The Committee of Shame?

Pictured above: Geordie Hilton

A note to readers: This piece is a good deal longer than my usual weekly blogs, but I hope you’ll take the time to read it. I’ll probably make a number of enemies by running it. But at my age, I don’t care.

The following is a scathing indictment of the Selection Committee of the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame (CGHoF).

Three years ago, in 2012, I nominated a gentleman by the name of Geordie Hilton for induction into the Hall of Fame. I filled out a form and wrote a two-page letter outlining the reasons for Geordie’s induction. My nomination was seconded by the late Richard H. “Dick” Grimm, commonly known as “Mr. Canadian Open”, and himself a member of the Hall. Dick also wrote a two-page, handwritten letter. Our Letters of Nomination were accompanied by letters of endorsement for Geordie from the following:

• One of the greatest and most respected golfers of all time – a member of the CGHoF, and the World Golf Hall of Fame
• A former Commissioner of the PGA Tour, and World Golf Hall of Fame member
• A former PGA Tour player, and member of the CGHoF
• A former Canadian Amateur Champion, and member of the CGHoF
• Two former Presidents of the Royal Canadian Golf Association (RCGA), both prominent Canadian businessmen
• A veteran CBC Sports broadcaster
• A well-known Canadian business executive

To bolster Geordie’s nomination, I later obtained commitments for letters of support from:

• A former winner of the Canadian Open and the British Open (twice), and World Golf Hall of Fame member
• A former Commissioner of the European Tour, and World Golf Hall of Fame member
• A former LPGA player and Canadian Women’s Amateur Champion
• A former Commissioner of the Canadian Tour
• Another well-known Canadian business executive, currently Chancellor of a well-known Canadian university

I have not named these people because I feel I should have their permission to do so, and they may not wish to be associated with this column. But all these people knew Geordie Hilton, and were eager to add their names in support of his induction into the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame.

So who is Geordie Hilton?

Geordie would be 63 years old today, if he was alive. But he died in 1990, at age 38.

From 1978-88 Geordie was the first, full-time, paid Executive Director of the Royal Canadian Golf Association… a job he was offered at the age of 26. He had already served as Tournament Director of the Canadian Open for two years, so his promotion was justified and understandable. In fact, the kid had lots of brains, and maturity, and common sense way beyond his years.

He also had ability at golf that was just one degree short of PGA Tour caliber. (For those who like legends, Geordie once scored 1,2,3 on three consecutive holes at Royal Ottawa… a par 3, 4 and 5… in the same round.)

In his 12 years at the RCGA, Geordie accomplished many things. The following is taken verbatim from my Letter of Nomination:

• the completion of the purchase of the Glen Abbey property from Genstar Corporation
• overseeing the design and building of Glen Abbey Golf Club, and its designation as the (then) permanent home of the Canadian Open
• the forging of a strong relationship between the RCGA and Jack Nicklaus, which helped to maintain and augment the status of the Canadian Open on the PGA Tour
• the forging of a strong relationship between the RCGA and the PGA Tour, as embodied in the friendship between Geordie and Tour Commissioner Deane Beman
• the forging of a strong relationship with the R&A (resulting in part in Geordie’s being granted an R&A membership), and with the European Tour through his friendship with Tour Commissioner Ken Schofield
• his appointment to the Board of Directors of American Golf Sponsors, the association of PGA Tour tournament directors and sponsoring organizations
• the establishment of the Canadian Golf Foundation, which endures to this day as a premier source of funding for the provision of post-secondary scholarships and college golf programs in Canada (including a scholarship named after Geordie Hilton, established by people who knew him)
• the significant growth of the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame and Museum, including the establishment of its permanent home in Golf House, and the hiring of it first Curator, Lorne Rubenstein
• the hiring of future Hall of Fame members Richard Grimm, Stephen Ross and Lorne Rubenstein
• the staging of an annual Canadian tournament on the newly-formed Senior PGA Tour (now Champions Tour), from 1981-1985
• the success of Canadian Amateur teams in international competition, including the winning team in the 1986 World Amateur Team Competition, captained by Geordie
• steady guidance of the RCGA through financial crises brought on by global economic upheaval, in the early 1980s, and later that decade
• the decision to remain in his position at the RCGA, despite continual opportunities to move to other, more lucrative positions elsewhere in international golf… because he loved his country!

