2007: Tom Robertson Jun 11, 2007  (14 years ago)

By Randy King
Jun 11, 2007, 11:22

The majority of the 31 previous inductees into the Roanoke Valley Golf Hall of Fame earned their enshrinement through their high-proficiency level at playing the game.

That said, little wonder that 8-handicapper Tom Robertson was totally dumbfounded when informed he was going to be the 2007 addition to the class.

"I was shocked! I thought it must be the Golf Hall of Shame instead of the Hall of Fame," a laughing Robertson said last week.

"Hey, it's a very nice honor and I appreciate it, but I think there's a lot more deserving people who have done things for golf here in the valley. But I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth."

So what Robertson has never won a Roanoke Valley major. Shoot, he's never even won a club championship in his home city.

The HOF's induction committee believes the guy has done plenty enough.

"Tom Robertson has been Hall of Fame material for some time," said Doug Doughty, head of the induction committee.

"It was just a matter of time as we attempted to balance all of our constituencies -- players, volunteers, men, women, seniors."

While he's never resided atop tourney scoreboards, Robertson has always been a leader when it comes to contribution and service to the betterment of area golf.

The Scott Robertson Memorial -- that's the little ol' junior tournament started in 1984 with a small regional field of players at Roanoke Country Club -- is an example.

It has grown and matured into one of the nation's premier junior events, attracting the world's top-ranked young golfers in droves.

The 54-hole tournament, named in honor of Robertson's son, Scott, a promising junior golfer who died from infectious mononucleosis at age 14 in 1982, has put Roanoke on golf's map. Past winners of the event include current LPGA Tour standout Paula Creamer (2002-03), and current PGA Tour participants Kevin Na (2000-01) and Hunter Mahan (1998).

While he's clearly the face of the tournament, Robertson has spent much of the past 24 years downplaying his influence.

Instead, he credits the volunteers who have donated their time and energy to make certain the event continues to be one of junior golf's most popular stops.

"We've had great leadership," Robertson said. "It was [former RCC member] Gary Strickfaden's idea, really. He's still a very good friend and he did a great job the first three or four years before he got moved [in his job to Tidewater]. Then Mike Smith [now living in Atlanta] took over and he did a good job. And some of those volunteers have been there every year. That's what really makes a tournament successful because the kids get an experience here they don't get anywhere else. ...

"Our volunteers, I think, get a kick out of that and seeing how those kids play ... they follow them, they've got a number of those youngsters who stay in their homes, so they feel a special bond with them. And all those things contribute to a good experience."

Spinoffs from the highly successful event have included the Robertson Junior Tour, a circuit that enables young area players to gain competitive experience, and most recently the formation of Roanoke's First Tee program, which caters to underprivileged kids whom otherwise would likely never be exposed to golf.

In addition to learning the game, First Tee kids are taught valuable life skills that will help them be the best they can possibly be outside of golf.

Robertson, whose people and leadership skills were instrumental in his rise from a "Williamson Road kid" to CEO of Carilion Health System upon his retirement in 2001, credits others for the First Tee program, of course.

He rips off the names of program director Courtney Kendrick, longtime RCC member Miller Baber, and 78-year-old Roanoker Rufus Spiers, who has spent much of the past 20 years doing in-school golf clinics for the youngsters.

"We've got to do everything we can to revitalize golf because it's not just a game for the rich," Robertson said. "I think that's happening across the country, but it's still an expensive game.

"We've literally got a basement full of clubs that people have brought out there to donate. Our next step is getting them cut down and putting kids' grips on them. As part of the First Tee, I think we've gotten 50 sets of clubs from Nike, so any kid who comes out there is going to have clubs. ...

"I mean I don't have any aspirations that we're going to have a Tiger Woods coming out of here, but I hope we'll get more people playing."

The life skills are paramount to Robertson, a National Business College graduate who became one of the most respected business leaders of the Roanoke Valley.

"A couple of years before First Tee was announced nationally, Miller and I started talking about what golf meant to us and how the things that were required for success in golf would serve you well in life," Robertson recalled. "Such things as integrity, perseverance, patience, accountability, honesty ... if you look down that list, those things you have do in golf to have any degree of success also will serve you very well in life."

When it comes to his playing career, Robertson, 64, is much more brief in his analysis.

"My golf career ... this will be very short," Robertson said, laughing. "The lowest my handicap ever got was 3, but I played most of the time around 6. I think I've played in maybe three or four Hall of Fame tournaments, but I certainly was not on the leaderboard. I've always been the bubble boy in terms of trying to make [RCC's] team."

As a former public accountant, Robertson naturally has kept a log of all the courses he's played.

The admitted golfaholic said the number is nearing 300, including courses abroad in Scotland and Ireland. Besides RCC, he's a member at The Homestead's Cascades Course, The Olde Farm in Bristol, and a couple of Florida courses.

"I'm a competitive person and I enjoy competitive games," said Robertson, whose second wife, Sue, also loves to hit the links. "I've always played in club championships. I haven't won any titles in Roanoke, but I've won one in Florida. But that's not really noteworthy because the caliber of golf at that time at that club ... I mean they've got some good golfers, but I just played really well for a couple of days."

Typical Tom Robertson. The guy refuses to take any credit when it comes to golf.

Robertson is going to get a huge dose come November, when he's officially inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Better start working on that acceptance speech, fellow.

"I thought I was done with speeches when I retired," Robertson said.

"Honestly, I'm not looking forward to that."

That's OK, he'll get it done.

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