There has been no golf administrator who had a greater influence on the game of golf than Joseph C. Dey Jr.
His was a 40-year run that brought about sweeping change and was executed in the most dignified manner. Dey served as Executive Director of the United States Golf Association from 1934-1968, and then as Commissioner of the PGA TOUR from 1969-1974.
The following year he was named captain of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, Scotland, the game’s highest honorary position. It is unlikely that anyone else will ever again hold these three positions.
“Joe was a man of great integrity, one who was respected by players, officials and everyone in the game,” said Michael Bonallack, Secretary of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. “I found you could learn a lot from Joe-not just about golf, but about life.”
"In golf, the best players prefer the strongest tests, where skill is most readily rewarded, inferior play is promptly penalized, and the gap between the best and the mediocre is widened."
Dey was the first to popularize the Rules of Golf. He set about expanding interest in and knowledge of the Rules of Golf by producing a series of 8mm films and publications such as Golf Rules in Pictures, and the wallet-sized card referred to as Golf Rules in Brief. He was known as “Mr. Rules of Golf,” but this was just the opening paragraph in his list of accomplishments.
It was Dey, Richard Tufts and Isaac Grainger who brought together the USGA with the R&A, unifying the Rules at a conference in Great Britain in 1951. It was Dey who entrusted with U.S. Open course set-up decisions. These included the feature of changing reachable par-5s into Herculean par-4s, the implementation of gallery ropes at Baltusrol in 1954 and the use of more sophisticated scoring system.
It was also under Dey’s administration that five more USGA Championships, including the Women’s Open, were added to the schedule, along with the development of its Green Section, the establishment of a velocity regulation to curb ball distance, the move to “Golf House,” the building of a USGA Museum and Library, and the foundation of the World Amateur Council.
Joseph Dey was the PGA TOUR’s first commissioner.
It was a surprise when he left the USGA at age 61 to head the newly formed Tournament Players Division of the Professional Golfers Association, but Dey felt he had a unique opportunity to create something beneficial to golf. At the time, the tour was in turmoil, having just broken from the PGA of America after a prolonged dispute. It was a public relations nightmare for the touring professionals, but Dey brought the tour respectability and stability. “Joe was one of the few people that both sides would accept,” said Jack Tuthill, the tour’s former manager and director of tournament operations.
With just $45,000 to work with, Dey steered the ship through the hard times until Deane Beman could take over in 1974, THE PLAYERS Championship was Dey’s idea, as was the formation of a secondary tour, now known as the Nationwide Tour, and the mandate that tournament sponsors employ a USGA agronomist to standardize playing conditions.
Born in Norfolk, Va., Nov. 17, 1907, Dey considered entering the ministry before deciding to make golf administration his career. He always carried two books in the pocket of his blue blazer, the Rules of Golf and the New Testament. He lived by the words of both. “In the world of golf,” former USGA President William C. Campbell once said, “Joe Dey was the mightiest oak of all.”