PGA Tri-State Section executive director Darak retires

By Gerry Dulac
Published on

PITTSBURGH -- Dennis Darak always remembered the question he was asked when he was interviewing for the position of Executive Director of the Tri-State Section of the PGA of America.

"I'm the President of the Section, I get a flat tire on the way to a tournament and I miss my tee time. What do you do?"

Darak didn't hesitate with the answer.

"I disqualify you."

That was 43 years ago. The person asking the question was Roland Stafford, Head PGA Professional at the Longue Vue. He was chairing a specially-called meeting downtown at the Henry Oliver Building where the Tri-State PGA had an office not big enough for the 12 board of directors who were in attendance.

They were meeting to decide if they wanted to hire Darak, a young real estate salesman and son of one of the longtime PGA Professionals in Western Pennsylvania, to run their section. It must have been the right answer.

Darak is the longest-tenured executive director among the 41 nationwide sections of the PGA of America. He has spent 43 years running a section that, while small in number of members, played for more money than nearly every other section in the country, thanks to the largesse and philanthropy of several well-heeled businessmen.

In that time, he worked for 31 years out of a 1,600-square-foot addition to his house in Center, grew the section's tournament schedule from five months to eight, staged tournaments for club professionals that offered a $200,000 purse and ran events for mini-tour and PGA Tour players in Western Pennsylvania. Oh yeah, and he nearly quit six weeks after accepting the job when the section, after discovering it had less money in the budget than anticipated, cut his salary 33 percent to $10,000 annually.

"I remember my dad came to me and said, 'You do this for them, and in the long run, they'll take care of you.' That's why I stayed," said Darak, whose father, John, was the longtime head professional at Beaver Lakes (now Shadow Lakes) Country Club in Aliquippa. "And it all worked out. I probably took it just out of respect for my dad. I didn't want to disparage his name."

At the end of the year, Darak will end the longest-running term of any executive director in the country. He will retire, at age 66, as head of the most important organization for club professionals in Western Pennsylvania.

'Hitting the lottery'

Jeff Rivard was an English teacher who taught a little math in the Detroit area when he realized he wanted to do something different, something he loved more than teaching.

Welcome to his golf world.

He began in New Mexico, moved to the LPGA Tour, switched to the USGA, went to Michigan and settled for the past 22 years in Western Pennsylvania, serving as executive director of the region's amateur golf organization, the West Penn Golf Association.

"The day I woke up and realized I've been here for more than half my career was an interesting one," Rivard said.

In that time, Rivard re-established the West Penn Amateur and West Penn Open to their former glory, staged the association's centennial celebration, helped standardize course ratings for local clubs, established the WPGA Hall of Fame and facilitated the movement to establish handicaps for public-course golfers who didn't belong to private clubs and let them play in their championships.

"I came here from Michigan," Rivard said. "Michigan was growing to the point where I was doing less golf and more administration. So I felt change was a good idea."

Anyone who has met Rivard never forgets his shock of wind-blown white hair, his barbershop-quintet voice and his unflinching command of golf history and the rules that govern the game. He knows the rule book the way most people remember their telephone number.

But at 71, he has had enough -- not of golf, which he plays on an almost daily basis and talks about nearly every minute, but of the daily grind.

After more than two decades on the job, Rivard retired at the end of 2015 as the West Penn's executive director. He spent the winter in Las Cruces, N.M., an area he learned to love while working for New Mexico's Sun Country Golf Association, but will spend the spring and summer volunteering his expertise and helping with rules for the West Penn.

"I've enjoyed my career," Rivard said. "It's like I hit the lottery."

Major changes in store

Western Pennsylvania's two most significant golf organizations -- the Tri-State PGA, which services club professionals, and the West Penn Golf Association, which governs amateur players and handicaps -- are undergoing a major change.

Darak will be replaced as executive director by Dave Wright, who has been his top lieutenant for the past 14 years, when he retires. And Rivard already has been replaced by Terry Teasdale, one of his longtime assistants who began as handicap director with the association in 1997. Teasdale's brother, Eric, is the head professional at Shannopin Country Club.

For Darak and the Tri-State PGA, it's the end of a long and more than distinguished era. Darak was one of three people who were hired in 1973 to become the first full-time executive directors of a section in the country. The others were Charlie Robson of the Metropolitan Golf Association and Dick Horton of the Tennessee section of the PGA.

Robson retired in January, though he will remain as a consultant with the Met section. And Horton retired to go work for the Tennessee Golf Association last year, leaving Darak as the last of the originals.

"I'm the last of the Mohicans," Darak said. "That's what I call myself."

The Tri-State PGA already has begun preparing for Darak's retirement. After having their headquarters in his home for 31 years, they have moved into new office space in Moon to accommodate their new regime.

"As a lifelong employee, you can't find anyone better," said Tri-State PGA Ed Habjan, who is head professional at Greens Oaks Country Club in Verona. "He's more accommodating than he can possibly be to everyone."

Shortly after Darak began as executive director in 1973, he went over the section's finances and found they were not as strong as many of the board of directors believed. That discovery, though, caused the board to cut his $15,000 yearly salary.

Today, with a host of corporate sponsors and the tournament support of people such as Frank Fuhrer and Hartley King over the years, the Tri-State PGA finds itself in no such shape. Darak has two full-time employees -- his wife, Karen, who is office administrator, and Wright, who has brought the section into the technological age.

He is also served at tournaments by longtime part-time helpers such as Bob Cimarolli, Larry Piroli and, in the past, Joe Bonadio, who served as starter for nearly 20 years.

"There are 41 sections and only six or seven stand on their own financially," Habjan said. "The others are administered by the PGA. We've been able to do that simply because of Dennis. He's the reason the Tri-State is successful, not any of us."

Like Darak, Rivard was the first full-time employee ever hired by the Sun Country Golf Association in New Mexico. He grew the association from 3,000 members to 16,000 during his regime, which began in 1977. Rivard, though, would often work rules for a two-day pro-am on the LPGA Tour that stopped in Albuquerque and, at the suggestion of Hollis Stacy, applied for and received a rules position with the tour in 1980.

There, he worked under Ed Gowan, who was in charge of rules for the LPGA Tour. One of his favorite stories involved major champion Pat Bradley, who hadn't been speaking to any rules officials for several weeks. One day, Gowan asked Bradley why she had been ignoring the officials.

"Bradley said she hadn't been receiving any good rulings lately," Rivard said. "Ed said to her, 'Pat, our definition of good is correct. Your definition of good is favorable. What you've had is a series of correct but unfavorable rulings.' "

Do not question Rivard on the rules. He has served as a rules official at nearly 60 USGA championships since 1979 and has attended and taught more rules workshops than you can count. He has been recognized by the USGA for having superior scores on rules tests nearly 20 times.

Rivard left the LPGA Tour in 1981 to work in regional affairs with the USGA, then eventually went to his native Michigan to serve as executive director of the state's golf association in 1984. He was there nine years until he moved to the West Penn in 1993. He quickly discovered the amount of talent in the region, particularly among amateurs who had been playing for a while.

"I was impressed how strong the mid-ams have been," Rivard said. "From 1990 to now, only three college players have won the West Penn Amateur. We've always had the Sean Knapps and Nathan Smiths and Arnie Cutrells and Jim Bryans. I thought that was one of the unique parts of our area, how well guys who had a job and life were competitive, both locally and nationally."

Rivard would know. Like Darak, Rivard has been around golfers in Western Pennsylvania for a long time.

This article was written by Gerry Dulac from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.