Few people were more passionate about the game of golf than Harry McCracken Jr. For 50 years – more than half of his adult life – the Massachusetts native was a dedicated volunteer to the Massachusetts Golf Association, New England Golf Association and the USGA. One could think of him as the Larry Bird, Bobby Orr or Ted Williams of New England golf administration.
“He’s really one of a kind up here,” said Jesse Menachem, the executive director of Mass Golf. “I don’t think you can replicate what he did over the span that he did it.”
McCracken, the 2007 recipient of the USGA’s Joe Dey Award for meritorious service to the game, passed away peacefully on Oct. 18 in Norwood, Mass., at the age of 94.
Golf was part of McCracken’s livelihood since his father first introduced him to the game at age 11 at Charles River Country Club, his home course for 80 years. Charles River annually hosts the McCracken Cup, a four-ball event named in his honor that attracts some of the best mid-amateur (25 and older) players from the area. In 2017, Mass Amateur was held at Charles River. That year, Mass Golf, which conducts the competition, decided to name the stroke-play medalist award in McCracken’s honor.
Although he played on the golf team at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, McCracken quickly realized his game wasn’t good enough to win titles. So he turned to volunteering, first in 1969 as Charles River’s representative to the Massachusetts Golf Association’s executive board.
Fifteen years later, he was elected the association’s president. He also became the de facto executive director of the New England Golf Association (NEGA), an organization that serves Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut, mainly to conduct four major amateur competitions. The New England Amateur trophy is named in his honor.
“It's difficult to quantify what he meant to all six state associations in New England,” said Joe Sprague, the former executive director of the Massachusetts and Rhode Island golf associations who is now the USGA’s director of Regional Affairs for the Northeast Region. “He had close personal ties with most of the staff and many volunteers from all of the associations. And his NEGA volunteers were so loyal to Harry, they’d run through a brick wall for him. Whenever he was running a USGA qualifier or NEGA event, they’d come out of the woodwork to help Harry.”
Sprague and retired USGA regional affairs director Jim Farrell were planning to present McCracken with a plaque to honor his service at Tuesday’s New England Golf Association Annual Meeting.
“Over the course of several years it was Harry who almost singlehandedly forged a strong bond between all six states that continues to this day,” said Sprague.
McCracken mentored staff, interns and volunteer officials, especially in conducting competitions, employing an old-school manner of getting things accomplished.
“He told you how it was, whether it was what you wanted to hear or not,” said Menachem.
Added Sprague: “The real Harry had a heart of gold and a loyalty to his friends beyond compare. A former USGA committee member and NEGA past president from Rhode Island [and recently deceased], Bill Cooke, put it best: ‘Harry is the hardest softie I ever met.’”
Long after he retired from running his family-owned mortgage company, McCracken continued to work out of a small office in the Mass Golf headquarters at TPC Boston in Norton. At an age when most volunteers cut back, McCracken just kept moving forward, working tirelessly to conduct qualifying events for the USGA, Mass Golf and the NEGA. He typically put 25,000 to 35,000 miles on his car conducting USGA qualifiers, 15 or more annually in Massachusetts alone.
There were also many qualifiers in the five other New England states where he assisted or served as the official in charge.
McCracken’s legacy went beyond competitions. During his time as president of Mass Golf, he brought in a golf management company to ensure that Boston’s two municipal courses, George Wright and Franklin Park, were well maintained. Menachem said the facilities remain two of the finest in all of New England.
It was that dedication that caught the attention of the USGA. In 2007, he received the Joe Dey Award, and seven years later, he earned the Ike Grainger Award for 25 years of service to the association. Besides his duties with Mass Golf and the NEGA, McCracken joined the USGA’s Regional Affairs Committee in 1989.
“He loved being around people, the players and the officials,” said Menachem. “He just loved to be an ambassador, but not in a way to take the center stage. That was not his style.”
McCracken, whose wife Jane passed away 6 months earlier, is survived by his son Peter McCracken, daughter-in-law Cheryl, and two grandchildren, as well as several nieces and nephews.
A funeral service, which is open to friends and family, is scheduled for Wednesday (Oct. 23) at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Westwood, Mass., at 11:30 a.m. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations to be made in McCracken’s name to the Francis Ouimet Scholarship Fund, 300 Arnold Palmer Boulevard, Norton, MA 02766 (https://www.ouimet.org).
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.