Balicki: Newest GCAA HoF inductees very deserving

What a grand and memorable night it will be for a half dozen men. I should know. It was only last year when I experienced it up close and personal.

What a night it was for me and what a night I’m sure it will be for the six individuals who will be inducted into the Golf Coaches Association of America Hall of Fame on Monday Dec. 5 at the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas.

Of the group, five are either former or current coaches: Archie Boulet of Bryant University, Ken Hyland of Malone, Vince Jarrett of Abilene Christian/Houston, Jimmy Russell of Odessa College and Mike Wydra of UC-San Diego.

Boulet guided the Bryant program from 1964-2001. His teams won 11 regional titles, 20 conference crowns and produced 23 All-Americans. He was named New England and/or conference coach of the year 18 times.

Hyland currently is the coach at Malone, a position he’s held since 1972. His teams have won five national titles and 28 regional or conference crowns. Twice he was named NAIA national coach of the year and in 1997 was inducted into the NAIA Hall of Fame.

Jarrett coached at Division II Abilene Christian and Division I Houston from 1984-2009, winning the NCAA D-II championship in 1993 along with eight conference titles. He’s a four-time conference coach of the year and seven-time district coach of the year. He was selected as the D-II national coach of the year in 1993.

Russell coached at Odessa, a National Junior College Athletic Association D-I program, from 1958-69 and is credited with starting the first NJCAA national tournament in ’59. His teams won six NJCAA championship and he was the first coach inducted into the NJCAA Hall of Fame. He also is a past recipient of the PGA of America’s Horton Smith Award.

Wydra is currently the coach at D-II UC-San Diego, where he started in 1980. He won the 1993 NCAA Championship and his teams have made 18 NCAA appearances, finishing in the top 5 a total of 13 times, including five runner-up finishes. He’s produced more than 55 All-Americans. He’s been conference coach of the year 10 times and in 1993 was national coach of the year.

You can bet there will be plenty of GCAA Hall of Famers at the annual awards banquet who will warmly welcome these coaches to the club.

But it’s the sixth man that has me especially excited. Gary Hart of Karsten Manufacturing rounds out the inductee list, and I’m honored to welcome him to my club. Hart will join yours truly as the only two non coaches to be elected into the GCAA Hall of Fame.

And in this category, very few deserve the honor as much as Hart.

Hart started working for Karsten Solheim and Ping in 1974, hired to help build a PGA Tour program for the company. Realizing that the future of the PGA Tour generated from the college ranks, Hart began a college program, one of the first of its kind at that time.

Not only did he work with coaches and players in order to get Ping products in their hands, he built friendships with and earned the respect of those around him.

I first met Hart in the mid-1980s and it didn’t take me long to realize his passion for the college game and to those who coached and played it. Yes, he was out there at tournament after tournament and of course his main goal was to sell and promote the Ping product, but it went beyond that for Hart -- far beyond that. He truly did love this level of competition and because of that he was one of only a few manufacturing reps to bring college golf to the forefront and to a new level.

Back then, not many big-time golf companies paid much attention to the collegiate game. Today, just about all of them do. Much of that credit can be given to Hart and Ping.

With Hart leading the way, Ping began its college program in 1976 with Oklahoma State. Among the components leading to the success of the college program were the introduction of Ping irons, golf stand bags designed by John Solhein specifically for college players, an apparel program, coaches’ tours of the Ping factory for education and fellowship and a financial program to reward coach loyalty and success.

“Gary is very deserving of this honor,” said John Solheim, Ping chairman and CEO in a press release. “He was instrumental in developing and leading Ping’s college program for nearly 25 years. From the beginning, he recognized the opportunity to not only identify future tour pros who would represent Ping, but he saw it as a chance to build long-term relationships with top golfers who chose other professions.

“He set the standard for today’s collegiate programs for manufacturers,” Solheim said. “He helped make college golf better overall.”

I couldn’t agree more. Hart certainly was one of the pioneers in this facet of the college game. That’s why I’m thrilled the GCAA Hall of Fame selection committee made him a unanimous choice for induction.

I can’t wait for the evening of Dec. 5 when I get to see Hart once again and give him my own personal, “Welcome to the club.”

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