Each year when golf columnist Russ Held interviewed the latest Rollie Jacobs Western Mass. Tee Party honoree, he’d hear the same thing. The recipient would say they must have run out of candidates because he wasn’t deserving. “I always said, ‘Duh, yes you are,’ and now I’m the guy who’s saying the same thing,” Held said.
Held will become the 74th Rollie Jacobs Western Mass. Tee Party honoree on Sept. 30 at Ludlow Country Club. There will be a golf tournament with a shotgun start at noon, followed by cocktails at 5:30 p.m. Held will be honored at a dinner at 6:30 p.m.
Held, 55, of East Longmeadow isn’t an accomplished golfer. If he breaks 90, he’s happy. But you could make the argument that he did more for golf in the region than just about anyone. He publicized the game for 26 years as golf columnist for The Republican and MassLive before stepping aside at the end of 2019 to concentrate on his position as Director of Electronic Communications at Wilbraham & Monson Academy.
“I didn’t do anything but just tell other people about what people did,” he said. “I never shot the 64 or won a tournament.” That doesn’t matter to CC of Greenfield head pro Kevin Piecuch, a Tee Party committee co-chair and the 2014 Tee Party honoree. “He deserves it as much as any person that’s ever won this award,” Piecuch said.
“Russ has done so much to grow the game of golf in Western Mass., it’s amazing,” Piecuch said. “He’d write goodwill stories about members and make them sound like a PGA Tour player. He was fantastic.”
Held covered the 2004 U.S. Women’s Open at The Orchards GC in South Hadley, the LPGA Tour Friendly’s Classic at Crestview CC in Agawam in the late 1990s, two U.S. Opens, the U.S. comeback in the 1999 Ryder Cup, and PGA Tour events at Pleasant Valley CC, but he felt he made more of a difference in being the only media member to write such local stories as a four-ball at Chicopee CC or an 84-year-old golfer who scored two holes-in-one in a week. “Covering the quote-unquote little guy was always more enjoyable,” the Stonehill College graduate said, “and the only way anybody heard about it. If you want to find a deserving category, maybe that’s the one I should be in.” Held wrote one of his favorite stories about playing with an elderly blind golfer at Shaker Farms CC in Westfield. A guide helped line up the blind golfer’s shots. “He beat me,” Held said. “He could tell by the sound of the impact of my tee shot where it went.”
Held took pride in writing about the annual Springfield Newspapers Junior Tournament that produced such accomplished golfers as Piecuch and PGA Tour golfer Richy Werenski, who grew up in South Hadley and won the PGA Tour’s 2020 Barracuda Championship. He also enjoyed chronicling the newspaper’s Women’s Golf Clinics and the Hole-in-One Contest. Unfortunately, the only time anyone actually got a hole-in-one since the 1930s, Held had his back turned because he was interviewing someone. The only hole-in-one he actually saw was by his father-in-law Dan Martin, who aced the 14th hole at Franconia GC in Springfield about 25 years ago. He also helped promote the Western Mass. Golf Hall of Fame.
Most of those honored by the Tee Party since 1947 for their service and dedication to golf have been golfers, but Held joins a handful of media members to be selected, including Springfield newspaper legends Jim Regan and Gerry Finn. “It’s a great honor obviously,” he said.
After Regan retired, sports editor Dick Osgood asked Held if he played golf. Held told him he played only three or four times a year, but that he enjoyed it. He got the job. He had to learn the beat quickly because that June, he covered the U.S. Open at Oakmont CC. He’ll never forget arriving on Saturday morning just in time to see Nick Faldo leave after finishing his rain-delayed second round and missing the cut. “He missed the cut and here I am, Russ Held, going in for the weekend,” Held recalled The following year, he covered the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills CC. Held also hosted radio shows about golf with Jay Nomakeo and Steve Magaral. “Russ Held had big shoes to fill taking over the reigns for golf coverage in Western Mass. and took the coverage to a new level,” said Nomakeo, owner of Western Mass. Golf. “It was not only his feature stories and articles, but expanded coverage like social media, radio and podcasts that set him apart.” “I was proud to have Russ as a radio partner,” Magargal said. “His excitement and insight of the game made our jobs easier.”
In the mid-1990s, Held filled in for his publisher at a golf tournament at The Orchards and his team won. He bought 15 newspapers the next morning because his name appeared in tiny print in the golf agate on the sports pages. His wife couldn’t understand his excitement because his name appeared in the paper as a byline nearly every day. “Yeah, but I earned this,” he remembered telling her. “I made a couple long putts. I helped win this.” It made him appreciate how important it was for local golfers to see their names in the paper.
Held had been scheduled to be honored in April of 2020, the year after he stopped writing the golf column, but the event was postponed because of the pandemic. Held said he’s had a year and a half to become nervous about making his acceptance speech.
His wife, Kathy, and 21-year-old son Regan, a senior at Framingham State University, plan to attend. His other two sons are away at college. Riley, 23, is a senior at Princeton and Aidan, 19, is a freshman at Hamilton College.
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