Golf: Rockford Area Golf Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony Sept. 24

Wendy Ward

Staff Report

Steve Benjamin, John Alastair Robertson and the Tiger Woods Foundation will be inducted into the Rockford Area Golf Hall of Fame at an Induction Ceremony Dinner Sept. 24.

The Induction Ceremony Dinner will be at 5:30 p.m., Monday, Sept. 24, at Radisson Hotel & Conference Center, 200 S. Bell School Road. The event is open to the public. Cost is $50 per person and deadline to RSVP is Sept. 14. Keynote speaker is Wendy Ward, a three-time Solheim Cup team member and four-time LPGA Tournament winner.

A Golf Hall of Fame Play Day will be at Aldeen Golf Club, 1902 Reid Farm Road, Rockford, beginning at 10 a.m., Monday, Sept. 24. Cost is $100 (includes dinner) and RSVP deadline is Sept. 14.

For more details, or to make reservations, call (815) 987-1602.

2012 Golf Hall of Fame inductees

Steve Benjamin — Steve Benjamin has been a fixture in the Rockford golf scene for decades. He was a member of the 1968 Rockford Guilford Vikings golf team that finished second in the Illinois State Championship. In September 2012, the 1968 golf team was inducted in the Rockford Guilford High School Hall of Fame.

While attending Rock Valley College from 1968 to 1970, Benjamin was a member of a conference champion golf team where he qualified for nationals and tied for medalist honors. He continued his collegiate career at the University of Northern Colorado, where he was one of the golf team’s top five players. The UNC Bears were conference champions, and Benjamin was team captain. The biggest team victory came in 1972, when the Bears beat the U.S. Air Force Academy for the first time in school history, with a team total of 279 (Benjamin shot a 79).

In 1973, Steve turned pro and worked as a club professional for the next four years in Colorado and Texas.

In 1977, he assumed the role of head coach for his alma mater, Rock Valley College (RVC). Under his guidance, RVC garnered more than 60 team victories, including 15 regional championships, and the team advanced to the NJCAA nationals for seven straight years, earning two NJCAA Division III national championships; he was named NJCAA Division III National Golf Coach of the Year. Other credentials include four years finishing in second place at the NJCAA Division III National Championships and coaching 20 NJCAA Division III All-Americans.

After receiving his amateur status back, Benjamin continued his competitive career in Rockford by winning the Ballard Memorial in 1983 and 1986, and the Winnebago County Amateur in 1986. Another highlight was at the 1985 Greater Rockford Men’s Golf Classic, when Benjamin finished one shot behind champion Chris Beto.

John Alastair Robertson — John Robertson first began golfing at age 13, and had a natural ability right from the start. Over the next four years, John played golf nearly every day of the summer with his boyhood best friend, Chris Leighty. Sinnissippi Golf Course was Robertson’s home course, and he didn’t play another golf course until he was 16.

When Roberton attended Rockford East High School, he opted to play football instead of golf, and was also on the wrestling team, where he was captain in his senior year. In the summer, though, golf was his game of choice. After graduation, Robertson started playing pretty regularly, and that was when he was bitten by the “golf bug.”

After high school, Robertson worked at Sinnissippi Golf Course as a cashier, enrolled at Rock Valley College for the fall semester, and played golf for two years for Coach Benjamin. After RVC, Robertson attended the University of Iowa, and played in local tournaments during his college days, which garnered him his first win in the 1986 Ledges Invitational.

During Robertson’s competitive days, one could find him practicing on the Sandy Hollow Golf Course putting green during his lunch hour or spending hours at Elliot Golf Course driving range working on his game. He was a fixture on the local competitive scene in the late ’80s and early ’90s, winning the Melvin Ballard several times, the Greater Rockford Men’s Golf Classic four times, the Ledges Invitational four times, and won several other area golf tournaments. Because of an increased work schedule, Robertson stepped away from golf. Returning to golf in 1997, Robertson won the Prairie View Gold Medal and regained the Ledges title in 2000 and 2001.

