By David Shefter, USGA
Bleary-eyed and a bit wary from a 10-hour-plus flight from South America, Dot Paluck headed toward Customs at Newark’s Liberty International Airport as daybreak hit on the morning of Oct. 20.
With her husband, Tom, waiting at baggage claim, Paluck gathered her suitcase and headed to the car for the short ride back to Bernardsville, N.J.
Once she reached home, Paluck took to the sofa for a quick snooze.
Like a businessman after a red-eye flight from the West Coast, Paluck quickly freshened up, changed clothes and was off to an assignment. Approximately two hours after landing in the U.S., she was present at an 8 a.m. Somerset County Park Commission meeting.
The following evening, she attended a Celebration of Golf Dinner hosted by the New Jersey Section of the PGA and the New Jersey State Golf Association.
At an age when most people are looking to slow down, Paluck seems committed to staying on a whirlwind carousel of activity - with no immediate intentions of stepping off.
Whether attending Park Commission meetings, serving on the USGA Women’s Committee, performing course rating for the Women’s Metropolitan Golf Association, traveling to exotic locales, tending to her garden and young puppy or watching her two young grandchildren, Paluck is the epitome of staying busy.
Remarkably, she juggles all her philanthropic endeavors as smoothly as a politician.
So it wasn’t surprising that Paluck and her husband were co-honored with the Distinguished Service Award by the New Jersey Section of the PGA/NJSGA at the seventh Celebration of Golf Dinner held at Crestmont Country Club in West Orange, N.J., on Oct. 21.
The Distinguished Service Award was created in 2004 to honor someone who has contributed exemplary volunteer service and contributions to golf in New Jersey, consistent with the values, honor and traditions of the game. The Celebration of Golf Dinner, which has featured ESPN/CBS college basketball analyst Bill Raftery as the emcee all seven years, highlights achievements and accomplishments within the Garden State.
NJSGA Executive Director Steve Foehl and his counterparts at the New Jersey Section of the PGA wanted a way to honor the top individuals in the state and thought a Celebration of Golf Dinner would accomplish this mission.
As for choosing co-recipients for the Distinguished Service Award, Foehl said while it may have been a first for New Jersey, it’s not unprecedented.
“I’m not sure what the genesis of the couple was because we haven’t been doing it that long, but it’s been done,” said Foehl. “The MGA (Metropolitan Golf Association) has done it a couple of times. It just kind of evolved from somebody’s idea and just seemed like the right thing to do.”
Nearly 300 people attended the dinner, which Foehl said has become one of the highlights of the year within the state. And he couldn’t think of two more worthy honorees than Dot and Tom Paluck.
“She loves it,” said Foehl of Paluck’s unbridled enthusiasm. “But she’s always been a tireless worker for not just golf; she was also on the [Bernardsville] Town Council. And Tom is the same way. He was on our board for a long time and was president. He invented this idea to run a one-day tournament in New Jersey for a combination of Western Golf [Association] and New Jersey State Golf [Association] caddie scholarship.
“So how do you explain why some work so hard at stuff like that? Obviously they love it.”
Anyone who has ever met Dot Paluck immediately notices the engaging personality. Approachable and gregarious, Dot possesses a soft touch, yet isn’t afraid to make a tough decision. And even if the verdict isn’t popular, she always does it in a non-demeaning manner.
“She is the only person I know that does not have any agenda,” said Brigid Shanley Lamb, a member of the USGA Executive Committee who served three years on the Women’s Committee with Paluck and has known her for three decades, back to their days on the Women’s Metropolitan Golf Association board. “She is just completely the most generous person in the world, and wants to do the best for everybody or everything she takes part in. And people sense that right away. She just has this incredible art of bringing people together.”
Lamb is perhaps the woman who knows Paluck best. The two have been longtime members at Somerset Hills Country Club in Bernardsville and each rose in the ranks of the WMGA during the 1990s. Paluck preceded Lamb as the WMGA president and during those four years of leadership, the two changed the culture of the association, especially as it pertained to the annual budget.
“The two of us went at it,” said Paluck of creating change. “We got an executive director for the organization.”
Their work was noticed by the USGA as both transitioned to the Women’s Committee, with Lamb eventually being nominated to the Executive Committee.
Shortly after her time as WMGA president, Paluck was asked to become a member of the USGA’s Regional Associations Committee and from there she joined the Women’s Committee, where she served as chairman of the USGA Women’s State Team Championship from 2005-2009.
But her devotion at the local and regional level continues to be the bedrock of her volunteer service. Besides rating 25 to 30 courses annually for the WMGA, Paluck is in charge of landing qualifying sites for the U.S. Women’s Open and U.S. Women’s Amateur, no easy task considering the number of competitions held annually in the New York metropolitan area.
Paluck understands that the process can’t be managed by one person alone. So she reached out to her contacts at the NJSGA for assistance. And that marriage has ensured the qualifiers succeed without a hitch.
“You need people who are willing to come and work,” said Paluck. “And New Jersey State has a supply of people. It solidifies the qualifier. You can be the official in charge, but it’s a big difference running [qualifiers] with somebody and not all by yourself.”
Paluck’s introduction to the USGA came 30 years ago when the U.S. Open was contested at Baltusrol Golf Club, where she is a member. Paluck had been involved with ladies associations at Lake Mohawk and Rock Spring prior to that, but for the 1980 U.S. Open, she was the co-chairman for juniors. This major responsibility included recruiting 450 junior volunteers to help on the scoreboard and act as runners. This was a time well before the Internet and PDAs, so the USGA relied on runners to supply information for updating the scoreboards.