But perhaps Geordie’s biggest personal achievement was the day in 1988 that he summoned the courage to inform the Board of Directors of the RCGA that he was dying.

Of AIDS.

To have AIDS thirty years ago was many things. 1. A death sentence. 2. An admission that you were either gay, or bisexual, or a user of intravenous, skid row drugs like heroin. 3. A reason to be immediately fired from whatever job you held. 4. A reason for many people you knew to insult you, damn you, spit on you, call you names, joke about you, and ultimately, shun you. 5. A reason to commit suicide.

Geordie Hilton was not a user of intravenous drugs. He was gay, but no one knew about it. And if Geordie was alive today, I suspect no one would still know about it. It was his business, and no one else’s. Enough said, and who cares anyway? “It’s 2015.”

BUT GEORDIE HILTON HAS BEEN DENIED INDUCTION INTO THE CANADIAN GOLF HALL OF FAME… FOR FOUR CONSECUTIVE YEARS.

A nominee gets five chances, over five years, to be elected to the Hall. Geordie has now finished his fourth year of eligibility, and I have just received a letter telling me that, once again, his nomination did not succeed. The letter I received states, in part:

[…] the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame focuses on those illustrious golf careers that made a major impact to [sic] Canadian golf at the national or international level.

Please review the list of Geordie’s achievements above, and judge for yourself whether he had a major impact, nationally and internationally. Certainly the 14 distinguished people in three different countries who wrote letters of endorsement believe he did, and they would know whereof they speak, far better than the Hall of Fame Selection Committee. (Come to think of it, SCOREGolf Magazine once named Geordie Hilton as one its “10 People Who Made a Difference” in Canadian golf. That’s quite a statement, from people who know.)

However, the decisions on inductions to the Hall are made by this very Selection Committee. The names of the current members of the Selection Committee are not made public by Golf Canada (except in its Annual Report for the previous year, and by the time of publication, the names may have changed) but they tend to be former players or former RCGA executives, and one or two golf “industry” representatives. I do know who the members of the current Committee are, but I will not risk insulting and incurring the wrath of those who may have supported Geordie’s nomination, by publishing the names of the group.

The Committee’s annual assessment and vote on nominees is also secret, and no one but the Committee knows who voted yes, or no, for any candidate.

Knowing the names of the Committee members, as I do, I cannot imagine why any single one of them would vote against Geordie. But all it takes is for three out of ten to cast a negative ballot, and the nomination does not succeed… at least until another year passes. Knowing some of the members personally, whenever I have asked any of them for an explanation of why Geordie’s nomination has been rejected, or who voted against him, I am met by a bone-chilling wall of silence and confidentiality, as if I have no right to know, or even ask.

Had he been elected, Geordie would have entered the Hall in the membership category of “Builder”… that is, someone who has made significant contributions to the growth and development of golf in Canada, but not as a player.

Had he been elected, Geordie would have been enshrined alongside his predecessor, the late Bruce Forbes… his successor as Executive Director, Stephen Ross… his corporate subordinate but great friend and mentor, Richard Grimm… and the young man he hired to run the Museum and the Hall of Fame 35 years ago, Lorne Rubenstein.

In the opinion of Dick Grimm and all the others who wrote letters, Geordie was as deserving as anyone to be inducted into the Hall. But for four cycles, the Selection Committee – or at least three members of the Committee who cast negative votes, year after year – has not agreed with all these eminent people.

Now think about this for a moment.

