The Man Who Makes The Grass Grow

June 14, 1965
June 14, 1965

Table of Contents
June 14, 1965

Yesterday\Frank Lockhart
Design For Sport
  • The hexagonal bubble tent at left pulls smoothly out on a telescopic track inside the eight-foot tube atop the station wagon. It unfolds and zips into place in 1½ minutes and needs no stakes. The striped gazebo at right is equally self-sufficient: the curved fabric roof under stress needs no center pole or ropes.

Baseball's Week
19th Hole: The Readers Take Over

The Man Who Makes The Grass Grow

Regard the golf ball on the opposite page. And ask any touring professional where it is. Ten to one he will tell you it is in the rough at the U.S. Open, which is exactly where this particular ball was photographed a year ago—during the USGA Open Championship at the Congressional Country Club in Washington, D.C.

This is an article from the June 14, 1965 issue Original Layout

It is the rough that distinguishes U.S. Open courses from those on which golf's other major championships are played. In the minds of the competitors it grows as high as an elephant's eye, and it flanks fairways that look no wider than footpaths through the African veldt. Even with large galleries standing only a few yards away, balls have been lost in the Open rough, and sometimes when they have been found players might well have wished they had stayed lost. The pros have a lot of words for the Open rough—most of them short and not carefully chosen—but their sole annual consolation is that they think they know to whom to address the words. It is a singular tribute to a singular man that the golfers call U.S. Open courses Deysville, and that endless locker room conversations begin, "You can tell Joe Dey for me..."

Joseph Charles Dey Jr. is, and has been for 30 years, the executive director of the U.S. Golf Association, which is the ruling body of amateur golf in America. He is a tallish, handsome, dignified, little-known man of courtly manners and quiet graces (you pronounce Dey as in shy) who combines his considerable authority with an ability to wield it well (cross him, and you can pronounce Dey as in dead). He is an anomaly in the modern world: a man of great influence who labors gladly in obscurity, and by moving judiciously and firmly he has become the most powerful individual in American golf. He is to his sport what Secretary McNamara is to the Pentagon, or Will Hays used to be to the movies or Richelieu was to the court of Louis XIII. The public knows of him only as a shadowy figure whose name occasionally gets into the papers along with one of his pronouncements on some sticky problem. Rarely is his picture seen. In golf, however, his voice is from Mount Olympus.

Technically, Joe Dey is no more than the surrogate for the USGA Executive Committee, a body of 15 men who are the overlords of amateur golf. (Professional golf is run by the PGA, but—unlike tennis—the twain do meet in golf, most notably in Opens, tournaments run by the USGA that are, as the name implies, open to both amateurs and professionals.) As the USGA's executive director, Dey administers its business and speaks its corporate mind. Whenever golf or a golfer faces one of the game's infinite quandaries, whether it be at the U.S. Open or during a hotly contested Ladies' Day event at Babbling Brook, the ultimate word must emanate from Golf House, the USGA headquarters in New York where Joe Dey presides.

In the course of a year, Golf House receives more than a thousand formal inquiries—and perhaps twice again that number by telephone—for rulings on some sticky technicality. A caddie has fallen into a bunker with the player's golf clubs before the player has had a chance to hit out. Should the player be penalized two strokes for grounding a club in a hazard? (He should not.) A lady phones to say her club championship has reached the semifinal round with only three players. What should be done? (Play a round robin or decide it by stroke play.) A man in Avon, Conn. makes a hole in one but does not want to buy champagne for everybody. Is he entitled to declare the ball unplayable and take the consequent penalty? (He is not, for the Rules of Golf say that he has completed the hole. Great Britain, however, for years had a "lost in the hole" rule. If the golfer thought his ball was lost and played another it did him no good to later find his first one in the cup.) "I don't know what game that Connecticut gentleman is playing," said Joe Dey, "but it isn't golf."

On a higher, though not necessarily more combative level, there have been rulings at national championships that have had a serious effect on the careers of professional golfers. For instance, during the final round of the 1940 U.S. Open at Canterbury Golf Club in Cleveland, Ed (Porky) Oliver—one of the best-liked tournament pros of the era—had to be disqualified after finishing the 72 holes in a tie with Gene Sarazen and Lawson Little. The group with which Oliver was playing began its afternoon round 32 minutes ahead of its official starting time in order to beat a threatening storm, and the USGA ruled that this had given the players an unfair advantage.

