kansas-golf-magazine post-scores
Kansas Golf Associaition

Rich Legacy

Retiring KGA Executive Director a Golf Ambassador for Kansas

By JIM MISUNAS , Kansas sports journalist

Kim Richey thought he had found his life’s work in a courtroom where for 18 years he was either a prosecutor, a plaintiff’s lawyer, a defense attorney, a hearing officer and occasionally a pro tem judge.  But when presented with the opportunity to leave the “confrontational” for the “congenial”, Richey launched a new career in golf administration for Kansas golfers.   The retiring Kansas Golf Association Executive Director Richey enjoyed his lifetime love of golf while directing the KGA to unprecedented heights during his 25 years as its chief executive.

Richey worked on the rules committee for 34 USGA championships and earned the USGA’s Ike Grainger Award for 25 years of service. He also served as executive secretary for the Trans-Mississippi Golf Association from 2003-2012.

“It was an honor to represent Kansas on a national level,” Richey said. “It was equally exciting to see former KGA presidents Scott Brooks, Larry Barrett and Bill Knox be selected to work USGA championships as well.”

Richey applied his law principles to life decisions after serving as an intern for the District Attorney in Shawnee and Sedgwick counties and then as an Assistant District Attorney in Johnson County.  An 18-year private law practice followed which was good training for his career in golf administration.

Richey provided numerous rulings in USGA events, including a memorable encounter with Hall of Famer Arnold Palmer during the 1995 U.S. Senior Open in Cleveland.

“I denied him a free drop,” Richey said. “What I did for him was the same as giving the ruling to a junior golfer. The Rules are the same for everyone. The ruling only needs to be explained and given.”

His work with the Trans-Mississippi allowed him to meet President George W. Bush.

Richey’s legal training and experience made for a smooth transition to leading a not-for-profit golf association, running fair and competitive golf events, and doing so in a professional manner.

“From time-to-time, particularly in giving a ruling, my skills of explaining and applying the Rules (like a lawyer or judge would do) proved to be helpful,” Richey said. “You have to be tactful with golfers, and you know you’ve done a good job when the player says “thank you” as you walk away.  Planning, promoting and administering a multi-day golf tournament was much like taking a case through a jury trial.  What you do in advance determines your ultimate success.”

“I remember taking the USGA/PGA Rules of Golf exam in 1990 and saying afterward that if the bar exam had been that hard, I would never have been a lawyer!  But once I started running golf tournaments for a living, the Rules became as familiar as courtroom procedure and evidence had been for me.”

PGA Tour golfer Gary Woodland learned the game as a Topeka junior player.

Woodland knew he probably wouldn’t gain a favorable ruling from Richey during the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst, N.C. But he asked anyway.

“We were on the world’s biggest golfing stage,” Woodland said. “I tried to get a free drop from a bad lie. Kim said it wasn’t within the rules and turned me down. It’s something we still laugh about.”

Richey said he appreciates Woodland’s perspective.

“It’s been fun to watch Gary Woodland’s success,” Richey said. “He’s never forgotten where he was raised.”

Woodland is equally proud of Richey’s contribution.

“Playing on the PGA Tour I’m appreciative of the tournament staff and rules officials,” Woodland said. “They make sure we have an enjoyable time, but do so with respect to others – and by the rules. That lesson I learned from Kim Richey I carry with me today.”

Richey’s even-handed approach worked perfectly.

“I’ve gained a reputation as someone who is calm and level-headed,” Richey said. “You may be dealing with someone who is upset. It helps to be able to understand people. A lot of the work is being prepared and anticipating and thinking ahead.”

The son of James and Norma Richey felt comfortable in a leadership position from an early age.

“I was drawn to things that needed leadership. I was that way in Boy Scouts (patrol leader, troop leader).  I had a way of being organized and prepared. In high school debate I succeeded because of thoughtful presentation and my personality. I got that from my dad, who was well-liked as a friendly man.”

“I enjoy being an advocate for others (never that good in advocating for myself though). Money was not what drove me.  I wanted to do good, meaningful work that gave other people what they needed, wanted or enjoyed.”

Richey followed in his father’s footsteps with a law degree at Topeka’s Washburn University, practicing law with District Attorney Offices and private practice.

He always preferred to stay busy, working as an official in basketball, football and baseball before his interest started leaning toward golf. Richey officiated Kansas Hall of Famer Danny Manning’s first Kansas high school basketball game at Lawrence High.

“Golf officiating looked like an option when my knees started to wear out,” he said.

A chance meeting in 1989 with KGA executive director Brett Marshall led to his initial volunteer assignment for the Northeast Section of the Kansas Junior Golf Association.

“I saw the writing on the wall that law was not a career I wanted to continue for another 20 years,” he said. “I was blessed to find the golf administration opportunity.”

Richey embarked on his true calling in life at the KGA at the age of 42. He started on April Fool’s Day in 1993 after Marshall resigned to move to the Golf Association of Michigan.

“I never dreamed of working in golf administration, but it was exactly where I needed to be to have my best life experiences,” Richey said. “Our host venues for Kansas Amateurs were outstanding. We made many great friends in golf pros and superintendents.”

Richey’s approach was careful and calculated when the KGA added 11 championships to the six that existed when he started.

“I wanted to leave the organization better than I found it,” he said. “I set out to give the KGA championships the same look and feel as a national championship. Many times players said playing in the Kansas Amateur was like playing in the U.S. Amateur. We used technology, upgraded awards, highly-trained volunteers and officials and high-quality hand-lettered scoreboards, custom tee markers and flags.”