By not electing Geordie, the Selection Committee has basically told one of the greatest golfers of all time… three former Tour Commissioners… two former Presidents of the RCGA… four members of the WORLD Golf Hall of Fame… four members of the Canadian Hall… five former Tour players, two of whom were Number One in the World for long periods of time… two Canadian amateur champions… a journalist who covered Canadian golf, and dealt with the RCGA… and four highly successful and decorated Canadian businessmen, who understood the challenges that Geordie faced as an executive… that their opinions are WORTHLESS.

That they have wasted their time.

The Selection Committee has also told Geordie’s surviving family – two sisters, a brother, and several nieces and nephews – that their beloved brother and uncle, who devoted his life and career to building the game of golf in Canada, basically didn’t do enough… that his efforts essentially didn’t amount to a hill of beans, because they aren’t worthy of recognition in the very Hall of Fame that he personally helped to build and sustain.

I worked with Geordie Hilton for a relatively short time. We got along very well, but we weren’t really friends, and I knew nothing at all of his personal life. What I saw, what I respected, what I was envious of, was Geordie’s wisdom, maturity, and skills, and his commitment to Canadian golf in all forms, and at all levels.

As far as I’m concerned, everyone who has been inducted into the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame deserves to be there. But comparing Geordie Hilton’s record to those who are there, simply says to me that Geordie belongs with them. Without question. And in fact, in comparison to some who have been inducted, even more so.

My own opinion may be worthless to the Selection Committee, and that’s fine by me. But how they can reject and ignore the views and recommendations of the famous and eminent people who supported my nomination just defies logic and imagination.

Apparently, the Selection Committee members believe they know better.

Last week, with the concurrence of Geordie’s family, who have had enough of this sorry saga, I responded to the Hall of Fame’s latest rejection by asking to have Geordie’s name stricken from the list of candidates. His brother and sisters and I have agreed that we simply cannot permit Geordie’s name to suffer the final indignity of not succeeding in its last year of eligibility.

So, Geordie Hilton will never take his rightful place in the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame.

Generations of Canadians who love golf will never know the impact and legacy of this fine young man who died well before his time.

It seems it’s not enough that he died tragically… now his grave is being spat on.

In my view, the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame is a wonderful institution, celebrating and honouring the achievements of outstanding Canadians and others who have played the game with exceptional skill and results, or who have helped to increase Canadians’ interest, access and enjoyment of it. Unfortunately, the Hall of Fame has shackled and denigrated its selection process by entrusting it to a group of people who do not have the knowledge to know when a person is worthy for induction… the courage to select worthy candidates regardless of irrelevant circumstances… or the best interest of Canadians, in making them aware of all those candidates who deserve the public’s attention and appreciation.

Geordie Hilton is surely one such candidate.

It is a travesty that he has not been inducted, and an insult to everyone who reveres his legacy.

Before I close this matter, I have some questions for the Selection Committee:

• Did at least three of you vote against Geordie Hilton because you’re too young to have known who he was, and too lazy to do your homework?

• Did at least three of you vote against Geordie because you knew who he was, but perhaps didn’t like him personally, or perhaps, were even jealous of his success?

• Did at least three of you vote against him because he died of AIDS?

• What possible reason motivated you to keep Geordie Hilton out of the Hall of Fame, and to prevent him from being appreciated for what he achieved?

• Who benefits by your refusal to award Geordie the honour of being inducted?

• Do you believe you have enhanced the honour and integrity of the Hall of Fame by denying induction to someone who died of AIDS?

• If you voted against Geordie’s induction, are you willing to publicly identify yourself, and state your reason for doing so; or will you continue to hide behind the cloak of secrecy that protects you from the possibility of public humiliation?

• Is there not one among the rest of you who may have voted positively in this matter, who feels sufficiently embarrassed or outraged by your colleagues’ refusal to grant induction to Geordie, that you would have the courage to resign your membership on the Selection Committee?

• Is there any reason why the public should have any respect for your Committee, in view of this egregious oversight and insult?

