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GAM Distinguished Service Award

Published on 2/29/2024
   FARMINGTON HILLS – Bob Buckley of Port Austin, a Golf Association of Michigan (GAM) Governor and Junior Golf Committee member, loved the game for all the right reasons, said David Devendorf of Port Huron, his friend in life and golf.

  Buckley, who died of pulmonary fibrosis in September of 2023 at the age of 76, has been posthumously named the GAM Distinguished Service Award winner for 2024.

  “My only regret in all of this is that I didn’t nominate him for this award sooner so he could receive it while he was alive,” Devendorf, a president emeritus and Executive Committee member of the GAM, said. “He would have been absolutely thrilled.”

  Buckley, a member of the GAM Board of Governors for 17 years and a longtime member and past-president of Verona Hills Golf Club in Bad Axe, was best known in his native Thumb area of Michigan for his dedication to junior golf.

   In 1986 Buckley conducted a tournament for children of members at Verona Hills and over the next 37 years spearheaded an expansion of the junior tournament known as the “Buckley Open” to a series of tournaments.

  Last summer Buckley Open events were hosted by Verona Hills, Ubly Heights Golf Club, Scenic Golf Club near Caseville, Bird Creek Golf Club in Port Austin, Century Oaks Golf Club near Elkton and Rolling Hills Golf Course in Cass City. Over 400 junior golfers participated. Buckley recruited volunteers to administer the tournaments and solicited funds from businesses and others for support.

 Devendorf said others involved with the tournaments plan to continue the Buckley Open opportunities for junior golfers.

  “I watched him get boys and girls enthused about the game of golf,” he said. “We all talked about growing the game but Bob put his money and his sweat equity where his mouth was and went out and did it.”

  In addition to tournament opportunities, Buckley, inspired by a visit with his daughter Brooke Smith to a three-hole short course at Goat Hill Park in Oceanside, Calif., also lobbied the board at Verona Hills to add a five-hole short course constructed with beginning junior golfers in mind. “The Hive” opened in 2022 to all golfers in the Thumb area and it has hosted the youngest participants in a Buckley Open tournament. Shortly after Buckley’s death in September, The Hive hosted a second annual 100 Hole Hike fundraising event to benefit the GAM Foundation’s junior golf efforts with Youth on Course Michigan.

 “I met him through helping set up a junior tournament for the GAM many years ago at Verona Hills, the first time the GAM had taken a tournament to the Thumb area,” Devendorf said. “We became friends that day. He became involved with the GAM and we shared a love of golf. When I had a heart attack in 2009, on my first day home out of the hospital, here comes Bob pulling in the driveway with a bottle of wine. He was that kind of friend.”

  Buckley, a 1970 Hillsdale College graduate, joined the family-owned Buckley’s Shoes and expanded it to a Caro location that he managed until 2009. In addition to his golf philanthropic efforts, he worked with the Lions Club, Huron Community Foundation, sat on the Downtown Development Authority in Port Austin and was a part of the Port Austin Artist in Residence group.

  Smith, Buckley’s daughter and one of two children (son Bo), said her father’s passions were in golf and community and bringing the two together whenever possible.

  “He wanted all people to have access to play golf,” she said. “He wanted the Buckley Open events to be accessible for everyone and he wanted us to find a way to have them continue. He told me don’t let it look too prestigious or too exclusive. It’s not for skilled golfers only. It’s for kids to come and try the game, too. We are so honored as a family for him to be recognized for his passion for golf and community and to get this award. To have it be part of his legacy is incredible.”

  Buckley spent a significant amount of time in the final months of his life with Brooke’s family in North Carolina and for a summer in Michigan where he was able to take part in his youngest grandson, Rowan, developing a passion for golf.

  “For my dad to see an heir of his be in the game and loving the game was beautiful,” she said. “Rowan is 10 and he did a report for school on how much he loves golf and loves Grandpa Bob for helped him create the love of golf. It was so sweet and so wonderful they made that connection. It’s really that kind of connection with golf that my dad wanted for everyone.”

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