Three years later when the U.S. Girls’ Junior came to Somerset Hills, Paluck again found herself in a key role as the transportation chairman. By then, Paluck had also started rating courses for the WMGA and was beginning her run up the leadership ladder within the WMGA board.
Being a member at Somerset Hills and a resident of Bernardsville, Paluck couldn’t help but run into USGA people, whether it was staff members like Frank Thomas or Janet Seagle or committee members.
Golf House is only 15 minutes away from the club.
“To me, the USGA was just there,” said Paluck. “It sounds funny, but when the USGA is in your backyard, you have to do something.”
In 1990, Paluck got involved with the Curtis Cup Match at Somerset Hills.
And with each endeavor, Paluck became known as someone who could effectively get things accomplished.
“It all sort of went from one thing to another,” she said. “If you are around and active, you get asked to do things.”
Once on the Women’s Committee, Paluck used her connections from her course rating to help land qualifying sites.
She’s also the type of person who enjoys being involved in the decision-making process, whether it’s setting policies for USGA women’s championships, changing the culture of the WMGA or serving as the chairman of golf for the Somerset County Park Commission, which oversees five courses.
“She has this innate ability to bring people together and see through things and do what’s best,” said Lamb.
Paluck had discovered golf before she enrolled at Michigan State University in the late 1950s. She tagged along with her father to the driving range at 10 and eventually gravitated to the game. She would also play on family trips to Canada.
But her life changed two days after arriving in East Lansing, Mich., for her freshman year. She met her future husband, Tom, who was attending MSU on an Evans Caddie Scholarship from the Western Golf Association, an organization he remains heavily active in today. In fact, it was Tom’s involvement with caddie scholarships in New Jersey that was the driving force behind his receiving the Distinguished Service Award. Tom and Dot are the first co-recipients in the short history of the honor.
By her senior year of college, Dot crammed her class schedule into the morning hours so she could sneak away in the afternoons to play golf with Tom.
The two were married a couple of months after graduating in 1962 and they moved to her home state of New Jersey; Tom had grown up in Illinois.
Dot took a job as a high school English and history teacher, but played hooky on several occasions to play in team golf matches.
“The kids would go, ‘Geez, nice tan there, Mrs. Paluck. Did you play well yesterday?’ ” said Paluck, laughing.
After teaching for four years, the last three at Parsippany High, Dot retired to raise her son. She would later get a master’s degree in special education, but never used it.
“I thought I would use it in my spare time, but I had no spare time by the time I graduated,” she said in her self-deprecating humor. “I like being busy.”
Considering all her talents and adventures, Paluck could have her own reality show. Forget Sarah Palin, Ozzy Osbourne or Jersey Shore, Paluck’s travails could easily provide entertainment value.
Call it, “Where is Dot Today?”
On her 17-day trip to South America for the World Amateur in Buenos Aires, Paluck decided to set off on her own adventure. Traveling solo, but with the help of various guides, she traversed Argentina and Bolivia, eventually working her way to Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake.
One guide dropped off Paluck for a night train at 2 a.m. Another guide took her into the Salar de Uyuni (Salt Flats).
When she attended the 2002 World Amateur in Malaysia, Paluck took a side trip to Thailand, then visited Katmandu in the Himalayas. She did not, however, ascend Mount Everest.
“I was having enough of a problem [breathing] at 13,000 feet,” she said.
On a trip to Japan, despite not knowing the language, Paluck navigated her way around the Tokyo subway system and the country’s trains without any issues.
The way Paluck sees it, if you are going to a golf competition away from home, plan to see more than just the course.
“It’s a big world out there,” she said.
Paluck does have a travel bucket list. She didn’t attend the 2006 or 2008 World Amateurs in South Africa and Australia, respectively, and would love to visit both places. And if she is still on the Women’s Committee in 2012, she likely will go to Turkey for the World Amateur.
“I’ve always narrowed it down to basically three things,” said Paluck. “The venues … the game’s integrity … and the people… Just look at the pictures on the wall [at Golf House]. Golf courses are in beautiful locations. I see more wildlife on golf courses than I do almost anyplace else with the possible exception of my backyard.
“Secondly, it’s a game of integrity. It’s a game of rules and you follow the rules. But thirdly and most important to me is the people. You get involved and you like the people.”
On a damp and chilly November morning, Paluck is prepared to head to Baltusrol and rate the Lower Course for the WMGA. The cold temperatures won’t keep her off the golf course, but a driving rain eventually will postpone the trip.
Even with most of the leaves off the trees and imperfect conditions, Paluck said she can accurately rate a golf course in late fall.
“You get a mid-season Stimp[meter reading] on the greens,” she said. “Everything else is off the chart. It’s not really that difficult. The fairways are still the same width. The bunkers don’t change.”
That’s Paluck in a nutshell. When most would prefer being inside next to the fireplace with a glass of Merlot, Paluck is willing to brave the elements to get the job done without anyone paying her a dime for the effort.
How much longer she continues her volunteer work is anyone’s guess.
“I don’t know,” she answered honestly. “I guess as long as I am enjoying it.”
Translation: Dot Paluck won’t be slowing down anytime soon.
David Shefter is a USGA communications staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.