The only last words I can think to say to the Selection Committee are these:

Consider yourselves fortunate that the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame is not a public corporation; and that, because it is not, you can all blithely ignore this column in the same way that you have ignored the legacy of Geordie Hilton, a giant in the world of Canadian golf.

And shame, shame, shame on you.

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Showing 8 comments
  • Frank
    Reply

    You mention that Geordie would have wanted to keep his private life PRIVATE and here you just published it for the world. Not a good friend at all in my opinion. It obviously had no bearing to the Hall and yet you mention his illness multiple times. Shame on you.

  • Jim Deeks
    Jim Deeks
    Reply

    Thank you for your comment, Frank. Every word in my column was reviewed and discussed extensively with the Hilton family before publication, so I — and they — have no shame at all in mentioning Geordie’s lifestyle. And to say it had no bearing at all on the Selection Committee’s decision is to make a supposition that I question completely.

  • Frank Klisanich
    Reply

    A great and courageous article Jim ….. you outline Geordie’s immense contribution to golf in Canada and the embarrassing situation the nomination committee finds itself. Rejecting one of the most capable nominees with impeccable credentials and support from the golfing elite in Canada and around the world … because he was gay. Lets us hope this gets corrected and Geordie is nominated and elected as he justly deserves.

  • Jim Deeks
    Jim Deeks
    Reply

    Frank K… thanks for your comment. But let me be clear… I did not and do not suggest that Geordie’s lifestyle was the reason he was rejected by the Committee. I simply don’t know why he was rejected, and at no time during the four years his nomination was extant, no one from the Committee ever provided any explanation or rationale or feedback to me. (Sorry, after the first year, one member told me privately that my nomination package was “very strong”.) If readers of my column make the same connection you have, so be it.

  • Lars Melander
    Reply

    I have not heard of this until your column. Trust me he certainly belongs in the Hall. I worked at Glen Abbey during those years’. And saw firsthand his efforts in growing the game of golf. I agree with you. The selection committee should be embarrassed and ashamed of this omission. I am very sorry and feel bad for Geordie’s family.

    I will always remember Geordie. Even though I was just an assistant working the shop. He always took the time to see how I was doing in my life. Cheers Lars

  • Bob Vidic
    Reply

    Selection Committee = Homophobia!! They leave us with NO other explanation!! How can this happen in Canada where we supposedly have intelligent, educated individuals on the selection committee?? Is this 2015 or am I mistaken?? I knew nothing about Gordie Hilton but am glad you enlightened us. Without a doubt, this man is more than qualified to be inducted! What a shame, and certainly “shame on the Selection Committee”. They have proven that homophobia still reigns in today’s day and age! They have the luxury (but shame) of hiding behind the cloak of secrecy!

  • david
    david
    Reply

    Jim, thanks your most enlightening article. Based on what you wrote, the non election of Mr. Hilton is indeed an incredible travesty, but you can’t deny that you think the main reason for Mr. Hilton’s exclusion was that he was gay, and he died of AIDS. Otherwise you would not have mentioned this in your article, and more than once. If this is the overriding reason, I would not be surprised in the least. I can tell you and your readers that, as a gay athlete who has dealt with homophobia in hockey leagues, squash court, and golf course for decades, golf is the arena closest to the dark ages in terms of enlightenment. I go the course alone very often and get teamed up with strangers all summer long, and get more negative gay and Asian comments than I can count. (ironically my partner is Asian). I believe the world (western at least) has made great strides towards equality and inclusion, and I hope golf association committees, whether national or provincial, take a leadership role within their own sport. A way to start would be to nominate younger more liberal minded men, women, and minorities to their committees.
    I hope there’s a positive ending to the story of Geordi Hilton, and he is voted into the hall where he belongs.

  • Jim Deeks
    Jim Deeks
    Reply

    David, thanks for such an excellent, and very personal, comment. Too bad it’s a couple of weeks after publication of the column and will be missed by most readers. But a valuable addition to the debate nonetheless!

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