The annual Rockford ProAm golf tournament will play out for the 43rd time next Monday at the Aldeen Golf Club. It’ll mark the end of a 30 year run for Judi Sheley as the Tournament Director.
It’s hard to imagine the ProAm without Sheley. She is always on top of things the day of the event. Even though she’s been the director for 30 years her involvement goes back even farther to the very beginning.
“My husband was on the original board,” said Sheley in a recent interview at the Pro Am office. “For the first three years I ran the opening and closing ceremonies. Then I ran leader board carriers for several years, and then I ran caddies.”
For the first several years the job of Rockford ProAm director was held by a different volunteer every year. Sheley did that too one year, but then she came to the conclusion that rotating the director every year wasn’t in the best interest of the tournament.
“You make mistakes and then you don’t have a chance to correct them, and then the next person comes in and makes more mistakes or the same mistakes or something,” she explained.
A few years later Sheley was asked to be the director again.
“I said the only way I’d take it is if you pay me, because it’s really a full-time job.”
And the job became hers for three decades. It’s a year-round task organizing the event, lining up volunteers and sponsors and working with beneficiaries; organizing the pairings party and the program the night before the event plus the breakfast the morning of it and the post event cocktail buffet.
Sheley spends a lot of time in the ProAm office especially once April comes.
“I’m usually in here by 5:30 or 6 every morning,” she says.
The work is worth it for all the memories she has accumulated and all of the wonderful people she has met.
“I thought Nancy Lopez and Lee Trevino when they were here they were delightful,” said Sheley. “I loved John Daley. He is the best pro for a crowd of people that I’ve ever seen.” “Paul Azinger I thought was delightful!”
And there were the two times Bob Hope appeared at the ProAm. A woman in town had a connection to Hope and she said she could probably get him to come to Rockford the first time, but it would probably cost $50,000. That was far more than the ProAm could afford.
“So another man in town came to my husband and said, ‘Let’s you and I go to the bank and sign a loan… $25,000 each. I think we’ll get it back. Let’s just do it.’ As it ended up we sold out the MetroCentre, so we made a lot of money.”
Sheley also has some bad stories from over the years.
“But I don’t talk about those,” she said with a laugh.
I did get her to talk about the 2003 ProAm. That’s the year a straight-line wind storm tore through the city and the Forest Hills Country Club on the Friday before the event downing trees and scattering limbs and debris all over the golf course. She remembers a conversation she had with the greenskeeper on Saturday morning.
“He said, ‘We’re in really bad shape.’ He said, ‘I just don’t know’. I said, ‘Okay let’s pretend we can fix it and let’s try.’ It was a lot of work, but we did it.”
The first several years that she was in charge Sheley fretted about the weather.
“I’d lay awake nights and worry about it. Then one time it occurred to me what difference does it make because you can’t fix it.”
The Rockford ProAm has never been rained out although the start of it has been delayed an hour or so once or twice, and one year it was shortened to 16 holes.
Sheley will be handing the baton of tournament director over to Jordan Zellman next year. Zellman is an LPGA certified pro who is employed by the Rockford Park District. Zellman has been assisting Sheley the past couple years.
“The thing that makes it so good is she’s a younger generation,” said Sheley. “She’s just got fresh ideas and I think that’s great! I think she’ll do a good job.”
Here is perhaps the most interesting part about Judi Sheley. For someone who spends so much time working on golf, she is not a golfer.
“I love golf. I watch it on TV every week. I volunteer in all kinds of golf tournaments. I’ve worked on four Presidents Cups. I love everything about it except I don’t want to play it.”
The Rockford ProAm will be played Monday at the Aldeen Golf Club. The gates will open at 7:30 a.m. The event will begin at 8:15 a.m. with a ‘Best Shot’ competition followed by the pros and amateurs taking the course for 18 holes of action.