At the 15th PNGA Distinguished Service Award banquet held on April 29, 2016 at Tacoma Country & Golf Club, Cliff Shahbaz and Bill Bergsten were honored for their years of dedication to the Association.
The lifeblood of the PNGA is the volunteerism that encompasses every aspect of the organization. The PNGA is made possible by remarkable people who volunteer numerous hours to the game because they care so deeply about its well-being. This prestigious award, given every two years, is considered the Association’s highest honor.
The 117th PNGA Annual Meeting was held the next day at the club.
For information, including past recipients of the award, please visit this page.
Columbia Edgewater Country Club
Growing up as a self-confessed “Air Force brat,” Cliff moved around a lot as a boy, mostly up and down the West Coast, but was able to find a hobby.
“My joke is that Arnold Palmer got me into golf,” Cliff says. “Watching him on TV, the charisma that he had, got me interested.” He picked up the game on his own as a youth, and played on the high school team in Cheyenne, Wyo.
After graduating from UC Berkeley, Cliff was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force, and after earning his pilot wings he served two combat tours in Vietnam. After 20 years of service, he retired as a Lt. Colonel, and then flew as a United Airlines pilot for 27 years, retiring in 2006 as B-747 Captain. He continues to work as a flight instructor for Boeing.
“My wife Pam was born and raised in Portland,” Cliff said, “so it was fitting that we made our home base here.” Cliff continued to play golf during his years as a pilot, and after moving to Portland he continued with the sport, first at Eastmoreland GC (“We lived just two blocks away”), then at Willamette Valley CC, and now at Columbia Edgewater CC.
“When my oldest daughter turned eight, she became eligible for the Oregon Junior Golf programming, so that’s when I started taking an interest in volunteering,” Cliff says. “And I really took an interest in the rules; I think it appealed to my pilot’s mind – the structure of it, the meaning and reasoning behind the decisions.”
In 1995, Cliff began working as a Rules Official for the Oregon Golf Association and volunteering for the Oregon Junior Golf committee.
“While I was a member at Willamette Valley, I asked the general manager how I can get more involved with the game,” Cliff remembers. “I asked him if the club had a representative for the PNGA. He said no. So I said ‘I’m your guy.'”
By chance, the following summer the 1997 PNGA Men’s Amateur was to be held at Willamette Valley. “I met the PNGA staff (Doug Sullivan and Gary Nieland) when they came to the club for the set-up meeting, then I worked as a volunteer every day during the championship, serving as the referee during the final match (won by Ben Crane). That really got me going – I was hooked from that point on.”
Cliff would eventually expand his volunteering to national USGA championships, serving on the U.S. Mid-Amateur Committee since 2006, and being invited as a Rules Official for numerous prestigious championships.
“I still remember watching the U.S. Open on TV in black and white, watching the Rules Officials in their long sleeve shirts and ties in 90-degree heat and humidity. I admired them, the commitment and values that they had. It really struck me how it meant something to them, to be doing what they’re doing.
“I enjoy the fun and pleasure of the game, and the socialization of it appealed to me,” Cliff said. “But I also like the competitive nature of it, and I think that’s why I enjoy the rules so much – I get a chance to see good players, with good character, play good golf under stressful championship conditions. The history and tradition of the game also really appealed to me, and I wanted to do more than just play it – I wanted to be involved with it.”
Something which Cliff has done very well for over 20 years.
- USGA Executive Committee member – 2016-present
- PNGA President – 2007-2010
- PNGA Director – 1998-present
- PNGA Club Representative – 1995-present
- U.S. Mid-Amateur Committee Member – 2006-present
- Pacific Coast Golf Association President – 2012
- Pacific Coast Golf Association Trustee – 2006-present
- Member of the OGA Junior Golf Committee
- Director, PNGA/WSGA Properties, Inc. (The Home Course) – 2007-2010
- PNGA, OGA and USGA Rules Official
- Rules official at the U.S. Senior Open and several USGA national amateur championships
Tacoma Country & Golf Club
Other than three years spent in Germany while serving in the U.S. Army and two years working as a trial attorney in Washington, D.C., Bill Bergsten has spent his entire life in Tacoma. “I was born at St. Joe’s Hospital,” Bill said. “And even when I was gone for a while, I always knew I’d be back.”
