RUMFORD, RHODE ISLAND Many of the biggest names in amateur golf arrived here this week for the 49th playing of the Northeast Amateur. Held on the superb Donald Ross course at the Wannamoisett Country Club, it has long served as a competitive proving ground for touring pro hopefuls. Ben Crenshaw and Dustin Johnson won the Northeast, and so did David Duval, Luke Donald and Anthony Kim. And it would not be a stretch to say that half the golfers competing on the PGA Tour today played in the tournament at some point in their youth.
The Northeast also holds an esteemed place in the hearts of elite amateurs such as Dick Siderowf, who won the inaugural competition in 1962 and repeated in 1966, and Vinny Giles, who came out on top in 1971. It quickly grew to become a favorite stop on the summer circuit as well as key showcase for prospective Walker Cup players. It always managed to attract the biggest names in the amateur game, and continues to do so to this day. One of the favorites this year, for example, was Oklahoma State standout Peter Uihlein. Currently No. 2 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, he was one of 22 college All-Americans in a field that features a goodly number of top-50 players from all over the world, including five from Australia.
That ability to seek out and then draw such talented players is the primary reason why the Northeast is held in such high regard. And it is the spindly, understated tournament chairman named Denny Glass who brings them in.
The 66-year-old Glass has run the Northeast Amateur for 17 years, and the retired printing company owner with the thin, gray-white mustache is not only the most important person as far as the success of that event is concerned but also one of the most important people in amateur golf today.
“Denny Glass is one of the game’s unsung heroes,” says Wally Uihlein, father of Peter and chief executive officer of the Acushnet Co., maker of Titleist and FootJoy products. “He is a golf guy versus someone who just plays the game. If not for guys like Denny, guys who work 12 months of the year preparing for an event that runs for one week, an event that becomes a springboard and résumé-builder for the next generation of golfers, a lot of today’s professionals would not have had an opportunity to experience that rite of passage every competitive sport must provide.”
A longtime member of Wannamoisett and a recreational player who sports a six handicap, Glass doesn’t see himself in such exalted light. But that is born more of his innate modesty than the reality of the situation. His work as only the fourth chairman in the history of the Northeast speaks volumes to the veracity of Uihlein’s statement, and to Glass’ commitment and care for amateur golf. And so do his efforts as chairman of the Terra Cotta Invitational, played each April at the prestigious Naples National Golf Club in Florida, to which he also belongs. Once a low-key regional event, it has evolved in a heralded national competition under his leadership.
So, why does he do it?
“I just like being involved in amateur golf,” says Glass, who also sits on the selection committee for the Ben Hogan Award that goes each year to the top collegiate golfer as well as on the board of the Rhode Island Golf Association. “It’s the purest form of the sport. I like how it builds character as it teaches etiquette, discipline and integrity. It’s good being around the mid-ams, too, and I really respect how they are able to play elite golf even as they hold down full-time jobs.
“I also enjoy getting to know the kids,” he adds. “I like following the players through the year, seeing who is doing well and then doing the invitations. It is the most work, but also the most fun.”
It is fun for the players, too. Mention the Northeast Amateur to those who have ever played it, and you’ll get a knowing smile. They’ll remember the brilliantly designed and well-conditioned golf course, certainly one of the finest in the Northeast. They’ll recall the hospitable way in which players were treated by the club, which was founded in 1898, and how member families put them up in their homes. They’ll never forget the fierce competition of each tournament, a 72-hole event held over four days, and the formidable fields it always brought in.
And if they played the Northeast Amateur at any time during the past 17 years, they will no doubt remember Denny Glass.
He is, as Wally Uihlein suggests, one of golf’s unsung heroes.