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Best Man For The Time

After serving the PNGA for more than two decades – the last three years as president – Peter Fibiger shepherded the Association through a final major transition before walking away

By Paul Ramsdell 

Time had come for a golf association almost 120 years old to reinvent itself. The man put in charge, at one point hadn’t touched a golf club for 25 years of his life, and it’s been a life far from the stereotypical stuffy and stiff golf enthusiast of yesteryears.

Peter Fibiger was born in Denmark, grew up overlooking the 12th tee at Victoria Golf Club in British Columbia and not only does he live every day of his life to the fullest, he makes sure anyone spending any time with him also lives that day to the fullest. 

He was the right man for the job at the right time, when the Pacific Northwest Golf Association needed to overhaul its bylaws to remain relevant and continue in the role it had held for over a century of being a leader of golf in the region. 

“That’s what we wanted to do, bring the PNGA back to a far more relevant position,” said the 73-year-old Fibiger, who served as the PNGA president from 2018 until earlier this year. “The dynamic under which the organization had been functioning for a long time was starting to change.” 

The dynamic since the association began in 1899 was to bring together the golf world in Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho, and offer competition for golfers as well as working together to grow the game. For a large part of its 122 years, there were few other well-established associations of amateur golfers. 

In more recent decades, that has all changed. The state and provincial golf associations have grown and are conducting championships closer to home for everyone, and getting more and more golfers involved in either serious competition, or more social competition. 

“The upshot of all that was that we wanted to get out of the way of the allied associations, get the profile of the organization back up to where it had been before,” Fibiger said. 

It had gotten to a point where the PNGA almost was in competition with the state and provincial associations, not only for players, but also for golf courses as well as dates for championships on a busy golf calendar. Maybe the PNGA should instead concentrate on getting the very best golfers of the region into the high-level competitions that could be steppingstones to key national events. 

“The full discussion ultimately evolved into just making the PNGA an ‘association of associations’ rather than individual clubs,” Fibiger says.

Outgoing PNGA President Mary O’Donnell places the “PNGA President” badge onto new PNGA President Peter Fibiger during a brief ceremony at the 119th PNGA Annual Meeting on May 12, 2018.

A committee was formed, structure was examined, bylaws were re-written and the essence of the association, particularly the Board of Directors, was all changed.

“Even though there was a committee, Peter was doing the yeoman work on this project,” said Cliff Shahbaz of Portland, a past PNGA president and a member of the Board during this transformation. “He did it because it was the right thing to do, and it was the relevant thing to do.” 

And with the transformation, there wasn’t a place for someone like Fibiger, who wasn’t a representative of the provincial golf association.

From Shahbaz’ viewpoint, this was the vision Fibiger put forth: “We’re going to change the whole organization, and basically I’m going to take myself out of the position.” 

Someone with an ego wouldn’t have done that, nor someone wanting to build kingdoms.

Prior to being elected PNGA president in 2018, Peter had already spent several years involved with the Association. In the mid-1990s, he was approached by Dr. Jim Allison (who would receive the 2002 PNGA Distinguished Service Award) about donating stay-and-play packages to the annual Evans Cup auction fundraisers, raising money for the Evans Caddie Scholarship program.  

Peter, as ever, jumped in full-force, helping to raise thousands of dollars for the program over the years, gathering teams to play in many of the Evans Cup fundraisers, and even becoming a Director for the Western Golf Association, which administers the scholarship program.  

In 2003, Allison, along with then-PNGA Executive Director John Bodenhamer, approached Fibiger about being on the PNGA Board of Directors. “I was really excited about that,” Peter says. “I had an affinity for all things American, and the whole concept of the PNGA crossing the border, being international, was really appealing to me.” 

Once on the Board, Fibiger would be elected to the PNGA Executive Committee in 2008, serving several years as vice president before ascending to the presidency.

Peter’s family moved from Denmark to Victoria when he was six months old. 

“I grew up right above the 12th tee at Victoria Golf Club,” Fibiger said. “I spent the first 17 years of my life basically living on the golf course. When I wasn’t going to school I was caddying and shagging balls, and I was a junior member, and I was sweeping greens.”

The golf bug didn’t take hold, however. From age 17 to 42, he didn’t pick up a golf club, instead building a career in sales and marketing in the tourism industry. One part of that is he developed a sport fishing online magazine long before online magazines became commonplace.

With his extensive background in publications, while serving on the PNGA Executive Committee he spent more than a decade as the chairman of the Communications Committee, overseeing the Pacific Northwest Golfer magazine and the Association’s ever-widening spectrum of communication assets.  

“I just remember some meetings when the magazine was losing some money for those few years (during the Recession of 2008-2009) and Peter took it personally,” Shahbaz said. “He agonized over it.”  

Sales and marketing and tourism, and the right personality to enjoy it all, can add up to a pretty fun life. 

Chuck DeSteunder is a Tacoma real estate broker who has been a good friend and golfing buddy of Fibiger’s over the years. 

“His nickname is Lucifer in my phone,” DeSteunder said, saying that a call from Fibiger more often than not will lead to a day of golf, followed by more good times. 

“I’ve had so many good times with that guy,” DeSteunder said. “He’s just full of life. He loves golf, but he loves people even more.”