Golf lost one of its best-known champions of the grass-roots minority golf movement. William “Bill” Dickey, 84, died in Phoenix on Oct. 16.
Few produced more significant results in increasing diversity in the game than Dickey. During his stint as president of the Western States Golf Association, a minority-based organization representing seven states, Dickey started a minority junior championship in 1981.
Eighty-seven juniors signed up that first year, and the tournament continues to thrive. In 1984, Dickey founded the National Minority Junior Golf Scholarship Association, a mom-and-pop operation that has given away more than $3.1 million in scholarships to more than 1,000 minority students. (It was renamed the Bill Dickey Scholarship Association in 2006.) His events, including the organization’s primary fundraiser, the Bill Dickey East-West Classic, are regarded as majors in minority golf.
Dickey never took a salary nor did he seek public recognition, yet there was little doubt that he was minority golf’s youth ambassador. Dickey was honored with the 1992 Card Walker Award given by the PGA Tour to the person or group which has made significant contributions to the support of junior golf and he also was the 1999 PGA Distinguished Service Award recipient.
Dickey’s mantra was a simple one: “We are building hope one stroke at a time.”
Nothing made him happier than tracking the progress of his scholarship recipients. They became part of his extended family. Dickey opened doors for many minorities to compete and work in the golf industry, but he was proudest of those who used golf as a vehicle to pursue other career dreams.
“We’ve helped kids go to Ivy League schools and become lawyers, professors and doctors,” he told Golfweek in 2007.
Dickey, a former insurance and real estate executive, didn’t take up golf until 1958. He served more than 3 ½ years in the Air Force. When he was discharged in 1952, an airline ticket to Phoenix, where his sister and brother-in-law lived, waited for him. By the time he landed in the Valley of the Sun, they had enrolled him in Phoenix College.
“When I got here, my brother-in-law said, ‘Come on Dickey, let’s work for 30 years, make a million dollars and quit,’ ” he said. “Thirty years to the day, I didn’t have a million dollars, but I had some real estate around the city, and I was kind of tired.”
But not for long. He accomplished more in the game of golf since he retired than most people do in a lifetime. His involvement in the game began when he noticed that little was available to help interested black youngsters learn about golf in their youth. He wrote a manual on how to start a minority junior golf program and sent it to 300 black golf and social clubs. More than 50 responded.
“It’s a big loss to the minority golf community,” said John Merchant, who along with Dickey founded the National Minority Golf Foundation in 1995. “Nobody can replace him.”
The 31st annual Bill Dickey East-West Golf Classic, which pits amateur golfers east and west of the Mississippi River, will be held in Phoenix from Jan. 24-26, 2013.