An Interview With Joe Luigs

Be prepared for some shots if you spend any time with Joe Luigs. Getting a straight and/or serious answer out of him is not easy. Getting a straight-forward and pun-injected one is. He shared this humorous and enlightened view of his USGA career in late October with Pete Kowalski of USGA Championship Media Relations. This engaging USGA committeeman is devoted to his wife and family and the game of golf. In fact, smiles brighten faces within USGA circles when you say “Marcia and Joe.” What also shows through in this short Q&A is his eternal devotion to golf and the crystal-clear reasons why he is the 2010 Joe Dey Award winner.

You are an insurance man by trade – how much of your time is spent on golf either by volunteering, playing or traveling?

“I have to say that I hardly play. This summer at Crooked Stick (Golf Club in Carmel, Ind.), I played three rounds. At our place in Florida, I played three rounds. I play in spurts. Last year, including Australia, I played about 20 rounds. I’ve got a 12-dayer in the spring to Scotland and in 12 days I will probably play 15 rounds.”

How did you get started volunteering in golf and in volunteering for the USGA?

“(USGA staff member) Jim Farrell appointed me in ’81. Actually (USGA staff member Stan) Zontek appointed me. I got my start at  

Joe Dey Award recipient Joe Luigs of Carmel, Ind., has been a USGA volunteer for more than 25 years. (USGA Museum)
 the USGA when I was the green chairman at Crooked Stick and Stanley was making TAS (Turf Advisory Service) visits. Farrell got Marcia (Luigs’ wife) going. That’s the one that cost me several hundred thousand (dollars).

I used to, before they threw me out, I was doing about 400 hours a year for the Western Golf (Association), mostly for the Evans Scholars. This year, I thought I didn’t do much because they didn’t want me doing anymore national events. So (USGA staff member Bill) McCarthy asks me for my activity report and my activity report indicated I had done 19 events this year. And the qualifiers, of course, are three full days and I had five of those. I probably spent 45 days volunteering.”

What’s more fun: the USGA people or USGA championships?

“The championships are not any fun – not anymore they’re not. (laughing) They were fun to begin with when you were kind of star struck and it was kind of neat to be on both sides of the ropes. I had had two conversations (the day of the interview) with USGA guys and we just laughed our butts off and it really didn’t have anything to do with anything except making fun of one another. On the other hand, there’s been a lot of conversation about a sick committee member lately. Those kinds of things don’t have anything to do with championships but that’s where you meet those folks. I think it’s about the people, don’t you?”

What is your favorite USGA championship and why?

“I suppose I got all hooked up on the Women’s Amateur because I was the co-chair in ’07. I went to several of those before and maybe one or two afterward because I wanted to see the inside of the organization. I probably had more fun with the Women’s Amateur and the Women’s Open than any of the men’s events.”

Who is getting more from your golf experiences – golf or you?

“Golf doesn’t have to be played. I could be very happy on the golf course without any clubs.”

What does the word volunteer mean to you?

“I’ve been thinking about that. What I think it means is that you do what you say you will do. That’s what I think it is. (In late October in Indiana) the weather was really crappy. It was in the 40s and rainy all week and I was out on the golf course for five days doing two events. That was volunteering because somebody needed somebody like me to do what I did. It had nothing to do with me specifically. The (Mid-American Conference) Women’s event needed a Rules guy. The Senior Women’s International Matches needed a Rules guy and referee because there wasn’t anybody else to do it. It’s kind of your responsibility to do it and stuff like that.”

What is your best attribute as a golf administrator?

“Probably the organizational part, putting it together.”

What is your weakness as a golf administrator?

“I’m not a very good Rules guy (laughing). I may be the best guy in the country as far as managing a group out there on the golf course, but if somebody throws something at me that is totally off the wall, I’m the first guy to hit the radio.”

What is your favorite USGA anecdote/story?