Bill started playing golf when he was 16, “and I was lucky enough to make the golf team at Stadium High School as the No. 5 player. Clint Names was the No. 1 player – he was really good, and he and I became good friends.”
After getting his degree in business administration from Washington State University in 1962, Bill spent the next three years as a First Lieutenant in the Army stationed at a missile site “out in the boonies” in Germany. “Although I brought my clubs I didn’t play much while there,” he says, “because we were pretty much on call all the time.”
Released from the Army in 1964, Bill then went to law school at the University of Oregon, and in 1968 began his career as an attorney, with a current emphasis on arbitration and mediation. Now listed in the “Who’s Who” of American Law, Bill has served on numerous legal boards, including serving as president of the Legal Foundation of Washington, treasurer of the Washington State Bar Association, and regional vice president of the Law Fund. He also is a past president of the Broadway Center for the Arts.
Bill joined Tacoma Country & Golf Club in 1971. “I just really enjoyed the game,” he says. “I wasn’t good enough to play in college, but that didn’t matter to me. I wanted to keep playing on any level.” Bill would eventually provide legal counsel to the club for over a decade, and serve as the club’s president in 2003.
In 1996, Bill was approached by John Bodenhamer, who was then the CEO and executive director of the PNGA, about being a Club Representative from Tacoma C&GC, to replace Dr. Herm Dahl. “Herm was a great guy,” Bill says, “and a superb player, having played in the 1958 U.S. Open. So that’s how it started for me.”
In 2000, Dr. Dahl received the PNGA Distinguished Service Award. “I’m happy to follow in his footsteps again for this,” Bill said.
For 20 years now, Bill has served the Association in many capacities: Club Representative (for both the PNGA and WSGA); executive committee for the PNGA and WSGA, and PNGA/WSGA Properties, Inc. (The Home Course); president of the WSGA; vice president and then president of The Home Course; volunteer at the 2010 U.S. Amateur, 2014 Women’s APL, and 2015 U.S. Open.
During the Associations’ negotiation with Weyerhaeuser for the purchase of The Home Course, Bill worked in tandem with Bill Mays (also an attorney) in providing legal counsel. “Bill (Mays) was president of The Home Course from the beginning and I was vice president,” said Bill. “When he passed away (in August 2012), a few months later I was then officially elected president.”
Mays would receive the PNGA Distinguished Service Award in 1999, so Bill is following him as well in now receiving the award.
When asked about his two decades of service to the Association, Bill struggled a little. “I’m trying to put it into words, but I know it won’t really convey everything I mean. You have to really believe in an organization to stay with it. It’s hard to get enthusiastic about something you don’t believe in, and I believe in the PNGA. I got so much enjoyment from the game, and from the people that I met, that I really wanted to be able to give something back to it. It’s a great game, a lifetime sport. And I felt what I had to give to it was my time, so that’s what I gave.”
- WSGA President – 2005-2007
- WSGA Director – 1996-2016
- PNGA Director – 2012-2015
- President of PNGA/WSGA Properties, Inc. (The Home Course) – 2012-2015
- Director, PNGA/WSGA Properties, Inc. (The Home Course) – 2007-present
- PNGA Club Representative – 1996-present
- WSGA Club Representative – 1996-present
- Member of PNGA/WSGA Northwest Golf Course & House Committee – 1998-2007
- Counsel to WSGA and PNGA/WSGA Properties, Inc.; one of key people that drafted legal documents for acquisition of The Home Course
- Past President and legal counsel, Tacoma C&GC
- Longtime volunteer at USGA championships