Years later, at the 1957 Women's Open at Winged Foot, Mrs. Jackie Pung, the portly and genial Hawaiian matron, brought home the winning score of 298. But in the excitement and confusion of her victory she signed a faulty scorecard. Her playing partner, who was keeping her score, had mistakenly marked a 5 on a hole where Mrs. Pung had taken a 6. Though the final score of 72 was correctly entered, the Rules called for a disqualification. The USGA championship committee so ordered.

And who has been blamed ever since for the misfortunes that befell these two popular golfers? Why, Joseph C. Dey Jr., of course. Yet Dey is much too loyal a servant of the USGA to ever state publicly how he may feel about such inequities as the Pung case. It is a mark of Dey's fidelity to golf and the USGA that he pleasantly serves as a proxy target for all the brickbats that frustrated and disappointed golfers find reason to throw at the game's Rules, or the USGA's interpretations of them. "I personify the USGA," Joe Dey says, sounding both paternal and philosophical.

Since the day it was first formed in 1894 to conduct a national golf championship, the USGA has been enveloped in an aura of refined gentility. This is largely because its senior officers were and still are almost invariably successful businessmen with proper social credentials. Joe Dey blends comfortably into this background. He wears the soft-spoken suits and the button-down Brooks Brothers shirts of the Eastern Establishment, and he spent enough time at country clubs to get his own handicap down to 10. He and his wife, Rosalie, herself once a topflight amateur golfer, live in the unimpeachable Long Island community of Locust Valley. When his work forces Dey to remain overnight in town, as it often does, he takes a room at the Union League Club, a fortress of conservatism. After 57 years, there are just the right threads of gray in Dey's dark-brown hair and just enough of a weathered look at the lines about his clear brown eyes. There is no mistaking him as anything but a low-key, well-bred gentleman of the old school. You would no more argue with him than argue with Harvard, which is exactly the image the USGA wants to project.

Dey's devotion to golf is of an almost religious intensity, and the fundamental tenet of his gospel is that amateurism is the heart of the game. As he frequently points out, only a fraction of the nation's millions of golfers play for prize money. "Without the spirit of the game, what would the game be?" Dey has written. "The world sorely needs good fellowship and fair play among men. Sport helps us learn them. Consideration of the other fellow is part of the code of golf.... How the game is played is the main concern of the USGA."

In the past few years, Dey's major crusade in behalf of golf's amateurism has been an assault on gambling. Since 1950, there has been a section in the Rules of Golf stating that the USGA disapproves of gambling in connection with golf tournaments and wants member clubs to prohibit it. This was aimed mainly at member-guest tournaments where a member would bring in a "horse" for a partner—that is, a good player with a phony handicap—and make a killing in the Calcutta pool. Then came the infamous incident at Long Island's Deepdale Country Club in 1955 in which a coup of several thousand dollars was allegedly made in a Calcutta by importing two unknown New England hotshots with high handicaps. As a result, and at Dey's urging, a new clause was written into the Rules that denied amateur status for "any conduct, including activities in connection with golf gambling, which is considered detrimental to...the game."

Calcutta pools have now become almost a thing of the past. On one occasion, when a member of the USGA executive committee was about to play in a small invitational tournament where a Calcutta was being held, he received a phone call from Dey asking him to withdraw.

Dey also keeps a sharp eye on leading amateurs with reputations for gambling, and he has rejected the entry applications of several of them for the U.S. Amateur Championship. On other occasions he has kept golfers off the Walker Cup team because he felt they had been gambling too freely. "The USGA serves the purpose of being part of the conscience of golf," Dey says, "and that involves having to take firm positions on ethical and semiethical matters,"

The USGA has no official investigators, but its sonar is sensitive. It is likely to get wind of noxious behavior as soon as it happens, usually through some outraged golfer who is not averse to tattling on miscreants. When things look wrong, Joe Dey will write a letter to the offending club or get a nearby committeeman to investigate. "These matters are handled most usefully by persuasion," Dey says, "but if a club does not correct the situation immediately, we fire them out of the association."

Some amateur golfers who have been chosen to represent the USGA in such international matches as the Walker Cup feel that Dey's zeal for purity can be excessive. On a trip to England some years ago Dey thought a few Walker Cup players were staying up too late and drinking too much on the Atlantic crossing. So he set an 11 p.m. curfew, and asked the players to limit themselves to two cocktails a day.

It comes as no surprise to learn that Joe Dey once seriously considered the ministry as a career. (Ever nameless shall be the golfer who, on hearing this, wondered if Joe would have been sure about Who was working for Whom.) Dey had gone through grade school in New Orleans, where his father was in the grain business, and was 16 when the family moved to Philadelphia. He convinced the Public Ledger to hire him as a sportswriter, went to the University of Pennsylvania for a year and a half and at 19 returned full time to the sports page of the Ledger.

