In some ways, Bill Dickey was no different from millions of other golfers with a tremendous passion for the game. He picked up golf later in his life, when he was almost 30, then tried to catch up by playing as often as he could, whether at home or on vacation.
“If there was no golf, there was no travel,” said his wife, Alice. “One time in the ’70s, we wanted to go on a vacation to Acapulco. He started planning the trip, and we eventually wound up with a golf tournament with more than 50 people.”
But there was also an aspect of Dickey’s love of the game that distinguished him from other golfers. With his boundless passion, Dickey assisted, influenced and inspired thousands of young minority golfers who received scholarships from the association founded by Dickey, who passed away Oct. 16 at the age of 84.
There will be a celebration service of his life among family and close friends on Oct. 26 in Scottsdale, Ariz.
“He helped make golf a more welcoming, more inclusive game,” said Rand Jerris, the USGA’s senior managing director for public services. “He personally committed his time and talents to providing opportunities for junior minority golfers to participate at the highest levels of the game. His dedication to the advancement of minority golf will be missed tremendously.”
Dickey’s contributions earned him recognition from golf’s major organizations. In 2001, he received the USGA’s Joe Dey Award in recognition for meritorious service as a volunteer.
“It is the recognition for a rewarding program that has helped so many young people along the way that makes me feel so good,” said Dickey upon receiving the award. “It’s a special thing when you can be honored for doing something you really love and believe in.”
Dickey also won the PGA of America’s Distinguished Service Award in 1999 and the PGA Tour’s 1992 Card Walker Award, presented to a person or group that has made significant contributions to golf.
In addition to establishing the National Minority Junior Golf Scholarship Association (now known as the Bill Dickey Scholarship Association), Dickey had plenty of other achievements in the game. He was president of the Western States Golf Association, helped found the National Minority Collegiate Golf Championship and donated artifacts and personal papers to the USGA/PGA African-American Golf Archive.
In addition, Dickey has been immortalized through his induction in the National Black Golf Hall of Fame, African-American Golfers Hall of Fame and the Arizona Golf Hall of Fame.
As much as through accomplishments and awards, Dickey left an impression through personal interaction. His generosity, humanity, dedication and sense of humor lifted those around him and added to the sorrow of his passing.
“I don’t know anyone who has an unkind word about Bill Dickey,” said Dr. Jeffrey Sammons, a member of the USGA Museum Committee who worked with Dickey to obtain his personal papers for the Archive. “He enriched the lives of people who came in contact with him. I’m so sorry that I didn’t know him longer and better.”
Born and raised in the Philadelphia area, Dickey attended Virginia Union University for a couple of years before enlisting in the Air Force. Following his service, Dickey moved to Arizona at the behest of his older sister, Eleanor, a prominent figure in the Phoenix-area civil-rights movement alongside her husband, Lincoln Ragsdale.
Dickey graduated from Arizona State University in 1956, taking up golf two years later. But it wasn’t until he retired from his real estate business in 1981 that Dickey pursued his true passion.
“When he retired, he wasn’t a homebody,” said Alice. “He had the idea that there were a lot of kids who didn’t have opportunities to play, and that he could start a program to help them.”
This idea turned into the National Minority Junior Golf Scholarship Association, which Dickey established in 1984. To date, the association has raised more than $3 million and has provided support to more than 1,000 minority junior golfers.
“He was an awesome guy,” said Dr. Cedrick Smith, a scholarship winner who played golf at Hampton University before going to medical school. “I was very inspired by his love of the game and his commitment to junior golf.”
The success of the association was built on Dickey’s ability to connect with people. “What amazed me was that he could fit into any situation, from ghetto bars to country clubs,” said Alice.
Over the years, Dickey became a mentor to thousands of African-American golfers – young and old – who were united in making the game more accessible to all. He provided support and encouragement to anyone who shared his love for the game and his desire to offer everyone an opportunity to play.
“Bill was like an uncle or father figure to so many of us,” said Renee Powell, the first African American to play in the U.S. Girls’ Junior and the second African American to play on the LPGA Tour. “He has done more for diversity with youth and college-age people than anyone in the entire industry.”
In addition to providing financial assistance, Dickey built a scouting network of promising African-American junior golfers.
“Bill became an invaluable asset for the golf institutions,” said Lew Horne, a good friend and fellow member of the National Black Golf Hall of Fame. “If you were an African-American kid who broke 80 two or three times, Bill Dickey knew about you.”
One of the biggest targets on Dickey’s radar was Tiger Woods, who later grew up to form his own foundation, which teamed up with Dickey’s association to provide scholarships for deserving students.
“Bill was a wonderful man and made significant contributions to the game of golf,” said Woods. “What he did for minorities in golf is immeasurable.”
As well as providing support for individuals, Dickey helped to build camaraderie among African-American youth, who lacked role models and a sense of community.
“Often I thought I was the only African American playing golf,” said Smith, who grew up in the Dallas area. “Bill used to send out newsletters, and I was able to see other kids that looked like me on the golf course.”
While Dickey’s actions impacted thousands of young golfers, his example laid the foundation for other programs that have reached millions. And the spirit with which he led his life continues to burn brightly.
“The argument and case could be made quite easily that Bill started the movement for inclusion of young, diverse competitive players in the game,” said Joe Louis Barrow Jr., chief executive of The First Tee. “He was a mentor to many of us and a leader to all. We all feel the pain of his passing yet must be inspired to assure his legacy continues with greater resolve and determination.”
Hunki Yun is a senior writer for the USGA. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.