LONGWOOD, Fla. – Golf fit Abie Gordon like his dress blues.
The game’s orderliness appealed to him. Do this here; don’t do that there.
Those qualities tend to resonate with a Marine. Especially one forged amid the crucibles of Iwo Jima and the Chosin Reservoir.
Abie Gordon, another of the “Greatest Generation’’ whose only surrender has been to old age, died recently from complications of pneumonia. He was 89.
It might seem incongruous to compare his contributions to golf with those to his country. Afterall, Gordon, the son of Russian immigrants – the family name had been Guttman – enlisted at age 17 and fought in two of the Marine Corps’ most legendary battles among his three theaters of war. A “mustang’’ commissioned from the ranks after the Korean War, he was awarded the Bronze Star for valor and the Purple Heart for wounds in Korea, among many other citations in his 30-year career. He rotated home from Vietnam in 1968 and retired as a lieutenant colonel.
Golf? You won’t see his name on any USGA or PGA Tour trophies. For someone who didn’t pick up a club until age 35, though, he played an admirable game – as low as a 4 handicap. His contribution to the game endures in other ways.
Gordon helped shape the young men and women in the national and state-level events during decades as a volunteer rules official. Abie Gordon knew the “Rules of Golf.’’ It was his mission later in life for all golfers to play by them.
Bill Gordon, speaking in the home that his father built in 1968 off the 18th fairway at Rolling Hills Golf Club, recalled a ruling from years ago. The two were playing a casual round at their home course, just father and son.
Bill had driven into rough right of the No. 1 fairway, where his ball and the surrounding ground were covered with ants. He summoned his father to ask about relief.
Abie: “Do you feel threatened by the ants?’’
Bill: “Well, no.’’
Abie: “Are the ants big and red?’’
Abie: “You’re not on an anthill, so play it.’’
Bill: “But, Dad, I’m your son!’’
Abie Gordon knew that under the Rules of Golf: Decision 33-8/22 “Local Rule Treating Ant Hills as Ground Under Repair’’ that no relief could be granted. There was no danger, so there would be no relief.
“I guess that is the testament of the man,’’ Bill said. “He wasn’t a situational-ethics kind of guy. It was either right or wrong.’’
Abie Gordon just as easily could have been citing a Marine regulation about how to clean a rifle or dig a fighting hole.
“That’s the way he was,’’ Bill said. “By the book.’’
Abie Gordon immersed himself in the rules of his new pastime and started attending workshops, where he was making perfect scores on exams. The USGA took notice and asked whether he might help.
Gordon officiated at U.S. Opens from 1990 at Medinah through 1996 at Oakland Hills. He also did U.S. Amateurs, Junior Amateurs, Senior Opens, Senior Amateurs, LPGA events and countless tournaments with the North Florida Section of the PGA and the Florida State Golf Association.
“Every event we ever did, Abie Gordon was the rules official,’’ said Tod Benedict, the head pro at Rolling Hills. “Every rules problem, he was called.’’
It was all done gratis. Service to the game.
“He was a huge believer in the tradition and glory of the game,’’ Bill said of his father. “Golf just clicked with him. It fit his character very well.’’
Bill Gordon, 61, is the proverbial apple that didn’t fall far from the tree: served with the Marines in Vietnam, shared Abie’s passion for golf, playing at Florida State and working as a club pro in Florida and North Carolina before moving into management with Club Car in Orlando.
One of Abie’s edicts won’t be found in the “Rules of Golf,’’ but it still impresses his son decades later.
When Bill was in high school at Quantico, Va., where his father was stationed (his mother, since deceased, was divorced from Abie when Bill was a boy), the son wanted to play in a local tournament. Bill was an emerging talent and eager to prove it to the locals.
He told his father that the entry fee was $50, then smiled as he recalled the conversation some 45 years later.
Abie: “Can you get an afternoon tee time?’’
Bill: “I think so. Why?’’
Abie: “Well, if you get there first thing in the morning, you can get a couple of bags at $25 each (as a caddie carrying doubles). You’d still have time to grab a hot dog, clean yourself up and then play.’’
Of course, that’s exactly what young Bill did . . . and managed to finish second.
Standing in Abie Gordon’s den, surrounded by memorabilia from his father’s second career as a golf official, Bill savored the memory.
“It wasn’t about ‘my way’ or ‘his way,’ ’’ Bill said. “It was always about the ‘right way.’
“He was the most ethical man I ever knew.’’
Interment with full military honors will be at a date to be determined this spring at Arlington National Cemetery.