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Former TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem pays tribute to Dick Ferris

5 Min Read


    Written by Tim Finchem @PGATOUR

    Back in November 2020, once I learned that Dick Ferris had been diagnosed with ALS, I invited him to come up from his home in Orlando and play golf at TPC Sawgrass. We had a terrific time, although at that stage, while Dick could still play golf, he couldn’t speak and was having trouble swallowing. Yet he played, he played all 18 holes, and he took my money. He got the biggest thrill out of winning that day, not that he didn’t normally beat me. But he got a big kick out of it.

    This is a terrible disease that killed Dick, and I think it’s interesting given Dick’s background—his tremendous relationship with golf—that he could still go out that day and play the sport he loved. Even as he was in the late stages of the disease, this strong-minded man through his play was saying this is how you should do it. He appreciated golf since his early years, and he still made the sport a challenge as he moved toward the end of his life. For him to accept my invitation to play and then to watch him compete was inspiring.

    While I will always remember our last bit of time together, Dick had such an impact on my life as the PGA TOUR Commissioner and with our business since I first met him in 1987. We were at a Senior Tour—what we called the Tour then—board meeting in Palm Springs right after I joined the TOUR. A few things stand out over the long period of time I associated with him.

    His partnering with Peter Ueberroth to acquire Pebble Beach is a major piece because of the impact it had. Dick’s group took an iconic property and pretty much re-did it to the extent that it has the popularity that it has now. In doing so, their ownership also had a very positive effect on people in golf thinking how you could look at properties like that—iconic places—take them to another level and suddenly attract more people. For the PGA TOUR, though, his group’s ownership of Pebble Beach immediately partnered it with PGA TOUR Champions to promote and strengthen The First Tee.

    In what was about a six-minute conversation I had with Dick and Peter, they agreed to host the tournament we now call the PURE Insurance Championship, where First Tee participants are selected to partner with PGA TOUR Champions’ professionals for the week. Dick was on board with the idea of Pebble Beach hosting the event from the very beginning.

    You can have a lot of First Tee events. When you get to do one on a fairly regular basis at a place like Pebble Beach, it puts it on a whole different level with the television coverage and all the other residual benefits we have received. That was Dick. He knew what we were trying to do with The First Tee, and he did what needed to be done to facilitate things. I owe him a lot, the TOUR owes him a lot and First Tee kids trying to play the sport do, as well.

    Of course, one of Dick’s passions was the aircraft industry, and not just because of his years with United Airlines. At a fairly young age, Dick learned how to fly and eventually became a licensed pilot. The combination of his love of the game and the love of aircraft really did impact how he and Arnold Palmer became very close. They both loved golf, airplanes and flying, and it was that relationship that helped get Arnold involved with us on The First Tee. I should also add that Dick had no hesitation going into our hangar and being very critical when the TOUR’s plane wasn’t spit-polished clean. He let me know about it in a hurry.

    It may very well be Dick’s business acumen that I admired most, though. He had a good business head on him, and he could be very direct. Sometimes people misconstrued his directness with him being difficult. That wasn’t him. It was just the way he was, and he wanted our business to succeed. He delivered things to me straight.

    Perhaps Dick’s most-important contribution took place midway through my tenure as Commissioner. For several years, he pushed me on the importance of getting ahead of the curve on downstream talent in our organization, making sure that we were bringing in new employees and creating more options for particular positions. But this idea started primarily around the Commissioner’s job. He convinced me that our organization needed a strong group of candidates from which to choose once I decided to retire. As a consequence of Dick’s strong feelings on this, we put even more energy than we probably would have otherwise in terms of creating a talent base that allowed us a good, solid pool of talent after I stepped down.

    This urging from Dick resulted in us hiring Jay Monahan. It was Dick Ferris who pushed me in that direction of hiring strong, talented people, and as a result we did get Jay. I’m not sure we would have Jay today as the TOUR’s Commissioner had it not been for Dick Ferris giving us that challenge.

    That’s an example of Dick’s leadership style. As a member of the PGA TOUR Policy Board, he was a good solid director. To me, personally, in my job, he was incredibly helpful. He wasn’t one of these people who wanted to run the show. He didn’t try to micromanage. He stayed in the background but was always available to help. He was terrific.

    In 2021, he reciprocated my invite to TPC Sawgrass by inviting me to play with him at Bay Hill. It was sunny and warm in Central Florida, and I was playing golf with my friend Dick Ferris at Arnold Palmer’s golf club. It was a great, great day, even if Dick took my money again.