The amateur game in North America lost another friend recently when Dick Haskell, 84, passed away in his hometown of Boston. He served as executive director of the Massachusetts Golf Association from 1969 until his retirement in 1997. Haskell is credited with essentially creating the job of the modern day golf association administrator.
Like many, Haskell was introduced to golf as a 10-year-old caddie in his native Ipswich, Mass. After service in the Navy and getting a college degree, Haskell went to work in sales for Sports Illustrated. He left that job after 19 years to work for a computer company. It was there that he was introduced to the MGA, when he was asked to computerize the handicapping system. When executive director Bill Corcoran died, Haskell stepped in, becoming just the fourth executive director of the MGA since its inception in 1903.
From a humble one-room office above a restaurant, Haskell built the MGA into one of the strongest and most respected golf associations in America. It was on his nearly 30-year watch that many of the things state golf associations take for granted were created by this golf innovator. He introduced the GHIN handicap system to Massachusetts, created a player of the year system (now named in his honor), drove MGA membership from 172 to 318 member clubs, and added six new tournaments to the annual docket. He also created the association’s own magazine, MassGolfer.
His influence spread far beyond the boundaries of Massachusetts. He was well known and respected throughout New England golf, and he served on various USGA committees for 25 years. Haskell served as media liaison during the 1998 U.S. Open and 1999 Ryder Cup at The Country Club, where he was a long- time member. He was instrumental in the creation of the International Association of Golf Administrators (IAGA), and he was a mentor to numerous people in golf, the USGA’s David Fay among them.
Haskell became a much-decorated golf executive. He was the recipient of the George S. Wemyss Award from the New England PGA for contributions to the game, the IAGA Distinguished Service Award, the Massachusetts Golf Writers Silver Tee Award, the Francis Ouimet Scholarship Fund Distinguished Service Award, the USGA Ike Grainger Award for Volunteerism, and the MGA’s Frank H. Sellman Distinguished Service Award.
Haskell was a beloved figure in Massachusetts golf, admired by all. He was described by those who knew him as a warm and kind individual, an essentially happy man who worked tirelessly to grow and serve the game of golf, most especially the amateur game. That service did not cease when he stepped down from the MGA. A noted golf historian, he was deeply involved in the publication of “The Story of Golf at The Country Club.” This book won the Herbert Warren Wind award, the USGA’s highest literary honor. He also led the development of the MGA’s acclaimed Centennial book, “A Commonwealth of Golfers.”
As admired and respected as he was, Haskell was more comfortable in the background, never wishing to call attention to himself. He preferred to work behind the scenes and allow others to take credit for what got done. It came as no surprise then to those who knew him that there was no wake or memorial upon his death. There was simply a family-only graveside service, and nothing more is planned. That is how he wanted it.
Above all, Haskell loved the game he was introduced to as a youth when he earned $1 carrying a bag of golf clubs. He was an avid player all his life, first at Essex Country Club and later at his beloved Country Club in Brookline. He was described by Bob Donovan, executive director of the Ouimet Scholarship Fund, as a “player’s administrator” because, well, he was a player, a golfer at heart. Although he never became a competitive amateur, he was most proud of his son, R.D. Haskell, an 11-time club champion at The Country Club.
Dick Haskell was one of many uncelebrated men and women who make the amateur game in America and Canada work. Without their dedication to the ideals of amateur golf, without their selfless contribution of time and effort, no such game would exist. Haskell will be missed, but not soon forgotten.