Richey as a scratch golfer played public courses in the Kansas City area.  As the 1991 club champion at Overland Park Golf Course he represented those public courses on the KGA board of directors for four years prior to becoming the association’s executive director.

Soon thereafter, neighboring Midwest golf organizations adopted many of the Kansas improvements and programs.

“Many states copied what we were doing,” Richey said. “It was a compliment and confirmation that we were doing the right thing in Kansas.”

Richey sites as his administrative highlights being the first golf association in the country to take event entries over the Internet (something that is now the norm for all associations), the use of a comprehensive website to promote the KGA’s services and programs and to be the storage place for its history, the training of future golf administrators and the creation of several new championships and inter-state team competitions that now have a rich history.

Richey’s final golf chapter ended in triumph after a life-altering 2016 diagnosis that he would lose his left leg because of cancer.

His father’s life-long advice stayed close to his heart.

“I learned from my dad to never quit, never give up,” he said. “My faith, my church and my wife Roberta made the cancer journey possible. It was incredible how many people from our church came alongside to help and encourage Roberta and me.”

Richey’s medical issues started in July, 2016 when a new lump in his left thigh revealed a sarcoma diagnosis that eventually led to his leg being amputated on March 1, 2017.    Through a lengthy healing time and multiple prosthetic fittings, Richey is now making steady progress toward full mobility.

Balancing KGA responsibilities with the need for physical therapy and learning to walk with a state-of-the-art prosthetic leg, Richey assumed his annual “official in charge” role for the Big 12 Men’s Golf Championship at Prairie Dunes just seven weeks after the amputation.  The 2017 golf season was managed from a golf cart and with staff and volunteers assuming the course set up duties.

“I did not miss any KGA tournament days in 2017!   Being able to get to the golf course, be around our great KGA players and volunteers was good medicine for me.  This last season was an improvement with the new leg and by the 2019 season I should be walking without a crutch and my goal is to get back to playing golf and volunteering for local events and the USGA.”

“I could not have done this without Roberta,” he said. “Frankly, it was hard on her too. She is incredibly strong in her faith and her loving care for me. She’s been by my side for 21 years.”

“Roberta was also a big part of our KGA story for the last 20 years.  She had an incredible talent for calligraphy that she applied to our championship scoreboards.  She even did some national event scoreboards for the USGA, the Trans-Miss and the NCAA.  Putting her successful interior design business second to the KGA work was a big sacrifice for which I am extremely grateful.”

One of Richey’s lifetime highlights was working as a rules official at both the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills and the U.S. Senior Open at The Broadmoor to illustrate the point that a physical handicap is not a barrier.

“I was very pleased to get an invite,” Richey said. “The USGA was very supportive and accommodating.  I am also looking forward to being involved with the new U.S. Amateur for golfers with disabilities that starts in 2020.”

Kansas golf was celebrated when two-time USGA runner-up Bryan Norton joined Charlie Stevens and Tyler Shelton on the Kansas team which captured the 2010 USGA State Team Championship at Mayacama Golf Club in Santa Rosa, Calif.  Norton shot 5-under 208 to capture medalist honors.  “We golfed like we had a chip on our shoulder,” Norton said. “Kim Richey was so excited when we won he bought our dinner that night.”

KGA golfer Pete Krsnich enjoys fond memories dating back to his junior golf career.  Krsnich competed in the Ozark Challenge in Oklahoma and was the 2004 Kansas Amateur runner-up by a 9-and-7 margin.  “Winning the Kansas Amateur is still a dream of mine. I was disappointed and embarrassed at 9-and-7. But Kim made complimentary remarks about me. After such a tough loss, it was great to have that support.”

Charlie Stevens appreciated Richey’s gift for photography, which he shared with golfers.  The Photo Gallery on the KGA website (www.kansasgolf.org) has over 10,000 images of Kansas golfers and courses.

“The cherry on top was Kim’s photography. To relive the shots through Kim’s perspective is awesome. That’s a special touch that we will miss.”

BREAKOUT QUOTES

GARY WOODLAND, 2005/2007 KANSAS AMATEUR CHAMPION— “The KGA is what it is today because of Kim Richey. Kim will enjoy retirement knowing he’s had a positive impact on everyone’s lives that have played KGA events. I’ve played in tournaments all over the world and have yet to see someone put more effort or run a tournament better than Kim Richey.”

RON BREWER, 1997/1998 KANSAS AMATEUR RUNNER-UP–“I have great respect for Kim Richey, who always made everyone feel welcome. His greatest accomplishment is leaving the Kansas Golf Association in a better place. He mended fences and brought golfers together for the common goal of improving golf. Starting the Senior Series was a brilliant move for golfers who still love to compete.”

PETE KRSNICH, 2004 KANSAS AMATEUR RUNNER-UP– “People respect Kim because his desire to have everything run first class. He’s very thoughtful to his attention to detail in bringing the absolute best experience he can to players.”

CHARLIE STEVENS, 2010 KANSAS AMATEUR CHAMPION- “The professionalism Kim brought to the KGA is second to none. Each KGA event carries a unique identity. Kim managed to foster that at the same time making every tournament feel important.”

BRYAN NORTON, 2010 USGA CHAMPION; 1980/2002/2014 KANSAS AMATEUR CHAMPION - “Kim Richey delivered a consistency of excellence year-in and year- out. He brought the Kansas Golf Association to a level of excellence.”