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