In 2006, Robertson and his wife Mary Beth left the Rockford area and moved to Dayton, Ohio, where he accepted a position with GE. He still plays golf regularly, and maintains a scratch handicap. He has played in the Dayton Metro three times over a six-year period. His best finish is fifth place. Most recently, Robertson returned to the Forest City to participate in the 2012 Gold Medal Classic, where he tied for second place.

Tiger Woods Foundation — It seems like only yesterday the Tiger Woods Foundation (TWF) was first in Rockford, but it has been more than 10 years. The 2001 TWF Clinic and Exhibition generated more than $154,000 in grants to area youth golf groups to expand and enhance their golf lesson programs. These grants were restricted for certain use, and no funds were to be allowed to construct any golf facility, but this did not deter golf enthusiasts from starting a fund-raising campaign that would lead to the construction of two wonderful facilities — Ingersoll Learning Links, and The First Tee AMCORE Learning Facility at Patriots’ Gateway. Both locations helped grow the next generation of golfers.

While the construction campaign was under way, golf programs started to bloom. Through the Tiger Woods Foundation grants, golf was now being taught in Rockford Park District summer playground programs, Kid Zones and in various Therapeutic Recreation programs. The Golf Services Department expanded their lesson program and hired a PGA Teaching Professional to implement the expanded programs. The RSGA Friday night program was now using PGA Professionals to instruct youth, and Beloit Merrill Community Center enhanced their golf programs that reach youth at risk. From 2001 to 2004, Rockford Park District youth golf programs increased by 78 percent, with more than 4,600 registrations compared to 2,584 in 2001, thanks to the funds from the Tiger Woods Foundation.

In 2004, the Tiger Woods Foundation returned to Rockford for the TWF “In the City” Festival and Clinic. Funds raised from the 2004 event generated another $40,000 to further enrich golf programs for youth. The foundation was very impressed with the implementation of the grant program and the development of the Ingersoll Learning Links in 2005, and awarded an additional $18,130 to the Park District in a one-time grant. These funds were earmarked to help the RSGA continue their Friday night youth program, purchase a golf cart to be used exclusively at Ingersoll Learning Links, and $5,000 helped construct the Ingersoll Learning Links gazebo. This is the first and only time in TWF history a construction grant was awarded to a TWF clinic site.

The Tiger Woods Foundation has shown unwavering support for youth golf in the Forest City. The area now boasts two wonderful golf learning facilities that share the great game of golf with more than 1,000 youth participants in programs. More than 3,800 youth also first experience golf through the PGA In-School First Swing program or Rockford Park District summer playground programs.

Previous Golf Hall of Fame inductees

• Class of 2011 — Jamie Hogan, Gunnar Nelson, Rockford Sportsmen’s Golf Association, Conny Sjostrom Sr. and Irene Sjostrom Youth Golf Foundation

• Class of 2010 — Carl Dargene, Webbs Norman, Mary Holton Reid, Mark Taylor

• Class of 2009 — Christian Beto, Ken Kellaney, Scott W. Nicholas, Lois Jean Dahlquist Woodworth

• Class of 2008 — Shirley M. Dommers, Robert “Butch” Pegoraro, Robert A. “Bob” Reitsch, Rockford Pro/Am

• Class of 2007 — David J. Claeyssens, Brad Fowler, Mike Johnson, Junior Golf Association of Greater Rockford — James W. Keeling

• Class of 2006 — Steven Hare, The Hogan Family, Dean Lind, Rockford Women’s Golf Association, Mary Wilder Welsh, Salley Wessels

• Class of 2005 — Margaret and Norris Aldeen, Georgalee George, John Holmstrom Jr., Nancy Joan Kauzlarich, Roger Lindeman, Lloyd McWilliams, Kay Rossmiller, Ken Scott, Mary Lib Skerkoske, Don Terasaki, Tom Warren, Alex Welsh

From the Aug. 29-Sept. 4, 2012, issue

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