Carl Unis called his mom ‘a beacon’.
There is no one who doesn’t miss Bob Wharton.
And Norton Brick knows how to bring down a house.
The people in the packed house at Oberlin Golf Club for the Northern Ohio Golf Association’s 2019 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony were reminded over and over again that golf is a game that attracts good-hearted, fun-loving people.
After welcomes from NOGA Executive Director Robb Schulze and NOGA President Mark Telerico, the emcee for the evening’s festivities, local golf celeb Jimmy Hanlin, introduced the year’s first honoree, Carl Unis.
Carl’s brother-in-law, Alan Miller, spoke first to introduce Unis to the crowd, detailing his three-pronged career: as a tour-level player; as a club pro then state golf administrator; and as a teacher and coach.
Then NOGA HOF member Bob Fairchild read a message from one of Unis’ longtime friends that was both funny and kind.
After that, Unis stepped up to the microphone and talked about his humble beginnings in Parma, how his mother always encouraged him, and the many breaks he received along the way from well-meaning friends and family members. He talked about his local amateur accomplishments, how he loved playing at Elyria Country Club as he became a better player, and how he parlayed his amateur success into a brief tour career followed by a truly successful career playing at the PGA professional level in Wisconsin.
Then he recounted the joy it gave him to work as a club pro and help young people get ahead, through jobs at the course and Evans scholarships. How running golf events and foundations allowed him to give back to many, and how teaching golf allowed him to give back to individuals.
At the end of his speech, Hanlin informed the crowd that just like he, Unis also had his own TV show that was on in Wisconsin for a couple of years called “Golf Tips With Carl Unis”. Then Hanlin told Unis that he had one thought on how that show could have been better. “You should have had Natalie Gulbis and Holly Sonders on your show with you. That seems to work for me somehow,” he cracked.
Next was the introduction of the late Bob Wharton, longtime Executive Director of NOGA. Director of Operations Frank Rihtar, who worked closely with Bob for many years, laid out the many accomplishments that Wharton helped drive: starting The Turn for golfers with disabilities; bolstering junior golf and junior tournament golf; pushing the idea behind a NOGA Headquarters; working closely with other golf organizations and associations; and more.
Then Rihtar read a heartfelt letter from Kathy Shankleton, Bob’s former right-hand of 30 years who was unable to attend from across the country.
After that, former Lorain County Judge Ed Zaleski took the podium, starting his comments perfectly with “There’s no need to ‘all rise’, I’m retired.” He talked about Bob as the buddy and fellow golfer that he called Fuzz, and the many hours they spent together playing, talking, eating and drinking. “I watched Bob in Vegas lose 20 straight hands of black jack. Not one push; 20 straight losses. I mean, c’mon, that’s not even possible.”
“Bob was always thoughtful and always the planner,” the judge said. “He never had a surprise birthday party because he was always planning his own! He’d buy these great steaks and take care of all of his friends instead of letting them surprise him. That’s who he was.”
Bob’s nephew, Richard Huber, accepted the HOF plaque on behalf of the Wharton family and Bob’s wife Jeanne with a brief thank you to NOGA and all of Bob’s friends.
Then at long last, it was time for the Norton Brick show.
Fellow Oberlin GC member Brian Smith, who played in many team events as Norton’s partner throughout the years, outlined the long, long list of area events that Norton won, along with the state and national events at which he excelled: multiple Cleveland Am and Senior Cleveland Am titles, a NEO Am victory, NOGA POY, USGA qualifier for two U.S. Senior Opens and two U.S. Senior Ams, and on and on and on. (That doesn’t even touch on all of the area scrambles and skins games he dominated for years.)
Then Norton stood and told the crowd about he loved his job with Toro, and how he loved his wife Judy for letting him play as much golf as he wanted.
He talked about his double-lung transplant a few years ago, and how he appreciates his second chance at a golf life (winning two club championships in Arizona right after that surgery, as Brian Smith pointed out).
“Bottom line, I really love golf. I just love it. Love it. Don’t know what else to say. I just do.”
After that, it was story time. Hilarious, comedy-club-level story time.
Norton recounted his time playing a private club in Erie PA with Bob Fairchild, on a course that was designed by legendary architect Donald Ross. The guys in the group kept saying what a great layout it was, and wasn’t it great to be playing a Ross gem. Then they asked Norton what he thought.
“I don’t know,” Brick told the players. “There were two par-fours where I had to hook a four-iron 40-yards off the tee just to get the ball into the fairway. Then that last green looks like a giant cereal bowl. I’d have to call this course ‘Donald Ross: The Cocaine Years’.”
Then Brick told a story about his experience at the U.S. Senior Open at Inverness in Toledo. Because it was played so close to Cleveland, Brick had about 30 friends behind the first tee on Thursday when it was his turn to tee off. He went over to them on his way to the tee, told them something about a tightness somewhere in his body into which he couldn’t fit a toothpick (use your imagination), and everyone on the tee box cracked up. He then hit his tee shot and the USGA official called him over. Brick was worried about what he might have done (or perhaps heard said). The USGA official told him that as he was still waiting to hit, Tom Watson walked between him and his group of friends. “Not one of them looked at Tom for even a second; all eyes were on you. I’ve never seen anything like that.”
Pause. “Whew!”, Norton blurted out to the NOGA audience.
Brick’s last story was about a practice round played with Tom Kite at his other Senior Open. Kite’s wife was following them around on a half-cloudy half-sunny day that was sometimes warm, sometimes cool. After the round, in the player’s dining room, Kite mentioned to Norton and his wife how it turned kind of chilly at the end. Kite’s wife replied, “Yeah, I didn’t know if I liked jacket on or jacket off.” Peter Jacobsen, sitting at the table directly next to them, replied without missing a beat, “Uh, I think I prefer….”
The next time you see Norton, let him finish the punchline for you.