Energy abounds for AGA volunteer Dick Gardiner

By Bill Huffman The early bird might catch the worm, but it has nothing on Richard “Dick” Gardiner, the Arizona Golf Association’s consummate volunteer. Gardiner, who has been doing whatever the AGA needs him to do most since 1997 – and always with a cheerful smile! – likes to get a jump on the day. Perhaps all that positive energy is what keeps him “going and going” just like the Energizer Bunny. “I’ve been up since 2:30 this morning, and I’m still going strong (this afternoon),” said the 83-year-old Sun City resident, sounding just like the well-known commercial for batteries. “Truthfully, I don’t know how I do it.” Neither do some of his peers. Bo Ream, the director of rules and competitions for the AGA, said Gardiner’s zest for life is refreshing, but the bottom line is “we count on him.” “Because Dick is usually at our events one or two hours early, we’ve got a rolling bet to see if anybody can beat him to the golf course,” said Ream of the AGA’s 2004 Volunteer of the Year. “I know that I tried recently at the Arizona Stroke Play, thinking if I got there an hour early, I’d finally beat him. But when I arrived, there was Dick, and I guess he’d been there for a good 30 minutes.” Courtney Smyser, the tournament operations manager for the AGA, called Gardiner “our utility man.” “Dick is always in a good mood with a kind word for everybody,” Smyser observed. “Besides being our registration guru, he also handles pace of play as a spotter and serves as a marker when needed. He does whatever we ask of him and always with a smile. “Dick’s trademark is he’s an early, early riser. That, and he’s one of the Arizona Golf Association’s biggest supporters.” Such loyalty and devotion is a wonderful thing, added Lorraine Thies, the AGA’s assistant executive director. “I tell Dick he’s my favorite volunteer every time I see him,” said Thies, noting that the “favorite” tag is a bond the two have shared for nearly 15 years. “What’s so special about Dick is he’s done pretty much everything you can do as a volunteer, and one of the best things he’s done for us is be our No. 1 cheerleader. That’s pretty special, when you’ve got a great guy like Dick Gardiner being your all-around spokesperson.” Reliable, honest and genuine through and through, Gardiner says working with the AGA as a volunteer has been one of the highlights of his career. “I just like being involved; I like the work. It’s fun, it keeps me busy and I get to meet so many outstanding people,” said Gardiner, who was born in Nebraska, spent most of his professional life as a salesman in northern California, and moved to Arizona in 1995 to be near his older sisters, Earline and Aurel, who also live in Sun City. “I guess I’ve done a little bit of everything since I first walked into the AGA office (in 1997) and met Ginger (Monroy), a very nice lady who put me to work immediately stuffing envelopes. And I still get to do a little bit of everything, like recently when I drove Jennea (Bono) around the TPC (Champions Course) during the Stroke Play and she took photos. Now that was a fun assignment!” The game of golf always has been very good to Gardiner, who was born in Sand Hills of Nebraska in the little town of Brewster before moving a few miles away to Ogallala as a youngster. It was there that Dick and his parents and three sisters (one has since passed away) used to sift through the sand in search of arrowheads. “I’ve still got quite a collection,” he said proudly of the ancient artifacts. Eventually the Gardiner family moved to California when Dick was still in his teens, first to the San Joaquin Valley in the little town of Dos Palos and then on to the big city of San Francisco. It was there in the City by the Bay that Gardiner spent 28 years (1942-1970), a time when he served in the Navy, met and married his wife, Nola, and worked for Essex, a magna wire and electrical company based in Indiana. Dick was Essex’s sales rep on the West Coast. Asked about how such a busy guy ever found time to tee it up, Gardiner blushed and laughed aloud. “Oh, gosh, I started playing golf after I got out of the Navy in the late 1940s, and just immediately fell in love with it,” he said. “San Francisco had so many great public golf courses, and I got to play a lot of them like Harding Park, Sharp (Park) and Lincoln Park, which was one of my favorites with that incredible par-3 17th that overlooks the Golden Gate Bridge… “That was a time when I got to play a lot of great golf courses. Believe it or not, I once played Pebble Beach for a $25 green fee. But I played ’em all, and I loved ‘em all.” Gardiner, who at one time served as a past president at Lincoln Park, continued his golf quest in the early 1970s when he and his wife moved north to the Santa Rosa-Sonoma area. “That was a time when my game was probably at its best, and I got my handicap down to a 6,” he recalled. “Oh, I wish I could play like that again.” There are golden memories, like 1971 when he was the runner-up in the club championship at Bennett Valley Golf Course near Santa Rosa, and 1991, when he captured the Presidents Cup at Oakmont Golf Cub also in Santa Rosa. “I was the president of Oakmont the same year I won the Presidents Cup, but it wasn’t fixed,” Gardiner quipped. “That was a wonderful time in my life, and I really enjoyed playing golf in Santa Rosa and Sonoma except for all the rain – something we don’t have here.” Among Gardiner’s other golf accolades from his time in northern California, he was a past president of Lincoln Park’s men’s club. But following his wife’s death in 1995, he made the big jump to Arizona. “I guess playing-wise, one of my biggest moments since moving here came when I made a hole-in-one on the 15th hole at Willow Creek (in Sun City),” said Gardiner, who served as a past president of the Sun City Men’s Golf Association, which named him its Man of the Year for 2008. “That hole-in-one was pretty special, because the course is right across the street from my house, and I can almost see the 15th hole from my front porch.” As far as working with the AGA goes, Gardiner said he’s quite proud of the Kachina that is encased in his living room, the one he received for being the organization’s Volunteer of the Year back in ’04. And he’s also “pretty darn proud” of his role in helping to found the AGA’s Senior Cup Series. “There was a bunch of us that got (the Senior Cup Series) going, guys like Bob Terrell, Cecil Morris and John Ranslem, to name a few,” Gardiner pointed out. “And it’s turned out to be a very popular deal, a lot of fun for everyone.” Even though he doesn’t play in the series any more, Gardiner still makes it a priority to be there when he can. Oh, yes, and there’s one more thing about the Senior Cup that he really enjoys. “One of the best things about it is getting to work with Courtney,” he said. “She handles everything so well, and just does such a beautiful job.” “I always tell everybody I meet that the AGA does such a nice job with all of their events,” he said. “I’ve always believed that a lot of nice people make for a great organization. “That’s why I take being a volunteer seriously, and why I’m always up early. I like to be the first one there so I don’t miss anything. And I guess it’s the truth: Nobody gets there before me, something I take pride in.” Which made for a bit of kidding in March, when Gardiner showed up at Phoenix Country Club for the AGA’s annual spring meeting after most everybody else from the AGA staff was well into the evening. “Yes, I got there a little late, and Courtney and the girls were already there and taking care of things, so they gave me a little ribbing,” he said, chuckling at the thought. “Wouldn’t you know, Courtney said to me, ‘Dick, you’re late!’” Chances are Smyser had been waiting forever to lay that line on Dick Gardiner, even if it was a bit of a reach when it comes to the AGA’s early-rising Energizer Bunny.