we called him rebbie

After playing poorly throughout my youth, I gave up golf for a number of years.  In the eighties, I caught the bug (even though I was still playing poorly), and in the spring of 1991, we applied to join Hazeltine National Golf Club.

Two months later, the U.S. Open was played there to rave reviews.  The club, which had struggled during the years that followed its previous Open in 1970, was suddenly on solid footing.  We became members that fall.

I would play hundreds of rounds at the club during our time there.  Most of them were friendly weekend matches; you found out who your partner for the day was on the first tee.  Usually, there were wagers of a few dollars, but it was about fun and competition (and maybe bragging rights), not money.

Early on, one of my opponents was Warren Rebholz.  On the par three fourth hole, I was in the front bunker on the right on my tee shot.  My partner and I won the hole, but as we walked to the fifth tee, Warren said quietly, “I think you incurred a penalty there.”  I had moved a leaf in the bunker, which is not allowed under the rules.

I said that if that was the case, we should lose the hole, to which he replied, “That’s not why I told you.  I just want you to know the rule.”

A few months later, I hit my tee shot into the right rough on the long fifteenth hole.  After I played my second shot and we proceeded up the fairway, Warren (who was this time my partner) said that I had committed a rules violation by knocking the leaves off of the tree that I was underneath prior to striking the ball.  As in the bunker on the fourth hole, I had improved my chances of making a shot, thus running afoul of the rules.  We then told our opponents that my score would be affected.

Some observations:  You’ll notice that I had a tendency to put myself in positions that were less than ideal — and that in these two cases I managed to violate the rules to boot.  But Warren’s actions in the two situations are instructive.  He wanted me to learn the rules, but in each case he did so in a way that was to his disadvantage, letting the loss of a hole stand in the first case and causing the loss of one in the second.  Those were the honorable things to do.

Although I refer to him as Warren above, we called him Rebbie.

The nickname obviously derived from his name of Rebholz and he probably had it most of his life.  But it is also reminiscent of the Jewish honorific “rebbe,” which can refer to a personal mentor or teacher.  Rebbie was that to me and to many others.

He passed away recently at the age of 92.  Upon his death, the headline of a StarTribune article called him “Mr. Minnesota Golf.”  Rebbie was the executive director of the Minnesota Golf Association for twenty years, and under his leadership it became a model for other associations around the country.  Even in his retirement he kept at it, creating a very popular “senior tour” for amateur golfers that took them to courses all around the state.  Rebbie’s involvement in the game extended to the national level as well, including serving as a rules official at fifteen consecutive U.S. Open Championships.

He was a good player in his own right, although it wasn’t something he bragged about.  When I asked him about his three club championships, he told me there were “weak fields” those years.  From his obituary I found out that he had seven holes-in-one (for the record, we have one in our family . . . Sue aced the thirteenth at Hazeltine).  As he aged, Rebbie kept moving up to the teeing grounds that suited his game at the time, quite unlike men who want to show that they still have what it takes.  Eventually, some new markers were added in front of the normal tee boxes; we called them “the Rebbie tees.”  No matter which tees he was playing from, it seemed like he was always down the middle.

Hazeltine was Rebbie’s love.  He called it “The Big H.”  The last of the charter members, its history was shaped by his efforts throughout.  I loved an old snapshot of him putting up ropes by himself along a hole in 1970 in advance of the first Open.  He did whatever it took.  Twenty years later, after it looked like Hazeltine would never get another chance to host a major event, he was one of those instrumental in bringing the 1991 U.S. Open to the club.  (Fittingly, he was its president that year.)  It would be the first time that the best golfers in the world would tackle the new sixteenth hole, which is now one of the most famous in championship golf.  Rebbie conceived of the routing of the hole along Hazeltine Lake.

After a few years at Hazeltine, I volunteered for a new position as club historian.  Rebbie was always willing to help me, and later when we formed the Heritage Committee, he became part of it.  We spent a lot of time together over the years.

In 2016, the Ryder Cup — one of the most popular sporting events in the world — was contested at Hazeltine.  It was a smashing success, so much so that the event is scheduled to return in 2028; it will be the first time that a course in the United States will have held a second Ryder Cup.

When Sue and I went to the course for the competition in 2016, we were no longer members, but the memories were flooding back of the past championships that we had been a part of, the times we had spent on the course, and the people that we had come to know.  Before we left, there was one thing I had to do:  get a picture of us beneath the sign for Rebbie Road.

He always showed me the way.

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