The USGA has more than 1,300 volunteers who serve on 39 committees, plus thousands more who help at our national championships. This is the first in a series of Volunteer Spotlight stories.
Dr. Lew Blakey first became intrigued by the Rules of Golf on a purely academic level.
“I had an interest in the Rules, but I really didn’t know that much,” admitted Blakey, 77, who attended his first Rules workshop in 1993 after having played golf for decades. “And yet, when I began taking some of the local Rules quizzes, I found that they had a lot of mistakes.”
Blakey taught graduate-level mathematics and engineering courses at several universities as an adjunct professor, including Northwestern, North Carolina State, and George Washington, and when he scored a 92 on a Rules test after attending that first workshop, it rankled him. “I thought I should have scored 100,” he said. “That made it a challenge, and it also made me realize there was a lot that I didn’t know.”
|Dr. Lew Blakey
His determination helped Blakey log a rare perfect score of 100 on the Rules test the next year, a feat he has repeated several times. It also helped to bring the teacher of more than 40 years into the fold of USGA volunteers – people who help the association conduct its championships, rate courses, introduce youngsters to golf and a myriad of other forms of service to the game.
“For a long time, I never realized that there were Rules of Golf workshops,” said Blakey. “But one of the interesting things about the USGA is meeting people and finding out all the different routes that they took getting there, how they came to be involved.”
Blakey, of Alexandria, Va., would have to be classified as a quick learner. He began his formal involvement with the USGA as a member of the Senior Amateur Championship Committee in 1992, and he remained on that committee through early 2011. In December 1999, incoming USGA President Trey Holland asked Blakey to serve on the Rules of Golf Committee as a consulting member.
Blakey joined the USGA Executive Committee in 2001, and for the next six years, he served on the Executive Committee, as well as being a full member of the Rules of Golf Committee. Thus, barely a decade after taking that first test, he was one of the USGA representatives who worked with the R&A at the quadrennial Joint Rules Conference in 2003, which approved changes to the Rules and Decisions for 2004.
“There I was in the group of people who make the Rules,” said Blakey. “It’s nice for your ego, but you soon learn that it’s a collective job, not a top-down thing. It starts out with the thousands of golfers. The USGA is like a drum major; first we have to find out what the band is playing.”
Blakey’s interest in the Rules of Golf had first been piqued nearly 50 years earlier, a day he remembers well. He had been asked if he would like to accompany a gentleman who was rating Blakey’s home course, Alamance Country Club in Burlington, N.C.
“I think it was in the mid 1950’s, and he was a tall, lanky fellow,” said Blakey. “He was P.J. Boatwright, who was then the executive director of the Carolinas Golf Association. He used a wheel to measure the yardages; at that time, ratings were almost 100 percent determined by distance. When we finished the round, he gave my friend and I Rules of Golf booklets and told us that if we learned the Rules we would become better players.”
Boatwright would go on to become the executive director of the USGA for 11 years, and he was also generally regarded as the foremost Rules official in the world. And although Blakey didn’t do much with that Rules book right away, he said, “It was always in the back of my mind.”
Blakey has had a long involvement with the Middle Atlantic Golf Association, one of the 10 oldest amateur golf organizations in the country, where he recently served as president. He estimated that at one time he worked as many as 100 days a year for that association and the USGA. And his Rules knowledge became so well-rounded that, in 2001, he became an instructor at PGA/USGA Rules of Golf Workshops. He has helped conduct about two dozen such workshops over the past decade.
Blakey has worked as a Rules official at all four professional majors – including 14 U.S. Opens and eight Masters Tournaments – and numerous other USGA sectional qualifiers and national championships, including two Walker Cups.
“Although I began with strictly an academic appreciation for the Rules, you quickly find that a green-grass approach is very important,” said Blakey, who holds a doctorate in structural engineering from Catholic University. “Just knowing the Rules in black and white doesn’t always help when situations come up on the course.”
One such situation occurred in 2000 at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. A player thought he was entitled to relief, thinking at first that his ball was simply embedded in the ground, and on closer review, that it was in a hole made by a burrowing animal.
“The player was able to put his entire hand into the hole. To resolve the situation, several roving Rules officials were called over,” Blakey said. “It took more than 20 minutes, and the course started to get backed up. Ultimately, it was decided that the hole was not a hole made by a burrowing animal, and the player took his drop for an embedded ball and they continued. Later when we talked to the course superintendent, he said that it was likely that the ball had become lodged in a sod seam adjacent to one of the new bunkers.
“Being a Rules official can be a walk in the park a lot of the time, but once in a while, something happens – and it helps to have some experience with different situations.”
Blakey only wishes that he had more such experiences to draw upon.
“I really regret that I didn’t get involved in my thirties or forties,” he said. “There were some contemporaries of mine who, when I started with the USGA in my mid-fifties, had already been involved for a long period of time.”
And yet Blakey, who joined the Amateur Public Links Championship Committee this year upon leaving the Senior Amateur Committee, seems to be doing a pretty good job of making up for lost time.
Ron Driscoll is the USGA’s manager of editorial services. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.