Every classical golf course needs an inspiration such as Rick Holland to help the members see what they are capable of. Without Holland, Beverly Country Club never would have undergone the restoration project that left it vastly improved.
Recently I spoke at Beverly. We were there to honor Holland, a longtime member, who at 62 is battling kidney cancer.
Rick has been a Golfweek’s Best course rater since 2000. He’s been to more than a dozen rater gatherings and made hundreds of course visits. And because he was at Beverly on Chicago’s South Side, he knew he needed to immerse himself in the club’s historic architecture. He joined the Donald Ross Society, traveled all over to look at Ross courses and canvassed every architect he could find who was vaguely interested in restoration to see if they’d take a look at Beverly. The club ultimately hired Ron Prichard, who over the years has remade the place into more of Ross layout than it probably ever was.
Prichard, who has worked with Holland for more than 15 years on Beverly, marvels “at how generous he is with his time and how quick his mind works. He’s always an been an absolute delight to work with, and he has always kept me on my toes.”
I meet a lot of people intensely interested in course architecture. Most try to impress me with how much they know, or they try to trip me up or argue with me to prove how smart they are. Rick was completely different when I met him 20 years ago, and he’s remained that way. He is like an amped-up little kid who has discovered a whole new fantasy world and can’t lose himself in it completely enough. He is keen to absorb and learn everything, so that he can take it back home to his beloved club and make Beverly a better place.
Holland says his love of the place “goes back to when I was a kid. Even my dad was a caddie there. I’ve always felt it to be a special place. It’s survived, keeps improving, despite the demographics of an in-city club.”
Others around him helped – with research, financing, securing member buy in. On the South Side of Chicago you learn how to get votes. I never saw anyone wield the levers of club politics like he did.
Along the way, I saw a couple of basic rules that reminded me of my former years as a professor of political science. Like never have a meeting unless you have control over the agenda. Never take a vote unless you know what the outcome will be. Get ahead of the ballot by controlling the flow of proxy votes. Sometimes the most powerful or influential people are behind the scenes rather than in formal seats. And often the greatest exercise of power comes when you never have to lift a finger or show how much influence you have because the preparatory work has taken care of it.
I can’t imagine how much time Rick spent on the phone, buttonholing people, buying drinks, lunch, golf, whatever it took to improve Beverly. I saw someone who was single-minded in his pursuit. His appetite to see courses, talk to people and learn what they were doing was incredible.
I remember one road trip on our way out of Pinehurst, N.C., when we stopped in to see the superintendent at Pine Needles, then toured Tobacco Road and made it over to Donald Ross’ last course, Raleigh Country Club. I don’t think we stopped for about six or seven hours and I was starving, but Rick couldn’t get enough. Because of his drive, Beverly got better.
He picked the brains of greenkeepers, cajoled managers and pros, interrogated architects. He would call early in the morning or late at night. No preamble, no social niceties. He’d just jump right in and expect you to catch up with him. I appreciated that he thought I had something that could be of use to him and to others. It gave me more confidence than I would have had on my own.
I remember the first time I spoke at Beverly. There was some sort of fight in the locker room. Upstairs I was giving a talk, and after the Q & A we whipped the crowd into a frenzy, basically willing them to take up chainsaws and cut down 500 trees in the middle of the night.
“I understand Rick can drive some people nuts, but I’ve found him to be nothing but a pleasure to deal with given his passion and commitment for the place,” says Beverly’s superintendent Kirk Spieth, now in his seventh season at the club.
That’s the kind of passion and energy Rick summons, and that he can bring out in others.
Rick has brought a love and commitment to his chosen task. He has gone into it full bore. From the beginning and now well into Beverly’s restoration, the club has Rick Holland to thank for taking it so far.
If only more clubs had a Rick Holland.
(Note: This story appears in the Oct. 23, 2017 issue of Golfweek.)