Game Changers

Remembering Past PGA President Pat Rielly: Leader, Mentor, Beloved Father, and Steadfast Ally to the PGA Professional

By Bob Denney, PGA Historian Emeritus
Published on

PGA of America Past President, Pat Rielly with his wife during the Champions Dinner for the 79th KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship held at The Heritage Center on May 22, 2018 in St. Joseph, Michigan.PGA of America

Pat Rielly struggled with stuttering as a youngster, but like most challenges that life scattered in his path, he navigated around them.
"When Pat Rielly spoke before the Members at an Annual Meeting,” said his eldest son, PGA Professional Patrick Jr., who goes by Rick, “you could hear a pin drop." He became one of the most prolific speakers I’ve been around. He always saw the end result, and whenever faced with making decisions, it was for the right reasons. 
“He always talked about the rank and file PGA Members. . .He was my idol, my hero.”
Rielly,  who served as president during one of golf’s watershed moments in race relations at the 1990 PGA Championship, died May 4, at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, California, due to heart failure. He was 87.
“The PGA of America mourns the passing of our 26th President, Pat Rielly. As a former Marine, Pat knew all about excellence in leadership, and he proved that time and time again through his various roles in our Association,” said PGA President Jim Richerson. 
“Pat led by example in his efforts to help position PGA Professionals as business leaders and to place the best interests of the PGA Professional at the center of all important decisions. We extend our sympathies to Pat’s wife, Sue, and children Suzie, Mike, Maggi, and Rick.”
Through 55-plus years of PGA Membership, Rielly was a leader who applied the necessary toughness from his four years of service in the U.S. Marine Corps, where he attained the rank of captain before his discharge in 1964. He could also switch gears effortlessly and apply the necessary care and affection for aspiring golf professionals, or anyone interested in the game of golf. Rielly was the PGA Head Professional at Annandale Golf Club in Pasadena, California, from 1972 - 2002.
When he concluded his two-year PGA presidency in 1990, Rielly drew praise for a term that included the elevation of the PGA’s TV properties - the Ryder Cup and PGA Championship, securing what is now the annual PGA Show, and non-stop focus on a better future for PGA Members.
Tom Watson with Pat Rielly at the 1990 PGA Championship.
Tom Watson with Pat Rielly at the 1990 PGA Championship.
Yet, it was the way he handled the sensitivity of the 1990 Shoal Creek controversy prior to the PGA Championship that became golf’s opening step into a new era of inclusion..
Rielly helped lead the charge for golf in requiring all future PGA of America Championship venues to have open membership policies, a decision the rest of the sport followed shortly thereafter.
“The leadership example he set and his work ethic had an impact,” said Mike Rielly, now CEO of UC Berkeley Executive Education at the Haas School of Business. 
Born Patrick John Rielly on March 6, 1935, in Farrell, Pennsylvania, he was delivered into the world in an apartment, not in a hospital, that was a floor above an ice cream store.
His family said that Rielly developed a lifelong love for ice cream, but everything was hard-earned. His mother washed dishes at Sharon Country Club, which led to Rielly and his brother caddying to help put food on the table.
A standout high school quarterback, Rielly earned a scholarship to Penn State in football and track. He met his future wife, Sue, on campus. Sue would later become his anchor in a public life of service through golf. 
Rielly was captain of the Nittany Lions golf team his senior year, and graduated in 1958, with a B.S. degree in Business Management and Labor Management Relations. 
Following his service in the U.S. Marine Corps, Rielly turned to professional golf, and was elected to PGA Membership in 1966. He was a member of the Southern California PGA Board of Directors from 1962-85, and Section President (1971-73). 
Rielly was the 1979 Section Merchandiser of the Year, the same year he completed a three-year term on the PGA’s national Board of Directors. In 1993, Rielly entered the SCPGA Hall of Fame and in 2005, was inducted into the PGA Hall of Fame. 
Perhaps one Rielly honor, the 1983 national Bill Strausbaugh Award, epitomized his passion for the PGA Professional. The award honors distinguished work in mentoring fellow PGA Professionals in improving their employment situations and through service to the community. Rielly could have qualified decades earlier.
“Pat single-handedly helped me get into the PGA,” said former PGA President Tom Addis III, who met Rielly in 1969, while an assistant professional at Singing Hills Country Club in El Cajon, California. Addis would not earn PGA membership until 1972, due to being in the profession before the apprentice (today’s PGA Associates) program began.
“I owe him a debt of gratitude,” said Addis, now the Southern California PGA Executive Director/CEO. “Pat, along with my father, were my mentors. His advice and his counsel was always at the top of my mind. It really helped me lead my PGA life. He affected a lot of people that way.”    
Rielly also made his impact on the course, competing in the 1954 U.S. Open, 1968 PGA Championship and two PGA Professional Championships. He won the 1955 All-College Golf Tournament, the 1969 San Diego County PGA Match Play Championship, and appeared in PGA Tour events that included the Bing Crosby Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, the Bob Hope Desert Classic, the Los Angeles Open and San Diego Open.  
“Dad liked to say a PGA Professional epitomized several traits,” said Rick Rielly, the PGA Director of Golf at Wilshire Country Club in Los Angeles. “You can’t be one-dimensional. You’ve got to be a player, a teacher, a merchandiser, an administrator, a rules expert. But the biggest thing – you’ve got to be a people person. It’s not nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.”
Pat Rielly with his wife in the Pro Shop of Annandale Golf Club in Pasadena where he has been pro for 18 years, 1977.
Pat Rielly with his wife in the Pro Shop of Annandale Golf Club in Pasadena where he has been pro for 18 years, 1977.
“Dad loved his kids unconditionally, taught us the importance of authenticity and character, encouraged us to take care of those less fortunate, and gave us the confidence to do whatever we set our minds to,” said Mike Rielly. “We are proud of him, lucky he was our dad, and carry his love and lessons with us every day.”
Said former PGA President Gary Schaal in a 2004 Legends of the PGA tribute, “Pat was always forward thinking, and one of the most strategic thinkers our Association has ever had. He was always looking out farther than the rest of us. He said that we can do much to elevate the Association through the Ryder Cup and other programs, but what does that do for this guy in the back forty, so to speak. That guy shows up each day to run his nine- or 18-hole course. How will it all affect him? That was one of Pat’s real strengths.”
”My dad had an impact on so many junior golfers,” said Maggi Rielly. “I was growing up among a slough of what I liked to call golf siblings - dad was a mentor to so many other kids.”
Suzie Rielly, a former 25-year golf manufacturing representative, credited her father for helping her earn a Stanford University golf scholarship. She remembered her father living and professing a family motto.  
“He always said there’s the right way, and then there’s the Rielly way,” she said. “That meant to never give up, to do the best you can, and be nice to people along the way.”
Rielly is survived by his wife, Sue, daughters Suzie and Maggi; sons Rick and Mike, and six grandchildren: Patrick John III, Mary, Josephine, Elizabeth, Jack, and Rielly. 
A funeral service will be conducted on May 13, at 11 a.m. PDT, at Holy Family Catholic Church, 1527 N. Fremont Avenue, in South Pasadena, California. It will be followed by a celebration of life at 1:30 p.m. PDT, at Annandale Golf Club, 1 North San Rafael, in Pasadena.