The 1999 PGA Distinguished Service Award recipient and one of the founders of the PGA Minority Collegiate Golf Championship, passed away Oct. 16 in Phoenix, Ariz.
By Herschel Caldwell
Because of Bill Dickey, kids all across the nation are enjoying a privilege he never had–learning to play golf at an early age. Dickey did not step onto a course until he was 28 years old. He knew some members of Phoenix’s Desert Mashie Golf Club, and they encouraged him to give the game a try. Since Dickey had excelled at baseball, football and basketball in high school, then played collegiate and minor league professional baseball, he figured this was just another sport. Dickey said of his first experience, “It was a hard game, which is mostly everybody’s impression. I was shooting in the 150s. I played so bad that they put me with the women at my first tournament.”
Dickey was not discouraged. He stuck with it and turned a love for golf into a passion for its players, especially the juniors. Because of his contributions, he was nicknamed the Pied Piper of College Golf, the Legend and the Godfather. His honors include a Community Service Award from the Arizona Informant, a Citizen of the Year commendation from Omega Psi Phi fraternity, and the three awards he was most proud of: the Arizona Golf Association’s Dr. Edgar R. Updegraff award, the Golf Digest Junior Development Award, and the coveted Professional Golf Association’s Card Walker Award, presented in 1992 by former recipient Chi Chi Rodriguez.
Dickey was inducted into the Western States Golf Association Hall of Fame in 1985 and the National Black Golf Hall of Fame in 1989. He was a six-time president of the Desert Mashie Golf Club (which by the way, mashie is an old-time term for a five-iron) and was the first black president of the Papago men’s club. Anybody who knows anything about minority golf is familiar with the name, yet not everyone is as familiar with the man.
Born March 29, 1928, in Darby, Pa., Dickey attended Virginia Union University on a football scholarship before entering the Air Force. Following his discharge, he moved to Phoenix, and went on to earn a B.S. degree in economics and management from Arizona State University.
Dickey enjoyed a successful career as a real estate and insurance executive before retiring in 1981.
Dickey was a life member and six-time president of Desert Mashie Golf Club at Encanto Park in Phoenix, which he joined in 1958. The club became an affiliate of the Western States Golf Association (WSGA), a regional organization with clubs in states throughout the west. Dickey served as WSGA president from 1981-83, during which time he helped launch the WSGA Junior Championship, beginning his promotion of junior golf.
For most of his early years, Dickey lived in small Philadelphia suburbs, where the cold penetrates and snow is frequent; where the sun might be shining, but the thermometer reads a frigid 20 degrees. He was born in a pleasant house on the grounds of a cemetery, where his father was superintendent. The youngest of four children, Dickey was an outstanding athlete in high school. After graduation in 1945, he played a variety of positions in college football including quarterback and wide receiver. Dickey studied a year and a half at Virginia Union University before heading off to play for the Durham Eagles, a minor league in North Carolina. When it looked as if the draft was catching up with him, he volunteered to join the Air Force so he would have his choice of branches. He worked first as a teletype operator, then in special services. Although he spent 20 months of that time in Guam, he never saw action during the Korean War.
One October night in ‘56, Dickey went to a local jazz club with a friend–who happened to be a neighbor of one of the waitresses. Alice worked as an assistant dietitian, but was moonlighting to earn extra money. She had never done waitressing before, it was her first night, and she knew she was not going to continue the job (she lasted two days). Alice told the story, “Bill came up and started chit-chatting. He asked if I ever went out and I said ‘No, I do not.’ He said, ‘If you ever change your mind, here’s my card.’ And I thought ‘Oh, sure.’”
While Alice may have had initial doubts, Dickey was smitten. But he already had arranged to attend a formal with another woman the next night. When he showed up afterwards at the club, he explained to Alice that his date was only a friend. The next day he drove around her neighborhood hoping to catch her outside. Luck was with him and they talked for a while, then Alice invited him inside. Dickey convinced her to buy an insurance policy, but he still could not talk her into a date. So Dickey tried another tactic. He told Alice, who is Hispanic, “I’m taking Spanish classes, would you help me with my Spanish?” Seven years later, they married.
Dickey and Alice have four grandsons and three great grandchildren. Every Christmas, the men in the family teed off for a traditional golf game. And while the three girls never adopted their father’s love for playing golf, Debbie, was instrumental from the beginning in organizing the East/West Golf Classic, the fundraising arm for the NMJGSA. It became a family affair with her husband, Johnny, filling the role of hospitality chairperson. Dickey and his family experienced a tremendous heartbreak when Debbie lost her battle with cancer.
Most of the energies and the focus that had gone into all the other golf-related clubs, programs and organizations, Dickey now poured into creating the National Minority Junior Golf Scholarship Association. Since Dickey had both played and coached sports, and had been involved in Boy Scouts, he thought forming an organization for juniors would be a good fit. Dickey saw the needs on another plane: He recognized the financial hardships of the game. Golf is an expensive sport and many families cannot afford the equipment, lessons or green fees. Dickey also perceived a lack of role models. Until the Tiger phenomenon, there weren’t many black golfers for young players to admire. And there was another reason, Dickey had experienced his share of discrimination: When he first began playing, there was only one golf course that welcomed minorities and once a hotel drained its pool when it realized a group of black golfers was checking in for a tournament.
However, Dickey insists the NMJGSA is not just about color. “This is not about getting black kids into golf, we want to help all inner-city kids … white kids, Hispanic kids, whatever kid needs it,” said Dickey in a June 1997 interview for The Arizona Republic. Dickey hoped by creating the NMJGSA, he could provide scholarships so students could get an education while playing golf. The organization also gives
financial support to Black college golf programs.
With this in mind, Dickey searched the country for young golfers and maintained a comprehensive up-to-date list of thousands eligible minority golfers between the ages of 13 and 18. And thousands have benefitted from his generosity and love for young people.
Dickey is survived by his wife, Alice; a daughter, Dorina; four grandsons and three great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by daughters Susie, and Debbie (O’Neil).
Bill was a great supporter and friend of Minority Golf Magazine since its inception and I will miss his counsel, his kindness and his competitive spirit on and off the golf course.