Bill Rolland never believed he'd stick with the Chippewa Valley Golf Association this long. Now that he's leaving, others can't imagine what it will be like with out him.
Rolland, who helped found the CVGA in 1958 and served as its tournament director and secretary, recently announced his resignation.
"It was time," he said. "It was flat-out time to step aside."
Rolland's resignation comes at a crossroads of sorts for the organization, which has dealt with declining participation in its opens — the signature events Rolland tirelessly helped grow — and a change in leadership.
Frank Kyes, owner of Whispering Springs Golf Course in Cadott, stepped down as president, a position he held since 1975. He'll be replaced by Chuck Wagner, Ojibwa Golf & Bowl.
As for Rolland's position, Wagner said it's going to take several people to replace all the work he did.
"The organization definitely wanted to thank him for all his ground work," Wagner said. "Hopefully, we can maintain the tradition and move forward."
A proud history
Rolland was instrumental in developing the CVGA into one of the premier circuts not just in the state or the Midwest, but the entire nation.
It was the envy of golfers everywhere.
"People were looking at us," Rolland said. "We had lot of recognition from other areas of the nation. At one time, a pro from San Francisco wanted to start a program like we had."
The reason was because of the opens, the weekly events hosted by golf courses around the area. Rolland had to convince the courses to give up a day or two in the summer, but he'd take care of all the logistics.
"It was an interesting circumstance with how it grew and grew and grew," Rolland said. "Every year I saw improvements and was confident in the direction it was going."
The golfers playing in the events weren't exactly weekend warriors either.
Andy North, Tom Lehman and Don Iverson were among the golfers to play in the CVGA who also participated in the PGA.
"To watch it grow like it did when we were getting 120 players in some of our opens, players like Andy North, Tom Lehman, Don Iverson ... all these guys went on to make a big career," Rolland said. "That was a remarkable thing."
Rolland also started the Tournament of Champions, a year-end event held at either Hillcrest Country Club or the Eau Claire Golf and Country Club. In the 1980s and 90s, it used to be televised locally.
"That was a lot of fun," Kyes said. "We always had the sponsors invitational on Friday that we got to go to.
"We spent a lot of time together over the years."
Rolland said the success of the Tournament of Champions is what he's most proud of during his time with the CVGA.
A full-time job
Throughout the years, Rolland never complained about giving up weekend after weekend in the summer for what amounted to be an unpaid full-time job.
"Not many people are going to put over 50 years work into this," Rolland said.
He said he loved the camaraderie with the golfers — Rolland played in the events himself — and will remember the times he shared with them after the events in the clubhouse as much as he will on the course.
Rolland was quick to give credit to his wife, Beth, who he met as a pro at Hillcrest Country Club in 1960 and was always at his side throughout the tournaments.
"To do this job, you had to have a wonderful wife," Rolland said.
Beth never left her husband's side even as she battled dementia, which has now forced her into a facility in Menomonie.
"The last two years she went to every tournament with me," Rolland said. "The golfers were great. They'd introduce themselves to her every time. They were great with her."
Caring for his wife is another reason why Rolland had to step away from his duties with the CVGA.
"When he did resign, he said ‘I have to get back to my life it's changing so much,'" Kyes said. "He's paid his dues."
The CVGA's future
Even though he's no longer the tournament director, Rolland is concerned about the future of the CVGA.
The seniors and flights tournaments are still popular and successful, and the juniors events will have a new director this season — 25-year-old John Pozarski.
But the opens are in trouble.
Participation, especially among younger golfers, is down. The golfers in the opens are primarily from Minnesota and may grow tired of travelling long distances to compete in the tournaments.
"I feel disappointed in the sense that I am leaving, it's going to be hard for me to figure out what I'm going to do," he said. "I'll give them the help they need when they need it. If it meant that leaving the organization and it would collapse I probably wouldn't have done it."
The board of directors is forming a plan to run the opens. It's obvious they'll never find another Bill Rolland to take it over.
"I think it's going to involve a lot more outreach," Wagner said. "It's going to involve a lot more networking."
Both Wagner and Kyes said they hope to work closely with UW-Stout's golf management program to see if there's anyone interested in getting real-world experience in running a tournament circuit.
"It's not going to be easy to replace Bill," Kyes said. "He meant a lot to the organization."