MEMBER SPOTLIGHT
Charter Member Cherishes Memories of Uncle Jerry January 13, 2016 | FAR HILLS, N.J. By David Chmiel, USGA

Greg Ford may have been small, but he knew it was a big deal when Uncle Jerry and Aunt Betty came to visit. (Courtesy Greg Ford)

Greg Ford is a busy man. The 50-year-old Grand Rapids, Mich., optometrist has a thriving practice and just finished a busy year as president of Cascade Hills Country Club as well as the Michigan Optometric Association. Just like many USGA Members, the 2-handicapper juggles the demands of his profession, spends time with his family, and, of course, tries to play more golf. Unlike most of us, Ford had some family memories triggered when he saw the video celebrating 40 years of the USGA Members Program that featured his uncle – President Gerald Ford.

Was golf important in your house?

My dad, Jim, was the youngest, by 15 years, of four brothers – Uncle Jerry, Uncle Tom and Uncle Dick. They all loved golf. My dad started as a tennis player; he came to golf late but loved it and played to a 2 handicap. The funny thing is that my mother, Barbara, grew up a golfer. She was a good player, but when they got married, they switched hobbies. They usually won the mixed-doubles tennis and “ball and chain” golf tournaments each year.

How did you get into golf?

In the summer before high school, my dad asked if I was going to keep playing hockey. I told him I was too small. He said, ‘Then why don’t you play football?’ I said, ‘Dad, I can skate faster than anyone, but I can’t outrun anyone, so no football.’ I played nine holes occasionally with my dad, but I wasn’t infatuated with it yet. But I played all summer, made the JV golf team and played four years in high school. I played one year in college, at Ferris State University. I was the only one on the team not in the Professional Golf Management program. I didn’t think the coach, who was a PGM instructor, had big plans for me, so I focused on my optometry studies.

How did you become a USGA Member before you were an avid player?

It was a big deal to my father when Uncle Jerry became the first Associate [as USGA Members were first called]. He said this program would protect golf for the future and that he was going to sign us up, but Uncle Jerry had already taken care of it. A week later, my dad and my uncles got bag tags with ID numbers two, three and four. It may be my 10-year-old memory of it, but I am sure that my ID number was five. I have been a Member ever since.

And the video brought those memories back?

Oh my gosh, yes. Golf was important for dad and me, just as it was with him and his brothers. The game also tied me to Uncle Jerry. He really wanted to be a good player. Every time I saw him, he’d ask, ‘How is your golf game?’ We would play together occasionally but we spent more time talking about golf. My Uncle Dick was a Rules official; we played together about six months before he passed away at the age of 92. Uncle Tom wasn’t much of a golfer. Uncle Jerry always made time to play with his brothers. I walked along to be part of the action.

How competitive were these brotherly matches?

Uncle Jerry was extraordinarily competitive about golf; they all were. I remember the first time Uncle Dick shot his age. Somebody said, ‘Are you going to call your brother?’ He said, ‘No way, Jerry will want more shots.’ I am biased, but they were the most gentle, humble men I ever met. I interact with public every day, in the practice my dad started in 1950. It is an honor when people come in and mention my dad and Uncle Jerry.

What other moments did you get to enjoy?

For years, Uncle Jerry hosted the Jerry Ford Invitational Golf Tournament in Vail, Colo., and we got to spend time out there with Bob Hope, Flip Wilson, Sammy Davis Jr., all these celebrities. Once, my brother Bob and I were playing with [Boston Celtics Hall of Fame forward]John Havlicek and [NCAA coaching legend]Bob Knight, when someone in a fairway home starts giving them a hard time. It was Jack Nicklaus. I told Bob, I am not missing a chance to meet Jack Nicklaus, so we went with them. We are talking to these [Ohio State] Buckeyes and Coach Knight asks, ‘Where do you go to college?’ I tell him Ferris and he says, ‘You don’t go to Michigan?! I always knew I liked you best.’ Those days were so special.

What was it like to visit the White House?

We had a few trips there. My brother and I tried to go into all 133 rooms. We only missed three, where Marines were posted at the doors. One time, Bob and I were digging through a crawl space on the third floor. We found a set of clubs with Uncle Jerry’s name engraved on the irons. He said, ‘Jackie Gleason had these made for me. In a little while, we can all hit balls before dinner…’ He grabbed the bag and we went out to the South Lawn. The Secret Service was watching us. I was hitting a 7-iron and Uncle Jerry said, ‘I don’t know if you are swinging the club or if it’s the other way around!’ It spoke volumes about Uncle Jerry’s kindness. He made us feel like we were just having fun in their backyard.

What is the Ford family legacy in golf?

My son, Zac, is an avid player. He and our older daughter, Natalie, go to Michigan. It is so special that we get to play where I played with my dad and Uncle Jerry. When Zac saw the video link, it came right on the heels of Michigan retiring Uncle Jerry’s number this year. We were at midfield with the family and 109,000 people were cheering for Uncle Jerry. Zac said, ‘I guess I never really understood what a big deal it is to be related to Gerald Ford.’ I am closer to it, but it hit me, too.

What does golf mean to you?

My closest and dearest friends are my golf friends. I reached 50 and started thinking about time whipping by… it is really cool to have served the club as president, but now I hope to take a break this year to play with my wife, Carla, and my son more, but I also want to get involved with the USGA as a volunteer. The game has given me me so much and I want to repay the Association for everything the game has done for me.

David Chmiel is manager of Member content for the USGA. Please contact him at dchmiel@usga.org