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Birth of the Northwest Golf Media Association

Until fairly recently, when the word “media” was mentioned, the first thoughts coming to most minds were TV, magazines or newspapers. Within these are organizations whose public writings are limited to specific disciplines – automotive, agriculture, and so forth; and within whose topics are sub-groups of the overall subject.

Sports are special interests – name the sport, and there is a media organization covering it. Here in the Pacific Northwest none existed for the game of golf.

None, that is, until 1995.

After a tournament on a private pitch-and-putt golf course, the idea of a media association devoted to golf in our region was conceived by two golf writers.

At the time, the largest organization for golf media was the Golf Writers Association of America (GWAA). A national organization peopled mainly by writers from the major golf magazines and newspapers, the GWAA lacked any apparent knowledge or interest in golf at this corner of the country. Jeff Shelley and I were members of the GWAA in the late 1980s, and we frequently bemoaned this lack and questioned what were we getting for our dues and participation.

Having covered golf for several magazines, including the now-defunct Back Nine where Shelley was editor, I decided to attempt a golf-oriented media group here on the east side of the Cascades. I sent a letter to various contacts and at the Pitch-and-Putt tournament showed a copy to Shelley. To our mutual surprise, he was envisioning the same action on the west side and we decided to join forces.

From this point onward, it was pretty much all Shelley’s doing. My letters provided lukewarm to zero responses, one noting essentially that as in politics, the west side would dominate, hence, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Shelley, in addition to being the author of several golf books, is a man of many contacts. As media director at the Fred Couples Invitational in 1995 he had access to around 170 media professionals within the industry. With his wife Anni and daughter Erica, the three handed out flyers introducing the Northwest Golf Media Association (NWGMA). The first members represented both major Seattle newspapers, KIRO and KOMO radio and KOMO TV.

Shelley devoted over 30 hours calling people to pay their $25 dues to get the group off the ground and set up the first meeting at Willows Run GC in Redmond, with the help of then-PGA professional Travis Cox.

“I started with regular and associate members, knowing that the golf-specific media was not enough to sustain the group,” said Shelley, “We needed support from allied golf associations to really give us a good base.

I came up with the name right off the bat and Anni designed the logo. I was the first president but it wasn’t until we became associated with the Pacific Northwest Golf Association [that] the structure was set up for all the officers that exist today.” The first managing director (and only paid position) was held by Angie Wean, who at the time was the Director of Communications for the PNGA.

The criteria for eligibility is fairly simple – those who work in the golf media are regular members, and associate members are those working in some other facet of the golf industry.

To be president of the organization is not merely a titular position. There is work to be done, and over the years it has been done splendidly. Tom Cade, editor of Pacific Northwest Golfer magazine, is the current head man. He estimates his time expended for the NWGMA to be around 15 to 20 hours a week. Of many, his most recent accomplishment was the creation of the association’s web site that he wrote, supplied content for and maintains. The logo that Anni designed is still in use today.

Over the years, the combination of golf outings for members in conjunction with meetings became a popular feature of the organization. Shelley is quick to point out that host golf courses are always instructed that the organization will pay greens fees and any food costs. Some have accepted, others comp the day. An annual Distinguished Service Award was instituted, with the recipient selected by votes of the members.

Cade and Shelley are examples of members whose day to day life is golf-supported. Then there are members such as Cheri Brennan, owner of a Seattle public relations firm whose contributions to area golf could fill a magazine of its own. She says, “I have been a member [of NWGMA] for at least a decade. My joining probably coincided with doing some PR work for golf courses.”

Asked what benefits she sees in membership, she candidly notes, “Call me old school, but I still believe in the value of face to face communications…being able to interact with editors, reporters, freelancers and other members at meetings and events adds another dimension.”

This October there will be a dual celebration at the Everett Golf and Country Club, where the NWGMA will be holding this year’s annual fall Tournament & Banquet – it will be the 100th anniversary for the club, and the 15th for the NWGMA. There will be a golf tournament, awards will be given, and speeches made. Today the NWGMA has a membership of over a hundred from three states and Canada, and two guys with the same idea in the last century can look with pride at what has been created.

Bob Spiwak took up golf in 1953 as a respite from the rigors of selling bibles door-to-door in North Dakota. Though suffering a four-year lapse, he’s back to being a fanatical golfer. Now a contributing editor for Cybergolf, Spiwak has written articles for almost every golf magazine in the Western world. Bob’s most treasured golf antiquity is a nod he got from Gerald Ford at the 1990 Golf Summit. Spiwak lives in Mazama, Wash., with his wife and several pets next to his fabled ultra-private Whispering Rattlesnakes Golf & Flubbers Club.

Jeff has over 20 years experience in golf writing and research. He has been editorial director of and since 2000. He has authored three editions of the book, Golf Courses of the Pacific Northwest. Jeff established Fairgreens Media, Inc., a company that publishes books, magazines and consulting materials. A former editor of Golfing the West and Back Nine magazines, Shelley co-authored the history book, Championships & Friendships: the First 100 Years of the Pacific Northwest Golf Association. He is a regular member of the Golf Writers Association of America, and was the 2007 recipient of the NWGMA’s Distinguished Service Award.