“This one may seem minor but in my view typifies golf, relationships in golf and just the ‘whole deal.’  2000 Open at Pebble Beach, Saturday, I think. Hole No. 2, reachable 5 par; unless you drive it in the fairway bunker approximately 225 yards back with hazard  

Joe Luigs (right) says it's the people that make volunteering for the USGA so special. (USGA Museum)
 fronting the green as did Mr. Tom Watson.  As we approached the bunker which was near the ropes, I noticed Mr. Sandy Tatum standing on the spectator side of the ropes.  We know, of course, that Tatum and Watson are long time friends probably, from the Stanford connection. ‘Mr.Tatum’, I said, ‘Please join me on the player's side of the ropes where you belong. As he did, Watson noticed him, said nothing and pulled a 2-iron. Trust me, this was no 2-iron shot, but a layup. The 2-iron landed approximately 8 feet from the hole. Greatest golf shot I've ever seen and I told him so while taking his scorecard at the ‘09 Senior Open. He remembered the shot. After hitting the shot, he looked at Tatum who remarked, ‘Nice shot, Watson.’ ‘Thanks, Tatum,’ was the retort. The eyes told the story better than the comments as both of them knew. There was extreme pride in hitting the shot and as much watching the entire encounter. Man, course and ball. Do not recall if he made the eagle putt as it is not important. Tatum escorted me for a few holes and disappeared, never again speaking to Watson. Conversation between the two was unnecessary. Joe's moral: As one once said ‘if it cannot be done, stay out of the way of those doing it’. That was Watson's shot. It has always been very satisfying to me to do projects that others say cannot be done.”

How good of a player are you?

“The last time I turned in a score, I didn’t know how to turn it in because there was a computer there. I said to the assistant pro, ‘Hey, post this for me.’ He started posting it and laughing and I said, ‘OK, let me in on this. And he said, ‘This is the first score you have posted in five years.’ So by my handicap card, I am a 7 but I would love to play me as a 7. (laughing) I’m probably a 9.”

Wine or scotch?

“I’d go with the single malt every time.”

Tell us about the upcoming trip to Dornoch (Scotland).

“That’s kind of a quickie. I’m taking a bunch of guys who I say I will never do it again and I get conned into it. Most of these guys have jobs and they’ve got to be back in seven days. So we are starting at Muirfield and ending up at the Old Course and then Marcia and (past Women’s Committee chairman) Roberta (Bolduc) and (past Women’s Committee member) Carol Falk Beaman show up and I’ve got another seven days with those gals and am taking those gals up to Castle Stuart, Dornoch and Machrihanish.”

What do your wife and family get you for birthdays, Christmas, Father’s Day?

“Nothing golf-wise, trust me. We don’t buy golf stuff for one another. We don’t have to because we are unisex and everything we have, down to our underwear, has USGA Rules on it.”

What word or set of words best describes how you approach life?

“I don’t take myself very seriously.”

What is your favorite golf experience?

“I guess it’s one of those continuing experiences. The highlight is our quality time at Dornoch (Scotland). But maybe, it was watching Marcia captain that team in Australia (USA Team at Women’s World Amateur Team Championship in October 2008). That was neat. It was neat for her and was funny because when we came in to do (historical interview for the USGA Museum) – I ended up being the interviewer so when I handed Marcia the microphone to tell her story about that, she couldn’t do it. It struck her. She had no idea she was going to be emotional about that. Those three gals and Marcia are still e-mailing constantly. Another one was probably, I caddied for (daughter) Lisa in five or six national championships and the first one was the (Women’s) Amateur at Pinehurst, which was pretty neat. It would have been better had she made the cut. But she hit the genetic wall. (laughing)”

What golf trips do you and Marcia have planned for the next year or two?

“We are doing to take two weeks to go to the (2010) Curtis Cup near Boston. We may go to Argentina (2010 World Amateur Team Championships). I have never been in South America, and it’s a good excuse to go.”

How many countries have you visited with Marcia?

”Maybe a dozen. Not a huge amount.”

What is something you want to be known for?

“I think it goes back to the volunteering stuff. I’d just like to be known as a guy that did what he said he was going to do. It’s not that hard.”

List the 3-5 most important things in your life in order of importance.

“I don’t have anything to say about that. It’s way too cerebral for me.”

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