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Through the Canadian Tour, Richard (Dick) Grimm provided an atmosphere and crucible in which players could test themselves and find out whether they had what it took to advance. (Randy Velocci For The Globe and Mail)
Through the Canadian Tour, Richard (Dick) Grimm provided an atmosphere and crucible in which players could test themselves and find out whether they had what it took to advance. (Randy Velocci For The Globe and Mail)

Giant in the golf world, Richard Grimm volunteered widely Add to ...

In the early 1970s, when the Canadian Open golf tournament was struggling for an identity, Richard Grimm had an epiphany. The chairman of the tournament that players once considered a fifth major, behind the acknowledged major championships (the Masters, the U.S. and British opens and the PGA Championship) decided to seek out Jack Nicklaus, golf’s greatest player ever, to design a new course to host the tournament.

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Mr. Grimm had come to know Mr. Nicklaus during trips to U.S. tournaments to recruit players for the Canadian Open. Mr. Nicklaus was a regular at the Canadian Open, finishing second seven times but never winning. Craig Stadler, the 1982 Masters winner, was also a regular. “When Dick calls, you can’t say no,” recalled Mr. Stadler, who became one of Mr. Grimm’s closest friends.

Mr. Nicklaus agreed to design the new course, which became the Glen Abbey Golf Club. The course was the all-but-permanent home of the Canadian Open from 1977 to 2000, when Tiger Woods won the championship. It will host the tournament next year for the 27th time. Mr. Grimm had, with one stroke of brilliance, elevated the status of the Canadian Open.

Mr. Grimm died on May 26 at age 91 at a Toronto hospital after suffering for three weeks from myositis, a disease in which muscles deteriorate and weaken.

“It was Dick who brought me the opportunity to design Glen Abbey, which, when it opened in 1976, represented my first solo golf course design,” Mr. Nicklaus said in a statement. “We are fortunate that Glen Abbey has been well-received and has gone on to host 26 Canadian Opens. It’s something I am very proud of, and it would not have happened without Dick’s belief in me and his unwavering support.”

As significant as was the accomplishment of having Mr. Nicklaus design Glen Abbey, it was hardly Mr. Grimm’s only achievement in golf. He was a giant of the game, known and respected internationally. He volunteered widely in the sport, including a stint as chairman of the 1965 Canadian Open for the Mississauga Golf and Country Club, where he was a member. He worked as Canadian Open chairman for the Royal Canadian Golf Association (now called Golf Canada) five times during the 1970s. He was director of professional tournaments for the RCGA from 1983 to 1993, and commissioner of the Canadian Professional Golf Tour from 1993 to 1997.

A tall, imposing figure who had played high-school football, Mr. Grimm commanded a room when he walked into it. Mr. Nicklaus thought so highly of Mr. Grimm that he made him a member of the exclusive Captains Club at the Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio. Its members include major champions such as Tony Jacklin and Ray Floyd, along with actor and keen golfer Sean Connery. Mr. Grimm often attended the annual Captains Club dinner, held in conjunction with the Memorial Tournament.

Mr. Grimm moved at the highest levels of the game, but he was also aware that not every professional golfer lived there. He took on the position of Canadian Tour commissioner because he knew that aspiring young professional golfers needed tournaments to develop their games. A Canadian Tour was operating, but it was sputtering. He helped establish a series of tournaments from one side of the country to another. The Canadian Tour (now PGA Tour Canada) developed a reputation as a first-rate developmental tour. At the same time, Mr. Grimm acknowledged disappointment that he was unable to secure a national sponsor for the Canadian Tour. It was mostly dependent on local and regional sponsors.

Still, he provided an atmosphere and crucible in which players could test themselves and discern whether they had what it took to advance. Mike Weir played the Canadian Tour during Mr. Grimm’s tenure as commissioner, and won three tournaments there. He said of the Canadian Tour, “I don’t think people understand how difficult it is to win,” a testament to the competitive environment Mr. Grimm fostered. Mr. Weir has gone on to win eight PGA Tour events, including the 2003 Masters.

