Harry White: ‘Tee It High and Let It Fly’ – 2020 Inductee SpotlightSeptember 30, 2020
By Jason Beck
Harry White had a favourite saying he often shared that summed up his philosophy on the game of golf: “Tee it high and let it fly, there aren’t any hazards in the sky!”
That’s a pretty good motto for life in general come to think of it. And if anyone lived it, it was Harry.
It’s a weird quirk of BC sport, but if you weren’t immersed in the BC golf community over the past few decades, you’ve probably never heard of Harry White. But if you were, and someone mentioned ‘Uncle Harry’, ‘Hank,’ or even just ‘H’, you knew who they were talking about.
To some degree, it makes sense. Harry wanted it that way. He wasn’t one to blow his own horn like some and he largely preferred to remain an unsung servant to the game. He didn’t talk much about his golf accomplishments even to his family and even they were mostly unaware of what he did in golf until after his death in January 2018, succumbing to cancer at the age of 72.
By all accounts, Harry was a quiet, modest, and humble man, who lived to give—especially to the game of golf and the game’s youngest participants. He much preferred working in the background, out of the spotlight, at the grassroots level. Yet the contributions he made over 60+ years in BC golf as a player, coach, instructor, administrator, organizer, and volunteer will stand the test of time.
Maybe Al Nelson, long-time head pro at Vancouver Golf Club from 1953-89 said it best: “I never met a more dedicated person to the game of golf.” Mike Riste, who with Harry and Harry’s brother Dick founded the BC Golf Museum in 1986 and remains the museum’s historian and manager to this day, went even farther: “I cannot name another individual who has contributed more to junior golf in British Columbia than Harry White.”
Born in Vancouver on VE Day marking the end of World War II in Europe—May 8, 1945—Harry attended Vancouver College as a youngster. Even as a boy, Harry’s accuracy in 10-pin bowling and archery was recalled by lifelong friends. He carried this accuracy over to golf as well, which became the foundation of his game. His father, Percy White, who was a past president of the Marine Drive Golf Club in 1948, signed up Harry there as a junior member when he was 12 years old in 1957. Harry remained a lifelong member at Marine, winning the junior club championship twice, men’s club championship three times, amateur championship once, and recorded ten career hole-in-ones on Marine’s finely manicured greens. He boasted an eclectic score (lifetime best score on each hole tabulated together) of 36 at Marine during his career, not far off the world record for 18 holes of 33 strokes. He also served on Marine’s board in the 1970s, and was instrumental in recommending over 50 new members to the club.
He caddied for the legendary Stan Leonard, admired up close the game of BC great Johnny Johnston—both BC Sports Hall of Famers—and idolized one of golf’s all-time best ball strikers, the great Canadian Moe Norman. Watching Norman play the Canadian Tour’s BC Open at Marine Drive in 1963, Harry was transfixed by Norman’s fast, smooth swing.
“It took about four seconds and the ball was gone,” he marveled to the Richmond News over fifty years later in 2017. “Straight as an arrow. No pork chops, just bacon strips. That’s my standard and I haven’t seen anybody come close to that since.”
He patterned his own swing after Norman’s and tried to share the secrets of Norman’s game to the young golfers he coached over the years. He was a minimalist when it came to his coaching advice, often saying very little, but getting big results out of his students. His nephew John said the only advice he can remember his uncle giving him was, “Swing smooth, John.”
But Harry himself could play. He played four years at Saint Martin’s University in Washington State from 1963-67 and was inducted into their athletics hall of fame in 2018. He toyed with the idea of following in his father’s footsteps and becoming a lawyer, but then decided to pursue golf full bore. He won the Vancouver City Amateur in 1969 and was a medalist at the BC Amateur that same year, setting a course record of 66, crediting his fine play to snacks of raisins, eclairs, and bananas between holes.
He was a member of three BC Willingdon Cup teams (1969, 1972, 1990) and a Pacific Coast Amateur Morse Cup team member in 1970 and 1990. He won the BC Golf Association’s Mid-Amateur in 1987. He set three course records in BC and Washington State and won numerous amateur championships in the Pacific Northwest. He was known as a master putter and for sporting unusually high three-to-six inch long tees. After rolling around the idea for years, at the age of 50 in 1995, he turned pro and attempted to qualify for the PGA’s Senior Tour (now the PGA Tour Champions) and very nearly made it. He did qualify for two other senior tours in the US, the Senior Series and Senior Players Tour, as well as the Vancouver Golf Tour.
But for all of that, Harry’s most significant contributions to golf came growing the game at the grassroots level. He began coaching in 1969 and never stopped for half a century. In 1971, he and Fred ‘The Wedge’ Wellsby began holding junior events around the Lower Mainland. Harry and Fred were the BC founders of the Junior America’s Cup Team matches in 1973 that allowed young BC juniors to play against the best from the western United States. Alumni from the event over the years include such golf luminaries as Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson, and Tiger Woods.
“Without Harry’s dedicated commitment to junior golf, thousands of kids would never have had the chance to enjoy some early competition, meet new friends, and learn the many lessons that golf teaches one,” said fellow Marine Drive member, Willingdon Cup teammate, and long-time friend Doug Roxburgh, another BC Sports Hall of Famer.
Also in 1973 Harry became chairman of the Inter-Club Golf Committee (today known as BCGA Zone 4) and held this position for thirty years. In this role he convinced many of the private clubs in the Lower Mainland to host junior tour events each year. The program helped develop the majority of BC junior champions that followed and several Canadian junior champions. Other provincial zones started their own junior tours after seeing the success of Harry’s model.