Through the early '30s Dey made enough of a reputation for himself as a golf writer to be asked by Herbert Jaques, the distinguished Bostonian who was then president of the USGA, to run the association's New York office. The invitation came at an awkward time, for Dey had just applied for admission to the Princeton Theological Seminary.

"I had led a kind of harum-scarum life up until then," he recalls now. "I was young and drifting and had no focus in life. I never had any impulse to get into business and only a slight one to go into law, but I was strongly impelled toward the ministry. I received no encouragement from Princeton, though, and the more I thought about it the more I realized that a great many of the things the ministry stood for were expressed in lay terms by golf."

Dey was only 27 years old when he took over as the USGA's executive secretary, the title his job held then. It was December 1934, and the association was still a fairly parochial institution that thought of golf as an eastern sport. But the growth of the USGA in the three decades since Dey assumed office has been enormous. The roster of member clubs has almost quadrupled. The number of annual USGA championships has been raised to nine by the inclusion of junior tournaments for both boys and girls under 18, seniors for men and women over 54 and 49, respectively, and the Women's Open. To the international competition have been added world amateur team championships for both men and women—the former better known as the Eisenhower Trophy—and the Americas Cup matches between Mexico, Canada and the U.S. The Eisenhower Trophy was a longtime dream of Dey's, a kind of Olympics of amateur golf, and last year 33 nations competed for it in Rome.

In 1936 all four of the USGA championships and the Walker Cup matches were held within 100 miles of New York City. Last year the nine championships were scattered over such diverse locales as Washington, D.C., Cleveland, Hutchinson, Kans., Minneapolis, San Diego, Sacramento and Portland, Ore. Dey refuses to take credit for spreading the USGA's tournaments around the country, but he will admit that after the geographical concentration of the 1936 championships he "brought the matter to the committee's attention."

The growth of U.S. golf—there were 2 million players in 1936 compared with 8 million last year—meant Joe Dey had a growing job, but he kept pace. Now his organization has a gross annual revenue of $800,000, and spends almost all of it. More than a third goes toward the running of the USGA championships, a little less than a quarter apiece toward administration and operation of its Green Section, which assists member clubs in the agronomy and proper maintenance of their courses, and the rest on its movies and myriad publications aimed at educating the golfing public in such elementary matters as rules and etiquette.

Golf House, where Joe Dey now presides over a staff of 27, reflects the somewhat musty elegance of the USGA. It is a handsome five-story Stanford White town house that the elder J. P. Morgan built in the once-stylish neighborhood of East 38th Street, just off Park Avenue. Bought for the USGA after a nationwide public subscription following World War II, it serves as a golf museum and library as well as an office, and there is scarcely an item among its 15,000 rare reference books, old prints and golf artifacts with which Dey, a Sunday school teacher by avocation, is not as lovingly familiar as he is with his own Bible. ("Familiar!" says a Dey aide. "Why, he quotes the Bible to me daily.")

In addition to the immediate staff at Golf House, there are some 600 volunteer workers who man the USGA's 20 committees governing such matters as rules, championships, implements, handicaps and finance. Of these, 15 eventually rise to the executive committee. They are scattered across the country, they must pay their own fares to all meetings and tournaments and they have no expense accounts. The gold USGA buttons they wear on their navy blue blazers are their only vigorish—the number of buttons on their coat sleeves showing rank; the president rates four. They also get to buy ($4) an executive committee necktie from Brooks Brothers. At tournaments, they must referee both the good and the boring matches, make unpopular rulings on technicalities, help control the galleries and supervise the parking and sanitary facilities. When the day is done, they sometimes even get to sit through committee meetings lasting well past midnight. If, like Clarence W. (Gus) Benedict, a White Plains, N.Y. businessman who is the current president, they do their work well, they are eventually elected secretary and move from there to second vice-president, first vice-president and finally to president. When they retire they get a USGA medal.

"They are," says Lewis Lapham, a New York banker and former member of the committee, "the most dedicated bunch of guys I have ever known. Everyone wants them to soften up the Rules and trick up the ball and do this and that, and they call you stuffy and snotty and claim you don't move with the times, but believe me, they are a very superior bunch of fellows, and they run the USGA intelligently and courageously."

