The first thing I mentioned to John Schroeder at the outset of a 28-minute interview was that I’d heard so many great things about him I felt like I needed to write an article.
The last thing Schroeder said to me was that he was adamant it’s not about him, but countless others that have given back to the game of golf.
Two things most certainly can be true. As evidence, we spent a lot of time talking about a truly special tournament held recently at Kalispel Golf and Country Club.
Schroeder, with assistance from family and friends, organized the event. The Kalispel member’s intentions were spelled out clearly when asked what he named it: “Giving back to the game for the good of the game,” he said.
Schroeder’s guest list included Kalispel superintendent Jeff Gullickson and seven current or retired area pros – Nick McCaslin, Mark Gardner, Bob Scott, Chris Runyan, Steve Nelke, Steve Prugh and Gary Lindeblad – who have done just that during their careers.
Schroeder, a fixture at regional and national amateur tournaments as a rules official, meticulously arranged for signs, walking scorers, sand-trap rakers and oversized checks presented to the eight participants. He had medallions made for each player detailing their contributions to golf.
He set up the course with United States Golf Association (USGA) specifications in mind, but he did add one wrinkle.
“I thought I’d put a kicker into it and go back to 1952 when they played stymie. Most people don’t have a clue what that’s about,” said Schroeder, referring to an obsolete rule that permitted a player’s ball to remain in the line of another’s unless the two balls are within 6 inches of each other. He gladly reported that a couple of stymie situations came up during the tournament.
Many amateur players in the Inland Northwest refer to Schroeder as “the rules guy.” He has that moniker imprinted on his golf balls. He’s been known to call an infraction on himself, even if it wasn’t seen by players in his group.
“He’s a great family man and obviously very serious about golf,” close friend Jim Robinson said. “The traditions are very important to him and upholding the traditions. It drives him crazy when people don’t play by the rules. John was always on call. We’d be playing and he’d get phone calls from all over and someone would be asking, ‘Hey John, what’s the story if this or that happened.’
“He was the guy they went to because he was the guy who knew the rules.”
Schroeder, 73, put up $12,000, half designated for golf charities, the other half distributed to winning and losing players.
“It was spectacular,” said Lindeblad, the former Indian Canyon and Kalispel pro who captained the losing four-player team in the match-play format. “Nobody even opened their envelopes, they just turned them back in so it was $12,000 total for golf charities close to John’s heart. The sad part was when I talked to him a few days later he told me he could barely move for two days, it beat him down so much.”
Schroeder worked the U.S. Women’s Amateur just over a year ago at Chambers Bay near Tacoma, easily walking the scenic course’s often hilly layout. A few weeks later, the always fit Schroeder started experiencing shortness of breath.
He was eventually diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, a disease that occurs when lung tissue becomes damaged and scarred, preventing the lungs from working properly, according to the Mayo Clinic website.
“That is a mystery story there,” Schroeder said. “I was perfectly healthy last August. By the end of January the disease was severe, so who knows. I don’t know why, how. It’s just a progressive disease and incurable.
“I’m kind of a lucky guy where I can see the end of that tunnel and do some things I’ve wanted to do over the years and certainly would have put off if this didn’t come along. That’s my goal, to fulfill those ideas.”
Those close to him marvel at Schroeder’s selfless approach as he deals with his serious health issues.
“He’s changed my attitude about golf,” said Lindeblad, a cancer survivor. “Golf was an endeavor, a challenge and now it’s just fun. I smile a lot more. I’m sad I didn’t meet him 40 years ago.
“I have a little sense of how John feels because I’ve been told twice how I was going to croak. I kept my mouth shut and crawled into a hole. John’s perspective has changed my perspective.”
• • •
Schroeder, wife Dwyta and their two young daughters moved in 1985 to Hawaii, where John ran a Nevada Bob’s golf retail store owned by his brother. A few years later, Schroeder became a Callaway equipment distributor throughout the South Pacific, including Hawaii, Guam, Samoa and Saipan.
In perhaps a precursor to his decade-plus time as a rules official, Robinson relayed a story of Schroeder setting up a display of Callaway equipment and gear at an event when O.J. Simpson walked by and saw something he liked. Schroeder kindly pointed Simpson inside to see an associate to pay for the item. When Simpson said he doesn’t pay for anything, Schroeder responded, “Well, you’re going to pay for this.”
Schroeder sold the distributorship in 2007 and found time in retirement to give back to the game that had been so good to him and his family.
A friend gave him a rules book because he’d expressed interest in the subject.
“Unfortunately it was the R&A rule book but I got the USGA’s and started studying and went to every rules clinic,” Schroeder said.
By 2010 he was volunteering as a rules official at tournaments in Hawaii. He moved to Spokane in 2012 to be near his daughters, one who had settled in Spokane and one in the Seattle area.
“Grandkids are a strong magnet,” Schroeder said.
So was his desire to continue assisting at tournaments, typically at his own expense while logging 12- to 16-hour days.
“That’s a good question,” Schroeder replied, when asked why he wanted to become a rules official. “I always had an interest in the rules. I thought I knew the rules. Once I started studying, I found out I didn’t know the rules. And I believe in fair play – what about that poor guy that missed the cut by one because somebody else didn’t follow the rules correctly.
“The rules are there to help the player, not hurt the player.”
Schroeder often wore a white shirt, tie and jacket as an official, even in hot summer temperatures. He’s held numerous committee and board positions with Washington Golf, the Pacific Northwest Golf Association (PNGA) and USGA.
“It takes a special individual, especially with rules because the rules are hard. Every time I’m out with John he teaches me something new,” said Gullickson, who coached Northwest Christian golf teams for 17 years in addition to his duties at Kalispel. “John is a gentleman in a gentleman’s game, and by that I mean rules, etiquette, respect, honor, tradition, all those words that go into defining a gentleman’s sport. He has a pretty good network of friends. I don’t know if he has many enemies, except those that got disqualified, but that was their own fault.”
• • •
As Schroeder stated, he has more he wants to accomplish.
There are only five certified rules officials in the Eastern Washington/North Idaho region. He encourages more people to volunteer in the various capacities necessary (rules, scoring, etc.) to produce quality tournaments.
He points out the importance of the golf industry in the region, from its considerable economic impact to philanthropic contributions. He hopes the Give Back tournament becomes an annual event as a way of honoring the volunteer efforts of “so many that do so much but are rarely recognized.”
“John gave a really inspiring speech about volunteering (at the conclusion of the tournament),” Robinson said. “I think he’s very concerned about the level of volunteering in local golf. He ran out of oxygen when he did it, but it was pretty inspiring.”
A few days after the tournament, Schroeder had already spoken with Lindeblad about ideas for other projects.
“He is so laser-focused right now and it’s kind of recharged his batteries,” Lindeblad said. “We’re talking about some more stuff he wants to do regarding the First Tee program and Inland Northwest Golf Foundation. He has a laundry list of things he wants to accomplish for youth golf.”
Lindeblad is optimistic some or all Give Back participants will form a board to continue the tournament and present an award annually in John’s name.
“Another thing he makes me realize is that golf is a game where inherently you want to give back and facilitate other people playing and make it a good endeavor for them,” Lindeblad said. “It’s just been an incredible experience.
“He’s just changed the way I feel about golf. I’d kind of been in the dumps about golf for years since I hurt my back and he’s taken that out of me. He’s just such a unique, wonderful guy.”