SERVING THE GAME
Hall-of-Fame Nod Just Latest of Passey’s Achievements October 22, 2015 | Far Hills, N.J. By Scott Lipsky, USGA

It was Mark Passey's calligraphy skills that first got him involved in the golf industry. (USGA/John Mummert)

In the midst of a long, productive career in golf, Mark Passey understands how fortunate he is to have made a career out of the game he loves. Passey, the USGA’s director of regional affairs for the Central Region, has spent the last 26 years working with state and regional golf associations and at national championships. He wouldn’t trade it for anything.

“From Seattle to South Florida, from San Diego to Boston, I’ve been able to see the whole country from a window seat. Every city you go to, the prettiest place in town is the club,” said Passey, who, by his count, has worked at 133 USGA championships. “It’s really fun to get up and go to work every day for an organization that has a mission that you believe in, your co-workers believe in. It’s really cool to be able to do this. I’m really lucky.”

Perhaps best known for his calligraphy and artwork on the scoreboards that often serve as a central meeting spot during championships, the fruits of his labor over the last three decades go well beyond his recognizable handwriting. Passey has played a big part in the expanded role that state and regional golf associations (SRGAs) play in the success of the game nationwide, and he is largely responsible for the Utah Golf Association’s transformation, serving as its executive director from 1984-1989. The UGA showed its appreciation on Oct. 10, inducting him into its hall of fame.

“Passey is Utah golf’s Johnny Appleseed,” said USGA Regional Affairs Committee member Mike Bailey during his introduction of Passey at the induction ceremony in Salt Lake City. “He has helped many Utahns advance to many important golf positions during the past few years and their influence will continue for years to come.”

During the five years that Passey was at the helm of the UGA, the association launched state mid-amateur and senior amateur championships as well as a statewide junior golf association. He also helped create the very hall of fame in which he was just inducted. It was this experience that allowed him to thrive in his current role with the USGA, which he has served since 1989. Coming from a strong SRGA that he made even stronger was a great template for how he has spent his years helping golf associations all over the country thrive.

Watch: Mark Passey Talks Scoreboards

“No two of these associations are alike. Every one of them, however, have some things in common, which is that they’re our partner, and they all are challenged to get their mission completed with the USGA’s support and help,” said Passey, who continued to work out of Salt Lake City until he relocated to Denver just over a decade ago. “The biggest single thing is developing a relationship with every one of them with the USGA, to make them feel like they’re a part of us. That even though we are separate, we’ve got this partnership.”

While Passey serves in many roles during championships, he has continued to handle the calligraphy on the hand-printed scoreboard at the U.S. Amateur. In fact, it was this talent that led to his career in golf administration. The son of a grocery store owner, Passey grew up writing the display signs for the store. He initially followed in his father’s footsteps and went to work for Smith’s Food and Drug, a grocery store chain that is now a part of Kroger, after graduating from Utah State University, but it was his early responsibilities of putting ink to cardboard that would ultimately open doors for him. Dean Candland, the head pro at Passey’s home club, Logan Golf and Country Club, ran into Passey working at the store and was inspired.

“It’s like a bell went off. The big club invitational was coming up and he didn’t have anyone to do the scoreboard so he said, ‘You give it a try,’ and I said sure, why not,” Passey recalled. “I could print a little bit, but I had no clue what I was doing. But that sort of led to things. I was asked by other clubs to do scoreboards, I started getting PGA Tour sites around the country.  I’d take all my days off and all my vacation time and jump on an airplane, do a scoreboard, and then come back and go to work.”

Perhaps it is these roots that drive his affinity for the work of hand-printing manual scoreboards to this day, but it is also the tradition, and the memories, that make him cognizant of their value, even in 2015, with all of the digital options that fans have at their disposal.

“How much stuff can you see on a [mobile device]? You’re always going to be limited to the size of a screen. You can scroll through it, but you’re not going to see me post that last score and put the name on the summary that bumped out all the guys [from making the cut],” said Passey. “Paul Simson, the [2010 and 2012 U.S.] Senior Amateur champion, he was in the first group of the day at The Olympic Club in the 1998 U.S. Open. Until the last group came in, he was still on the bubble, and the cut had gone back and forth all day long. He’s there, and there’s this whole crowd of people, and every time I’d move the cut back, a whole crowd of people would cheer. It’s involvement with a whole bunch of other people in the process instead of just looking at it on your phone.”

That’s not to say that he doesn’t have an appreciation for, and a big hand in, how the game has evolved. The partnerships that he and his fellow regional directors strive to develop with SRGAs include making sure their operations are best-in-class because, in the end, they are the ones engaging with the true constituents of golf’s governing body.

“Think about the 30,000-plus people that enter a USGA championship every year. Ninety-five percent of them are not going to get to the championship. The USGA to them is what they see at the local level,” Passey said. “We started providing radios and computers and course-measuring equipment, a lot of stuff to help raise the bar. We’ve upgraded the quality of USGA qualifying everywhere. The difference in the way qualifying would be run in one area of the country versus another has dramatically changed.”

A man of both tradition and innovation, Passey can now truly say he is enjoying a hall-of-fame career.

Scott Lipsky is the manager of websites and digital platforms for the USGA. Email him at slipsky@usga.org.