Bob Bidwell went out doing what he loved. Last October, the longtime USGA member shot an 87 on a course near his home in Reston, Va. Always looking to improve, Bidwell was out practicing in a field across from his home a couple of days later when he collapsed and died. He was 76.
“That’s quite a way to finish one’s life,” said Mike Riley, a friend who played with Bidwell during his final round.
Bidwell followed his younger brother, Peter, into the game. Peter grew up playing golf in Central America after the family moved there for their father’s job as a naval officer on duty in the Canal Zone. Bob was in college at the time.
“Bob always said he was going to work hard to learn how to beat me,” Peter said. “I played high school golf and then I didn’t play again until my early 50s, so Bob caught up.
“Bob certainly had a passion for the game. He had a passion for a lot of things. He loved trout fishing, and he was always searching for the best Trader Joe’s wine he could get for under $5.”
Bidwell worked for the federal government his entire career, with the longest stretch at the Department of Energy.
“If he had a business trip where there’d be a good golf course, he’d stay the weekend and play. He played in at least 15 states,” said his wife, Sue. “When he retired in 2003, he decided to really work on his game. He was incredibly persistent. He practiced all the time.”
From 2012 to 2017, Bidwell improved his handicap from 16.1 to 10.7, finishing his life at a 12.6. He mostly played in Northern Virginia and Maryland, but he’d take winter trips down to Florida to play with Riley.
“Somewhere along the line, someone told him he needed to develop a pre-shot routine, which became a running joke with us,” Riley said. “He’d walk up to the ball, address it and then step back and hit the ground with his club three times. Then, he’d walk back up to the ball, look left, look right, then look at the ball and swing.”
Despite that painstaking approach, Riley said Bidwell was a very enjoyable person to be around.
“He was a thoughtful guy with a unique sense of humor,” Riley said.
Most of Bidwell’s thinking was about golf. He and his brother only played a few dozen rounds together, but they were always discussing the game.
“He would call me with questions about his swing and we’d talk for hours at a time,” said Peter. “Anytime I needed a Rules interpretation, he either knew the answer or would obsess until he found out.”
Bob’s passion for the Rules led him to become a USGA member in 1995, and he renewed his Eagle level membership every year since 1999.
“The last time he came out here, we played with a guy who was questioning why the No. 1 handicap hole wasn’t always the hardest on the course,” recalled Peter, who lives north of Tucson, Ariz. “This inspired a 15-minute monologue from Bob.”
Jordan Schwartz is the senior manager of social media for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.