In the 1980s, Harry developed a program that focused on the game’s youngest golfers from age 6-12 called the Junior Masters and today known as Junior Linksters. The program still holds events every summer at par-3 courses around the Lower Mainland. For many of the top BC junior players, both male and female, this was—and is—their first introduction to competitive golf.
“The kids literally run to every tee because they are having so much fun,” Harry said in 2017.
He also co-founded the Junior Golf Foundation of BC and the Optimist and Junior World Golf programs for BC and served as the BC representative for the Canadian Junior Golf Association.
In 1995, the UBC golf program was struggling mightily. Knowing they had very little financially, Harry took on coaching the team for little more than a token $500 honorarium. “Without Harry’s years of support, we would not have a UBC team today,” said long-time friend and fellow BC Sports Hall of Famer Marty Zlotnik.
Many of the golfers who went through these programs went on to earn golf scholarships at US universities and had successful amateur and professional careers. Add it all up and it’s why Mike Riste, the province’s leading golf historian can state unequivocally, “Harry White has influenced the junior career for every BC junior champion and every BC junior who has won the Canadian junior title since 1971.”
And who were a few of the golfers that Harry influenced? It’s a BC golf who’s who. In my time at the BC Sports Hall of Fame, I can recall few stronger waves of support from an individual’s chosen sport than that accorded Harry White when nominated to our Hall. It speaks to how highly an individual is held amongst his or her peers and it’s safe to say few were held in higher regard than Harry. Here’s a sampling:
Rick Gibson, two-time Japan Golf Tour winner: “When Harry and Fred were at an event you knew that the right decisions for the correct reasons would be made and this enabled so many talented players to come through the ranks and excel at the highest levels in the game. I believe I can speak for many by saying that I owe a great deal of any success I’ve had in my career in golf to the efforts and sacrifices Harry and Fred made to junior golf in Vancouver and BC.”
Richard Zokol, PGA Tour winner: “In January 1977, during my final year of high school in Vancouver, I vividly recall meeting with Harry when I asked him to help me write a letter to Karl Tucker, the then coach of the Brigham Young University golf team. Even though I didn’t have a performance record worthy of application to BYU, Harry helped me with the letter and then he made a call to Tucker… Four years later in my senior year at BYU, I captained the BYU golf team to win the 1981 NCAA championship at Stanford University. I cannot thank Harry enough for helping me. Without Harry’s support, I highly doubt I would have ever made it to the PGA Tour.”
Jennifer Wyatt, LPGA Tour winner: “Harry White makes competition accessible and fun for everyone. In 1980 I played in his tournaments at Mylora, Delta, and Sunshine Woods. Then the biggie: the Little Masters at Musqueam. I was hooked on competition and loved chasing a prize. Thank you, Harry!”
Nick Taylor, two-time PGA Tour winner: “When thinking of junior golf in BC, Harry White is a name that comes to mind immediately. His involvement with growing the game and supporting junior golf gave experience to many of us to move on and be successful. There will always be great memories with Harry leading the way on golf trips that will last a lifetime. Thank you for everything you have done.”
Fraser Mulholland, President & Commissioner, Vancouver Golf Tour: “I truly believe Harry has been one of the most influential people in the golf industry for thousands of BC golfers. Soon after my brother and I moved from Scotland we met Harry when we worked ourselves into a tizzy trying to win the coveted Little Masters. This was the first-ever serious competition I remember playing in as a 12-year-old and to this day still remember all three rounds of the tournament…the first of over 500 golf tournaments I would play in both as a junior, amateur, and professional. My experiences at UBC with Harry were no question a huge part of my development as a competitive golfer. I highly doubt I would have followed the career path I did if it hadn’t been for my enjoyment in tournament golf through my junior years into my university career.”
James Lepp, NCAA champion & Canadian Tour winner: “For whatever reason the one thing that always pops to my mind is the answering machine at Harry’s house. In his distinct, soft, and unassuming voice you’d hear, ‘Hi there, you’ve reached the White House.’ Back in the day, anybody that was on a team or if you needed details for events and travel plans would inevitably have to call the ‘White House’ so the players always had a chuckle about that. I’m not sure if Harry intended for it to be like you were calling the actual White House, but nonetheless, we enjoyed it. I think unassuming is a great word to describe Harry. He never wanted recognition. He simply wanted kids to go out and play. I’m happy for my chance to play, and thanks to Harry, so many more kids now and into the future, will have the same opportunity.”
Chris Crisologo, two-time South American Amateur champion & 2018 BC Amateur champion: “Harry is not just a tournament director. To me, he is a trailblazer, a mentor, a coach, and so much more. Harry has helped me in all aspects of my life. From introducing and getting me into my home golf club at Marine Drive, to writing a reference letter to Vancouver College, to captaining the two Junior America’s Cup teams I have been a part of, Harry has helped me in every way possible. Harry has been the most important figure to me as a golfer. Harry has dedicated all his time and effort to help kids realize their full potential not solely in the game of golf, but in their lives as well. Without Harry’s help, I would not be where I am today.”
Let’s give the final word on Harry to his sister, Pat Byrne: “He just loved golf and wanted other people to enjoy the game he loved as well.”
Life mission accomplished. Well played, Harry.
Harry White will be inducted into the BC Sports Hall of Fame in the Builder category as part of the Class of 2020 Induction Class.