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Former PGA TOUR Policy Board Chair Dick Ferris passes away at 85

6 Min Read


    Written by Laury Livsey @PGATOUR

    Prior to Dick Ferris assuming the role as PGA TOUR Policy Board Chair, the former United Airlines CEO learned that the group’s quarterly meetings were typically all-day affairs, sometimes carrying over to the next day. That wasn’t something Ferris, a skilled businessman who valued efficiency, could abide. Jay Haas, at the time a PGA TOUR member and Player Director, remembers well how the first Policy Board gathering with Ferris at the helm went.

    “It was over before lunch,” Haas recalled with a smile. Eventually, Haas and Davis Love III, another Player Director, by then accustomed to Ferris’ management style, began trying to predict when each meeting would adjourn—11:20 a.m., two hours and 20 minutes after the start of the proceedings, a popular guess among the two eventual Presidents Cup captains. They were often correct.

    “Dick attacked life and everything about it in such an admirable way. He was a great leader, who had an energy and drive that was enviable. He also had such great conviction in his decisions. He never took long to size things up and face them head on,” Haas explained.

    For 15 years, Ferris helped shape policy for the PGA TOUR first as an Independent Director and then as the Policy Board’s Chair. In the process, he impressed players, fellow board members and PGA TOUR staff. In his various roles, Ferris had a front-row seat to the explosive growth the TOUR experienced during his tenure. The California native who gave so much of his time to helping grow the TOUR died on Sunday of causes incident to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Ferris was 85.

    “What I’ve heard from Tim (Finchem) and many others about Dick Ferris during his time as chairman was how tenacious he was. When he believed in something, he put his full energy and thoughtfulness behind it, and the TOUR was certainly the beneficiary of that tenacity,” said PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan. “Looking back, the growth and acceleration of our business, thanks to his leadership, is simply staggering. Dick was a great friend and mentor to so many, and we will all miss his passion for how he attacked life.”

    Ferris was born Aug. 31, 1936 in Sacramento, California. He attended Cornell University, graduating in 1962, and he received a master’s degree from the University of Washington. While golf was never far from his mind, Ferris left an enormous imprint on the hospitality and travel industry during his storied career.

    Ferris entered the business world working for Western International Hotels (now known as Westin), holding various positions at Chicago-area properties. From 1966 to 1971, Ferris was the general manager of Chicago’s Continental Plaza Hotel. He became an airline executive when United Airlines purchased Westin, and Edward Carlson, then Westin’s Chief Operating Officer, became United’s CEO, bringing Ferris with him into the merger and putting Ferris in charge of United’s food-service division.

    In 1976, Ferris replaced Carlson as United’s CEO, a position he held until 1985 when he became the airline’s chairman of the board. He remained with United until 1987.

    Ferris, a lifelong golfer and follower of the sport, became a member of the PGA TOUR Champions’ Policy Board in 1985. Seven years later, he joined the PGA TOUR Policy Board, and a year later he became the Chair upon the retirement of Del de Windt. It was a position Ferris held until 2007.

    Haas, who served on the board for five of those years, remembers an annual players meeting in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, in the mid-1990s. “Dick gave a presentation of the business operations of the TOUR and calmly assured the players that we were in good hands. After speaking for 15 minutes without one notecard, he returned to his seat, leaned over to me and said, ‘That was so much easier than a three-foot putt.’”

    Ferris’ Policy Board membership began under TOUR Commissioner Deane Beman, his eventual leadership position as board Chair taking place as the TOUR transitioned to Beman’s successor, Tim Finchem. During Ferris’ tenure with both commissioners, the TOUR underwent remarkable growth. For much of his 22 years leading the PGA TOUR, Finchem had Ferris to lean on.

    “When I look back at Dick on the PGA TOUR side of the equation, his love of the game, his intensity in building things and making things better had a large impact not only on all the projects he was involved in but especially on me and the way I thought about things,” Finchem said.

    Haas learned to admire Ferris through the many dealings he had with Ferris while representing his fellow players.

    “It’s said that a round of golf is made memorable not necessarily by how or where we play but mostly by who we play with. Playing with Dick was always a lively experience, with side bets and laughs all around,” Haas explained. “No matter the stakes, he gave it his all. It’s hard to imagine not having Dick Ferris in our lives. We will all miss him dearly.”

    In 1999, Ferris was a part of a group that included World Golf Hall of Fame member Arnold Palmer, former Major League Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth and actor and director Clint Eastwood. The consortium purchased from Japan’s Taiheiyo Company Pebble Beach Golf Links and its properties, including the legendary home to the annual AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, three other nearby golf courses, two hotels and 17-Mile Drive, a road that winds through Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove on the Monterey Peninsula. For their efforts, Ferris and Uebberoth will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from the World Golf Hall of Fame in March 2022.

    “Dick was a great friend of golf who gave back to the game in so many ways. His tireless work with the PGA TOUR and his contribution in bringing Pebble Beach back to its place among the best in the world should not be forgotten, as well as his generous support of The First Tee,” added Haas.

    After taking control of Pebble Beach, Ferris and Uebberoth were instrumental in securing for their new property a PGA TOUR Champions tournament, the PURE Insurance Championship that annually features a PGA TOUR Champions player competing alongside a junior partner from various First Tee chapters throughout the U.S.

    Of his role in the resort’s ownership group, Ferris said, “We look at ourselves as stewards, not owners, of a national treasure. We want the company to be profitable so we can sustain it. We work every day to make it better.” Under Ferris’ direction, Pebble Beach Company has offered limited partnership interests in the resort “with the understanding that the plan was to never again sell Pebble Beach Company to another ownership group.”

    Of his involvement with Pebble Beach, Ferris commented, “It’s great. Hotels and golf—all the things I love.”

    Ferris spent much of his adult life living in Chicago, but upon retirement he moved to Orlando. He is survived by his wife, Kelsey, and three children. Funeral services are pending.