said. “As time went by I realized the MGHOF website was the proper place for it, and I also knew it would take funding to make it happen.”

McMasters, a long-time board member, former chairman of the MGHOF and former president of the Michigan Golf Foundation (MGF) as well as a standout amateur golfer asked that the amount of the donation not be disclosed.

“I’m not doing this for any credit or anything like that,” said the 86-year-old former Detroit area businessman and Royal Oak Golf Club member who now lives in Gaylord.

“I just feel Michigan has this great history of tournament golf that needs to be in one place. The best golfers in the world have played and won tournaments in Michigan. If you love the game like I do, that’s interesting history and worth preserving.”

Greg Johnson, the current chairman of the MGHOF and president of the MGF, said work by board members and MGHOF Administrator Loretta Larkin is underway on the project.

“We are planning to collect data and connect to existing data with Michigan golf associations so that we have, if possible, comprehensive lists of all the significant championships played in Michigan for over the last 100 years,” he said. “Bob’s funds will allow us to fund some research time as well as advance our website technology and server storage to preserve the historical collection. Over time we hope it will be the place to find the historical lists of champions, historical documents and much more, including video and recorded interviews. Bob’s vision and work have kept the Hall of Fame viable for years, and now his funds will help keep Michigan’s golf history alive as well.”

The MGHOF is a heralded collection of portraits, plaques, and memorabilia that commemorate the finest players and contributors to golf in our state, including Walter Hagen, Chuck Kocsis, Ben Davis and Shirley Spork and more contemporary notables Dave and Mike Hill, Dan Pohl, Meg Mallon, and Kelly Robbins. The collection is housed and displayed in the Ken Janke Golf Learning Center at Ferris State University’s Katke Golf Club in Big Rapids.

The Hall of Fame is administered by the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame Committee, which is funded through the non-profit MGF (501(c) (3) since 1996) and includes 18 members representing state golf associations and media outlets.

McMasters was elected to the MGHOF in 2002 for his distinguished playing record and leadership with the GAM, the Western Golf Association (WGA) and the Evans Scholar Program.

He caddied as a youngster at Red Run, was a member of the Royal Oak High School state championship golf team of 1951 and in 1952 was the Michigan High School individual champion and a qualifier for the U.S. Junior Championship. He went on to be a two-time captain of the University of Michigan golf team, president of the Evans Scholar Chapter, qualified for the Michigan Amateur 12 times, played in six USGA Championships including the U.S. Senior Open and was a director of the WGA for 20 years as well as being the first Michigan person to serve as president.

He served the GAM for 25 years and was president in 1999. He received the GAM’s Distinguished Service Award in 2003.

“Bob is the perfect example of a great gentleman and golfer,” Johnson said. “He has given more to the game than he ever received, though he does not look at it that way. He has been a prominent witness and a playing part of the history he wants us to preserve, and his tireless efforts over the years have directly impacted the existence of the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame.”

Johnson said the MGHOF is asking Michigan’s golf audience and historians to provide historical records they feel should be included in the data collection. Contact the MGHOF through the website mghof.org.

Michigan Golf Community Mourns Vartan Kupelian

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


  BIG RAPIDS – The induction of the 2020 class to the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame will be rescheduled for 2021.

  Originally scheduled for Saturday, June 6, 2020 at Ferris State University’s Katke Golf Club, the induction was postponed due to COVID-19 pandemic concerns with the hope that a fall ceremony could be presented. The MGHOF Committee voted Thursday to work on presenting the 2020 class as the 2021 class and not elect another class in 2021.

  “We will induct what is now the 2021 class next June provided we don’t have some of the same public health issues we face at this time,” Greg Johnson, chairman of the MGHOF said. “Facilities at the Ken Janke Sr. Golf Learning Center, the home of our Hall of Fame, remain closed as part of Ferris State University, and we feel it is in the best interests of all involved to follow current health guidelines and stay safe.”

  In February the class was announced. It includes David Graham, former executive director of the Golf Association of Michigan, Holt’s Julie Massa, a dominant senior golfer, Bay City’s Roy Schultheiss, a winner of both the Michigan Amateur and the GAM Championship, and Dick Stewart, a celebrated former head PGA golf professional at Kalamazoo Country Club.

  “The inductees will have their day, their induction, but at this point we are mindful of their health and the health of their friends, loved ones and the greater golf community who would be part of the celebration,” Johnson said.

  The MGHOF is a heralded collection of portraits, plaques and memorabilia that currently commemorates 127 members, including Walter Hagen, Chuck Kocsis, Walter Burkemo, Shirley Spork and more current notables Dave and Mike Hill, Dan Pohl, Meg Mallon and Kelly Robbins. The collection is housed and displayed in the Ken Janke Sr. Golf Learning Center at Ferris State University’s Katke facility. The late Ken Janke Sr. is both a co-founder and a member of the MGHOF.

  The MGHOF is administered by the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame Committee, which is funded through the non-profit Michigan Golf Foundation (501(c) (3) since 1996) and includes 18 people representing a cross-section of the state’s golf associations as well as golf media. The MGHOF committee conducts an annual election to recognize the achievements of competitive Michigan golfers, but also accomplishments of individuals who have contributed to the growth of the game.

  For more information and to learn about the current members of the Hall of Fame, visit mghof.org, or contact MGHOF Administrator Loretta Larkin at llarkin@michigan-golf-foundation.com, 248-719-0650.