Richard D. Haskell, the executive director of the Massachusetts Golf Association for nearly 30 years and a longtime member of various USGA committees, died on Sunday at his home in Chestnut Hill, Mass. Haskell was 84.
“Very few people in golf have done what Dick Haskell did, for as long and as productively as he did it,” said Jim Gaquin, the former tournament relations manager for the USGA, who was a longtime member of the Mass. Golf Association’s executive committee when Haskell was executive director. “And he did it in a very self-effacing way – he wasn’t assertive or bombastic in any way. And looking at the big picture, he was one of the most effective golf administrators in the country.”
During Haskell’s tenure as the head of the Mass. Golf Association from 1969-1997, he helped to increase the rolls of MGA membership by nearly 450 percent and added several new championships to the state calendar.
He also helped to found junior golf camps in several Bay State cities and spearheaded a successful legislative drive to lessen the state tax burden on MGA member clubs. The MGA, the seventh-largest state association in the U.S., was also one of the first two associations to adopt the USGA’s GHIN and Slope course-rating systems in the early 1980s.
“He was one of the deans of golf administration who helped form the International Association of Golf Administrators,” said current MGA executive director Joseph J. Sprague. “He helped professionalize the ranks of the state and regional golf associations.”
The IAGA currently comprises the administrators of 145 state, regional and national golf associations throughout North America. Haskell served as its president in 1981-82 and received its Distinguished Service Award in 2000.
Haskell had been in poor health for about a month and a half, but seemed on the road to recovery, according to Harry McCracken, the longtime executive director of the New England Golf Association and a college classmate of Haskell’s at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine.
“It’s a shock,” said McCracken. “He would have been 85 next month. We graduated together from the Class of 1950. If it weren’t for Dick, I don’t think I would have become involved with the USGA.” McCracken was the winner of the USGA’s Joseph C. Dey Award for meritorious service to the game in 2007.
Haskell served on USGA committees for 25 years, including the handicap procedure committee (1974-1998), the regional associations committee (1976-1998) and the Bob Jones Award committee (1993-1999). He was just the fourth executive director of the MGA, which was founded in 1903. The organization’s first executive director was Fred Corcoran, the legendary golf promoter who was later elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame. Corcoran served as director from 1927-36, and was succeeded by his brother John (1937-45) and brother Bill (1946-68), before Haskell took over the reins in 1969.
“We played on the Bowdoin golf team together,” said McCracken. “We were in the New England small college league, and I think Bowdoin came in dead last every year. We had a couple of good golfers on the team, but not Dick and I. I think we were stronger on the administrative side of golf than with the actual playing.”
The Mass. Golf Association annually awards the Richard D. Haskell Player of the Year to the golfer who accumulates the most points over the season (a scoring system he instituted), and since retiring as executive director in 1997, he had held the title of MGA historian.
“Both of those are indications of the esteem in which he was held,” said Gaquin. “Nobody knew as much about the history of Massachusetts golf. And his primary love was amateur golf; he had a predilection for the amateur game.”
“I would suggest that golf – specifically amateur golf – has never had a better friend and more devoted supporter than Mr. Haskell,” said Jim McCabe of Golfweek magazine, who covered golf for the Boston Globe for many years. “When I first started writing about golf for the Globe, Mr. Haskell told me to always remember that golf was not what you shot, because it's not a game of numbers, it's about people. He said, 'Get to know the people and you'll appreciate the game.' He was right. As always.”
For many years, Richard A. “Dick” Crosby handled tournament operations for the MGA, while Haskell administered the rest of the organization. According to McCracken, Haskell’s modus operandi was highly effective.
“Dick was fairly low-key, but he would plant the seeds of an idea in people’s minds, then watch you try to put the thing together,” said McCracken. “He’d let someone else get the accolades, say it was their idea. That’s the type of individual he was. He was able to get people who had the same bent on life to join the MGA and become involved, which is not an easy thing to do.”
For roughly 50 years, Haskell was a member of The Country Club, the Brookline, Mass., club that was one of the five founding member clubs of the USGA. The Country Club has produced five USGA presidents and more recently, Executive Committee members such as Charles M. Pyle Jr. and Arthur W. Rice Jr. The Country Club will host the U.S. Amateur in 2013, the centennial of Francis Ouimet’s landmark victory there in the 1913 U.S. Open.
“There are very strong ties there with the USGA,” said McCracken. Indeed, Haskell, who often referred to Ouimet as “our patron saint,” contributed to the book The Story of Golf at The Country Club by John de St. Jorre, which won the Herbert Warren Wind Book Award from the USGA for 2009.
“He kept trying to get me to take over the New England Golf Association,” recalled McCracken, who became that organization’s secretary/treasurer in 1987 and still holds that position. “But he would never say, ‘You’ve got to do it.’ He just steered you that way. He would say that it needs to represent the region, not just one state. One day I said to him, ‘You son of a gun, you got me into this.’ But he always had the best interests of golf at heart.”
Perhaps most telling of Haskell’s contributions was the joy he took from the game. Gaquin said that Haskell once told him that he first got involved in golf at a now defunct course called Labor-In-Vain in Ipswich, on the North Shore in Massachusetts. Surely Haskell’s involvement in the golf industry was a labor of love. When he retired from the MGA in 1997, he noted this about Bay State golfers: “They don't smile as much as they should.”
At Haskell’s request, services will be private. He leaves his wife, Betty, two sons and one daughter, and five grandchildren.
“That was his nature, to stay out of the limelight,” said McCracken. “A lot of people over a number of years will reminisce about Dick. He’s going to be missed; there’s no question about that.”
Ron Driscoll is the copy editor for the USGA. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.