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Golf at Bonneville, Glendale won’t be the same again

Long-time pros Kramer, Reese reluctantly retiring

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Nearly every day for the past 55 years, Dick Kramer has been at Bonneville Golf Course. Most days he's been there from sunup to sundown, but occasionally it was just for an hour or two. Even when a foot of snow covered the ground in January, Kramer would make his way to the course on Salt Lake City's east bench, using the blade on the front of his jeep to clear the snow away.

Kramer and Bonneville have been inexorably linked since 1943, when Kramer was given the head pro job when he was a 23-year-old working for the sheriff's office. Soon after that he went into the service for a couple of years but has been working at Bonneville steadily since 1946.

"It's been my home all these years,," said Kramer. "I've enjoyed it so much."

Beginning Sunday, Kramer and his familiar sunglasses won't be behind the counter at Bonneville. The 81-year-old Kramer is retiring after more than 50 years as the head man at Bonneville.

A week later, Kramer will be joined in retirement by his longtime assistant, Tom Reese, who has been the head pro at Glendale since that course opened 27 years ago.

Talk about two icons of the golf industry. Kramer and Reese never knew the meaning of a 40-hour week. To them it was always more like a 140-hour week. Kramer, who said he saw his share of the world during his two-year stint in the service, never took a real vacation during the past five decades outside of a few golf trips around the West. Reese was the same way, finally taking a European vacation with his wife last fall.

These were a couple of guys who came to work seven days a week and never complained about it. They were the kind of pros that golfers would always see at their respective golf shops, who sincerely acted like they enjoyed being around their patrons.

Now a couple of long eras are ending. While Reese's 27 years are only half of Kramer's time at Bonneville, he is the only pro Glendale has had since it opened in 1973.

Although they're not kicking and screaming on their way out, the two old pros are not going easily. Both would have preferred to stay on longer, at least until the end of the year, but unsentimental city officials said the change had to be made now, the excuse being that it's the end of the fiscal year.

When it was clear the city was going to release two of its seven head golf pros in a cost-cutting move earlier this summer, Reese resigned, saying he had planned to do so soon because of health concerns. However, Kramer stubbornly went through the interview process with five other pros but predictably was the odd man out.

Ask Kramer and Reese what they'll miss about their jobs, and they say the same thing.

"Meeting people, greeting people — it's a people business," said Kramer.

"I've enjoyed all the wonderful people I've met," said Reese. "Ninety-nine percent of the people are really nice people."

While Kramer is more reserved, with a persona that demands respect (a lot of folks who have known him for years still refer to him as "Mr. Kramer"), Reese is more the jovial sort, always saying things like "What a great day to play golf — isn't golf a great game?"

Mack Christensen is the head pro at Forest Dale, and he will take over the job at Bonneville when Kramer leaves. As a teenager, Christensen used to ride his bike up to Bonneville often, and he got to know both Kramer and Reese well.

"Tom was always a character," said Christensen. "He was always cheery and happy. I'll miss his enthusiasm. I love the Tom-cat. He's a great guy."

As for Kramer, Christensen said, "Dick was everything a golf pro should be. I respect him hugely. There's no way I can conceive of replacing him or doing an equal job. It will be emotional not to think of him being there."

Another local pro, Rose Park's Steve Elliott, also grew up hanging around the Bonneville golf shop with Kramer and Reese. He recalls how Reese would play catch with him and then hide the gloves so Kramer wouldn't see them.

Elliott says there are many things he learned from Kramer, but one of the most important was "paying attention to every customer no matter who they are, whether the Governor or a junior golfer."

Kramer was one of the top playing pros of his day, winning the Idaho Open, the Provo Open, the Vernal Open, the Brigham City Open, the Dairy (Logan) Open and the City Parks Open twice. The fact that he won the City Parks nearly 20 years apart — in 1949 and 1967 — shows how long Kramer was competitive.

"I loved the competition," said Kramer.

Reese was never as competitive as Kramer, and because of a bout with polio as a child, he has had difficulty walking a golf course in recent years. But Reese is still an excellent golfer for a 63-year-old, and just last week he was thrilled to shoot 4-under-par at his course. "A little six-eight — best round I've had in a long time," he said.

Reese was going to the University of Utah in the 1950s and used to hang around Bonneville and sometimes hunt for golf balls. One day, Kramer said to Reese "I need some help in the shop. What are you doing?"

For the next 15 years, Reese worked as Kramer's assistant, a time Reese calls "simply wonderful."

Reese enjoyed his job so much he had to have his arm twisted to take the head pro job at the new Glendale course on 21st South.

"It was a nightmare — one of the worst-constructed golf courses ever built," he said.

After a couple of years the bugs were worked out at Glendale, and Reese called the late '70s "the happiest time I've ever had."

Golf boomed in the 1980s ,and by 1990 Glendale was the most popular golf course in the state with a record 130,000 rounds. "You couldn't get in the parking lot," said Reese.

Play has slacked off a lot in recent years, and this year's closing of the 21st South freeway has turned Glendale into a morgue. "Come out and play; it's like a country club here," says Reese.

For years, Reese has had a habit of waking up early on the days he doesn't open the shop and calling to make sure the course is open. If he doesn't get an answer, he hurries down to the course himself.

"I can't imagine not waking up and worrying about if the golf course is open," said Reese.

So what exactly will Kramer and Reese do with themselves in retirement?

Both say they'll play more golf, and you can bet both will be welcome any time at Bonneville and Glendale to hang around with the guys. Everyone close to the two pros agrees the retirement will be harder on Kramer, who has little to go home to after losing his wife of 58 years last year.

"I know it's happening, but I haven't thought much about it, to tell you honestly," said Kramer. "I'll kind of feel my way around, I guess."

Reese says he will be forever grateful for his association with Kramer.

"I was so lucky to get to work under Dick Kramer," he said. "Dick made the job fun, and he taught me a lot. He is a great golf professional."

Perhaps Elliott summed it up best in talking about what Kramer and Reese have meant to Utah golf.

"Dick and Tommy have left quite a legacy for the rest of us," he said.

E-MAIL: sor@desnews.com