Golf, as with a ladle of freshly dipped spring water, remains the purest and most refreshing of sports because of the care taken in upholding its rules and policies. For the last 100 years, the U.S. Golf Association has been the governing body, the heart and soul of its credibility and popularity.
In Baltimore, a man named Jack Emich has exemplified ongoing integrity and leadership so important to the success of the game. His contributions have been such that the USGA, in its centennial season of celebration, has made him a recipient of its distinguished Ike Grainger Award, bestowed on those volunteers who have given so unselfishly to upholding a high standard of ethics and helping diligently guard its impeccable reputation.
For 31 years, Emich has been a part of the USGA governing body, serving as an official at a combined 11 U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open championships while helping direct the Maryland State Golf Association. It has all been on a pro bono basis, which offers further evidence of the love he holds for the game.
"Golf has endured because the players, both at the amateur and professional level, realize what's expected of them first as ladies and gentlemen and then as competitors," he says. "It's a game that takes you outdoors, close to nature, and you can play it until you're over 90 years old. It creates and enhances friendships. What other sport offers such pleasure?"
Emich began playing on a Baltimore public course known first as Hillsdale and then Forest Park. It had only nine holes and sand greens. To play it cost 45 cents for nine holes or 75 cents for a full round.
"I used to caddy for my father and I thought he was great," Emich said. "Then I started to play and found out the distances he hit the ball were rather modest. I guess it was kind of like sled riding; you thought those little hills you rode down as a child were like mountains."
Emich went from Hillsdale/Forest Park to Hillendale Country Club and then to Baltimore Country Club, where he was appointed to the golf committee in 1949 and became its chairman in 1957. His employer for 28 years, the Curtis Steel Co., which he never shortchanged, understood his passion for the game when commitments drew him to the fairways.
His special interest and involvement gave him a chance to observe close up the passing parade to the tee-boxes of Baltimore and Maryland and even beyond. It's his belief that President Dwight Eisenhower and Arnold Palmer brought an impetus of attention to golf that increased with the intensity of a tidal wave.
"I remember after World War II at Five Farms, when there was only one course then, that 16 of us would play 36 holes on a Saturday and not even need starting times," Emich said. "That couldn't happen today because of the demand to play. President Eisenhower gave golf a unique identity. Then Palmer came along with his strength, good looks and color."
Emich has seen excellent players developed in the Baltimore area, pointing to such amateurs who became tour professionals as Billy Collins, Carol Mann and Otto Greiner. He believes from another perspective that Sarah LeBrun Ingram, a three-time Women's Mid-Amateur champion, is an extraordinary performer and mentions Mary Ann Downey Cooke and Evelyn Glick as premier golfers in any era.
The game, of course, hasn't remained status quo. The one thing he says golf needs is more courses in the public sector. "I tell my wife, Jane, who has been so supportive of me in all this golf involvement, that it's ridiculous some courses charge $150 greens fees. Baltimore and Maryland needs more affordable courses for our golfers to play."
Emich is aware how equipment and playing conditions have resulted in par being obliterated by today's pros. Emich believes the ball is the culprit, not necessarily clubs that are made out of steel instead of persimmon.
"After all, even with wooden shafts, back in the 1930s, there were scores being shot in the 60s," he says. "I regret the long putter was approved. And I hate to see courses being 'tricked up' by the modern architects."
His preference would be for the land to be left in more of a natural state, instead of a profusion of bunkers, hillocks and other manmade subtleties.
Emich is a fan of traditional type courses and Baltimore Country Club, where he has been a member since 1946, is a classic by any standard. Then, he quickly mentions two courses in the Baltimore area, although not extremely long, which have qualities worthy of respect.
He's talking about Rolling Road and Country Club of Maryland.
"Rolling Road is short and tight, but it holds up well in competition," Emich said. "Country Club of Maryland has some outstanding holes. The point I'm making is courses don't have to be long to be a test. Before I forget, include Woodholme as one of our outstanding courses. It's superb."
Jack Emich stands tall, a tower of decency who has elevated golf in a highly personal way and dignified the game by his presence.