“I had the experience coast to coast on the Canadian Tour of taking young aspiring Canadian guys and giving them the feel of what the big time was like, playing four days on courses all over Canada,” Mr. Grimm once told Chris Fry, the communications manager for the PGA of Canada.

Todd Fanning, a former Canadian Tour player from Saskatchewan, said of Mr. Grimm’s years as commissioner: “He kept that tour going when there weren’t many who believed.”

Mr. Grimm’s nature was to be optimistic. He faced extreme personal challenges with an unwavering commitment to overcoming hurdles. He recognized that he had a drinking problem and decided to stop drinking 51 years ago. He didn’t have a sip of alcohol for the rest of his life. As he lay in hospital in his last weeks, a man once beset with his own drinking problems sent Mr. Grimm an e-mail telling him that his strength had helped the man stop drinking. Mr. Grimm’s wife, Karen, took the e-mail to read to him at the hospital.

There had been serious medical challenges before the recent turn of events that sent him to hospital for the last time. He had been diagnosed with throat cancer 11 years ago. His jawbone was rebuilt. His speaking was compromised, but, as Karen Grimm said, “He never let it slow him down or get in his way.” Their life, she said, was “interesting, exciting, and a lot of fun.”

Clive Caldwell, a former highly ranked professional squash player and president and CEO of the Cambridge Group of Clubs in Toronto, attended a luncheon last fall in which Sports Media Canada presented Mr. Grimm its highest honour, the George Cumming Distinguished Service Award. Mr. Caldwell was taken with Mr. Grimm’s resolve as he addressed the guests.

“He was obviously under a lot of distress,” Mr. Caldwell remembered. “But what struck me so strongly was how willing he was to put himself out there, and work through a rather significant speech, with a huge amount of character and determination. It obviously wasn’t easy, but he was not going to be denied.”

Mr. Grimm always was determined. He was born in Chicago on April 28, 1923, to Ruth Irons and Richard Henry Grimm Sr., who worked in the financial industry.

Mr. Grimm was a sports enthusiast who loved the Chicago Bears and followed them closely all his life. He went to Yale University for a year, and then left to volunteer for the U.S. Marine Corps. He worked as a weatherman before returning to Chicago and working for a time as a stockbroker. He was following his nose: His father was a good golfer, and he also took to the game. Mr. Grimm’s handicap was as low as three, and he once played in a tournament in which Walter Hagen, a winner of 14 majors, participated.

While living in Chicago, Mr. Grimm and his first wife, Jackie, had three children. A business opportunity came up in Toronto when he was in his 20s. A cousin there invited him to start a concrete-block company. The family moved to Toronto, where the couple had two more children. Eventually Mr. Grimm joined former Toronto Maple Leaf star Joe Primeau as a partner in Primeau Argo Block, another concrete company. During this period, he became a member at the Mississauga Golf and Country Club, and started to volunteer in the game – a trajectory that would lead to the multiple roles he would come to assume.

Mr. Grimm’s first marriage broke up, and he met Karen Rusinoff, a Brooklynite then living in Atlanta. He met her when he was at the Atlanta Golf Classic to recruit players for the Canadian Open. They married in 1974 in Toronto. Ms. Grimm and her three children by a previous marriage, Doug, Eric, and Gia, joined Mr. Grimm and his five children. Mr. Grimm was predeceased by sons Bob and John. He leaves his son, Dick Jr., and daughters Janet and Mary, as well as three stepchildren, 12 grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.

Mr. Grimm’s latter years and his final three weeks in particular were difficult. But he maintained his deep interest in, and enthusiasm for, all things golf until the day of his death. A visitor informed him that day of how well the Canadians had fared in the weekend PGA Tour event. Mr. Grimm gave a thumbs-up to the good news. He passed away a few hours later, his wife at his bedside.

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