John A. "Jack" Emich, the charismatic golf aficionado for years recognized as "Mr. Golf" of Maryland, died yesterday of prostate cancer at his Roland Park home, across the road from the original Baltimore Country Club. He was 83.
A Baltimore native, Mr. Emich traced his love for golf to his youth, caddying for his father on a Baltimore public course, known then as Hillsdale and later Forest Park. A nine-hole round cost 45 cents.
"I thought he was great," Mr. Emich said of his father during an 1987 interview with The Sun. "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."
Mr. Emich putted and drove his way from the modest course to Hillendale Country Club and then to Baltimore Country Club, where he was named to the golf committee in 1949 and became its chairman in 1957. He went on to serve as an official with many golf organizations, including the Maryland State Golf Association, where he was board president in 1960 and for years its secretary and executive director.
He served on the advisory board of the Middle Atlantic Golf Association for 17 years, culminating with a term as president in 1988, and was the Maryland representative to the United States Golf Association.
Mr. Emich began his volunteer service to the USGA in 1964 and remained active for 37 years.
A 1937 graduate of Forest Park High School, he spent his business career in the steel industry, with the exception of a four-year stint in the Army Transportation Corps during World War II, where he rose to the rank of first lieutenant.
He worked 28 years for Curtis Steel Products Co., retiring in 1984 as assistant to the president.
The lanky 6-foot-4-inch Mr. Emich often was seen on the fairways in his navy USGA blazer.
"There are people like that who are just like lightning rods that attract people with their personality," said retired Sun golf writer John Stewart. "You talk to any golfer in Maryland and I don't think there's one that either didn't know him or at least knew about him. He had a personality and a presence that were incredible."
"Jack Emich stands tall, a tower of decency who has elevated golf in a highly personal way and dignified the game by his presence," wrote the late Sun sports writer John Steadman.
Mr. Emich received the Isaac B. Grainger Award for 25 years of volunteer service to USGA in 1995. In 2000, the USGA presented him with its Joseph C. Dey Award in recognition of meritorious service.
"I'm absolutely surprised and humbled at even being considered for such an award," he said then. "For the USGA to recognize me for doing something I love doing is really unbelievable."
Not all of Mr. Emich's time in golf was spent as an official. As a player, he qualified for British and U.S. amateur championships, served as playing captain in the Baltimore-Washington and Mason-Dixon team matches, and won the club championship at the Baltimore Country Club seven times. His wife of 59 years, the former Jane Obrecht, 83, has won the BCC women's title 10 times.
"I didn't play much until after we were married. I had to take it up in self-defense, otherwise I'd never see him," she said yesterday. "But I loved every minute of it."
"His contribution was to Maryland, to the caddies, to the golfers," said nephew John Voneiff of Baltimore. "It didn't matter who you were, ... Uncle Jack treated everyone the same way."
A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. Wednesday at Grace United Methodist Church, 5407 N. Charles St.
In addition to his wife and nephew, Mr. Emich is survived by two sisters, Ester Blome and Ruth Neesemann, both of Baltimore.
The family suggested donations to the Maryland State Golf Association Scholarship Fund, P.O. Box 16289, Baltimore 21210.