John Niedzialek, the long-time Director of the Greater Cleveland Skins Game, has decided to retire his position. A recent knee injury has hampered his play, so the timing seemed right to make the announcement and help the players with the league’s succession.
“It’s been a great run for 26 years, but it’s time to turn it over to the next generation of younger players to keep it going,” said Niedzialek, known to many as “Blonde John”.
The Greater Cleveland Skins Game was originated by Pete Thompson in 1990 at Fairway Pines Golf Course, leading the annual winner of the Greater Cleveland Skins Game to be awarded the sterling silver Thompson Cup.
“I am proud to have been given the opportunity to lead the group for many years”, states Niedzialek. “Skins games come and go; like all games, the Greater Cleveland Skins Game has had its peaks and valleys. But this one is still going strong after 26 years. So I challenge the young guys to keep it going for another generation of players.”
“I didn’t do this all myself. I also credit Allen Freeman of the NEOHgolf.com for giving us recognition and editorial support throughout the years. Many of the golf courses also have been great in extending us reduced green fees. And hats off to Sean Kreft of Mulligan’s Pub in Highland Heights for providing us a cash donation each year to help promote the league.”
The blue collar roots of the Greater Cleveland Skins Game and its low green fees allow for a great payout for amateur players that continues today.
“I want to give credit to Ed Tresger, owner of Fairway Pines, for allowing us to do that and starting the Greater Cleveland Shoot-out Tournament which continues today as one of the best single day amateur tournament payouts in the region. It will be held again on Labor Day this year. It’s all about giving a little back,” says Niedzialek who ran the game as a volunteer all these years. “I quote our Polish soldier Walter Szylwian from St. Casimir Church, who led the fight to reopen our Churches, who said on his deathbed ‘You do what you can do.’ I’ve made plenty of mistakes, but have tried to do what I can do.”
The proudly Polish Niedzialek says he was fortunate in winning seven tournaments over his career, and challenges other amateur players to give a little back to amateur golf.
Niedzialek won the 1990 Stark County Amateur, the 1993 Stark County Tournament of Champions, and was an alternate qualifier for U.S. Publix in 1994 with scores of 73-71.
He captured the 1995 and 1999 Canton Open Amateur Division, winning in a playoff in 1995 and firing a 70 to win in 1999.
He won the 1997 Stark County Genesee Open Amateur Division, going four under par in his first four holes.
And he won the 2000 Greater Cleveland Shoot-out in a playoff.
But Niedzialek’s biggest and most cherished victory came in 1994, winning the Greater Cleveland Amateur held at Manikiki.
“But by far, however, the most fun I’ve had in golf is in winning some of those scrambles as the ‘3 Amigos’ with my friends Paul Kish and Geoff Nicely back in the 90’s.”
Niedzialek also volunteered to run a golf mini-camp for youth at Fairway Pines Golf Course when it was still open. He also started the Blonde John Scrambles, working with various golf course managers to bring the lowest green fee rates to the field to maximize the payouts for the players.
Aside from golf, Niedzialek has worked his entire career on natural resource protection projects, working with hundreds of landowners. He is especially proud of helping to permanently protect over 40 miles of streamside property along the Grand and Chagrin Rivers. He works part-time at the Lake Soil and Water Conservation District, serves as volunteer coordinator at the Western Reserve Resource Conservation & Development Council, enjoys teaching Physical Geography at Lakeland College, and working with Bramhall Engineering on stormwater related projects. He looks forward to continuing these efforts and also volunteering at St. Casimir Church in Cleveland and working on neighborhood improvement projects surrounding the church.
Niedzialek thanks his father William for encouraging him in many sports, and thanks his wife April, son and frequent caddie James, and his lovely daughter Julia for supporting him in his golf career.
Niedzialek has recently become a grandfather to Elizabeth, representing the fifth generation of his family at what many parishioners proclaim the Miraculous St. Casimir Church in Cleveland.
“Yes, being a grandfather tells you some things. I wish everyone good luck and God bless everyone.”