This, then, is the organization of which Joe Dey is the "heart, brains, belly and soul," as Lapham puts it. Even the pros, who are, year in and year out, Dey's most vociferous critics, will grudgingly admit—when pressed—that he has been a wonderful influence on golf. (They even said it ungrudgingly when he ordered the format of the U.S. Open changed this year to abolish the 36-hole final day—this being a change most of the pros were very much for and a great number of traditionalists very much against.) Recently Arnold Palmer went so far as to suggest that the PGA, which could use some firm leadership, should try to hire a man like Dey, or even Dey himself, to run its affairs.

Fred Corcoran, one of the pioneers of the professional golf tour, puts the proposition even more emphatically. "Joe Dey," says Corcoran, "will never get any Academy Awards for what he does, but no one has ever done more for golf. He is absolutely fair. He thinks only about what is good for the game. Golf should have more people like Joe Dey. Every sport should."

But don't walk up to a pro slashing at his ball in the U.S. Open rough next week and suggest this point of view to him. You might get killed in Deysville.

PHOTOJOSEPH C. DEY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, USGAPHOTOA lab technician feeds suspect ball into velocity-testing machine.

The USGA hits some hot golf balls

Rarely has there been a stronger display of the USGA's authority and determination than that shown the other day when it banned from tournament use four of the most prestigious golf balls made in America. Outlawed for failing to meet velocity and/or weight limitations set forth in the Rules of Golf—i.e., they were souped up—were: Acushnet's Titleist DT and DT 100 and Spalding's Black Dot and 100 compression Black Dot, as well as a lesser-known ball, the Bristol Advisory 100. The Titleist is the country's best-selling golf ball, and Spalding's premium ball, the Dot, has had a major share of the market for 30 years. It was as if GM and Ford had been ruled off the road.

The USGA, which is responsible for keeping "hot" golf balls out of tournaments and, it hopes, off the market, first became suspicious during its annual check of balls last March. It had picked up several dozen of every make in pro shops across the country and shipped them to the United States Testing Company in Hoboken, N.J. After being "cured" for three days in an incubator, they were put through the USGA's velocity-testing machine. When substantial numbers of the Titleist, Spalding and Bristol balls failed to meet specifications, dozens more were tested. The previous results were confirmed.

In early April the manufacturers were notified that their balls did not conform. The companies asked that more balls be tested. By mid-May there was no significant change—substantial numbers were still exceeding the 250 feet per second allowed, as well as a 2% tolerance above that which the USGA permits. In addition, numbers of the Spalding Dots were still above the allowed weight (1.620 ounces avoirdupois), and added weight often helps distance, too.

"We had to do something," says USGA boss Joe Dey. "Using one of these balls was just as much breaking a golf rule as moving a ball with your toe." The ban was ordered. While this was going on, there had also been some very quiet mutterings on the pro tour, which follows the USGA's golf ball edicts. "I noticed this spring that guys hitting the Dot were driving 20 yards farther than they used to," Arnold Palmer told a friend. "I figured something was wrong."

What has gone wrong, contend Spalding and Acushnet, is the USGA's testing machine, a 25-year-old device that does have an antiquated look about it. Acushnet Vice President William Bommer said the problem is "in the area of testing technique," but Acushnet has also shipped a new batch of balls to the USGA for testing, hoping to have "the difficulty resolved" before the U.S. Open. Howard Nannen, national sales manager for Spalding, says the USGA machine is not consistent, that it is "walking."

At the companies' request, the USGA tested all parts of the machine, found nothing wrong and said, in effect, that its machine was not walking but the golf balls concerned were sure galloping, and, incidentally, there was nothing wrong with its scale either—the one it weighed the Spalding Black Dots on.

About the only apparent way for Titleist and Spalding to get back on the PGA tour and into amateur tournaments quickly is for the companies to put out a ball that does pass the USGA tests and give it or the box it comes in a distinguishing mark.

Meanwhile, golfers have crowded pro shops seeking the hopped-up balls. "The companies may have a quick sale," Joe Dev says, "but a stigma will probably become attached to their products if they do not conform. I like to think and I do believe that most players want to play golf by the Rules."

Reaction on the PGA tour, where the-banned balls have not been used for two weeks, varied. Short-hitting Doug Ford was outraged. "It's the silliest thing I ever heard of," he said. "We're pros playing amateur rules." Another pro, one who normally uses a Black Dot, said, "It doesn't matter. I'll play anything I can get for nothing."

But for Acushnet and Spalding there was plenty of concern, and not just about the balls. Acushnet likes to say that more pros play Titleists in major tournaments than any other ball. And Spalding has a slogan that now cuts two ways: "Born to fly...Black Dot rewards you with a little more distance than you thought you'd get."