Doc Owens died this week at the Guardian Angels Health and Rehabilitation Center in Hibbing. He was 88 and a Hibbing legend, both as a general practioner for more than a half-century and as a generous donor to his favorite causes and schools.
Back in 2001, the Star Tribune's Confirmed Hacker still was making a tour of Minnesota golf courses and writing columns intended to offer a local favor. I played in Hibbing with my friend Mike Retica and some good-natured locals.
They told numerous stories about "Doc.'' I repeated a couple in print as part of that local flavor. I wound up taking heat from a few people connected to Dr. Owens, for the depiction of him as a bastion of frugality on the golf course in comparison to his benevolence away from it.
That's what made the stories great, I felt. And I can assure everyone today that, when Retica and the others talked of Doc Owens on that afternoon of golf, they did so with more than affection ... it was with love for the man.
Here's the bulk of that column and its tribute to Doc from the summer of 2001:
HIBBING -- The gentleman went by Dr. Benjamin P. Owens during his decades as a general practioner in Hibbing. He has been known as "Doc" or "Bennie" at the Mesaba Country Club, while serving as the greens chairman in perpetuity.
Earlier this year, as Mesaba neared the opening of another golf season, Owens found himself preoccupied with the thought of the temporary scars that divots leave on fairways. So Doc offered an
idea that could have made Mesaba a location for pilgrimmages by golfers the world over.
"Doc's had some brilliant ideas, but everyone agreed this was his all-timer," Rick Whelan said. "He got up at the board meeting and said, `We should make it a club rule that everyone uses a tee on the fairways.' "
This proposal could have had the same dramatic effect on the condition of fairways that the spikeless-shoes revolution has had on greens.
Unfortunately, the board members did not share Doc's vision, and Mesaba remains a course where it is considered a breach of the game's tenets to tee up your ball in the fairway.
Gently rolling it in a quick search for higher grass . . . well, that remains an issue for the individual conscience of all golfers.
The Confirmed Hacker made a visit to Mesaba last week that could not have been better timed. The army worms that had infested Minnesota's soft-wood forests had gone into retreat. It will be a couple of weeks before they make their return in the form of tens of millions of moths.
"The worms were so thick that they covered some of our greens," Bob Perfetti said.
So what did you do about it?
Perfetti gave a puzzled look to the visitor, shrugged and said: "Putted over them."
The alternative would have been allowing a precious day of the northern golf season to pass without a round - a horrible notion for either Whelan or Perfetti, both men of retired leisure.
Jerry Fiori also is retired, although he can miss a day at Mesaba without breaking into cold sweats.
The other member of the group greeting the Hacker was Mike Retica, by his assessment a diligent insurance agent who gets away from the office to Mesaba only on rare occasions.
Retica served as the pro at Forest Hills in Forest Lake from 1972 through 1982. Two decades later, he's carrying a 6 handicap and finds himself fighting for his life to make a buck against his cousin Whelan, or their buddy Perfetti ...
As the Hacker's fivesome started down No. 2, Al Caliguiri came marching - bag over his shoulder - in the opposite direction.
It seemed that Al had made an unacceptable score on the 486-yard, par-5 first hole, then found himself in the woods on No. 2. He attempted to escape, the ball struck a tree and narrowly missed his head on the ricochet.
"I'm getting out of here while I still have my health," announced Caliguiri, and he headed for the clubhouse.
Along Mesaba's picturesque way, the Hacker asked his companions to identify the No. 1 "character" in Mesaba annals. There was quick unanimity on the answer: the aforementioned Doc Owens.
"Doc gave something like $3 million to St. Thomas and has his name on a building, but he's still the tightest son of a gun I've ever met," Whelan said. "Doc won the club championship in 1977.
Everybody remembers that because it's the last time he bought a drink."
Retica offered this second-hand account of a visit by Owens and Charlie Decker, another local doctor and a Mesaba member, to a medical conference in Eveleth some years ago:
"There were sleeves of golf balls stacked at a registration table. Doc took two or three sleeves as he checked in. During lunch, he excused himself to go to the restroom. Two sleeves went in one suit pocket on the way and two more in the other suit pocket on Doc's return."
Ten minutes later, Doc felt nature's call again, picking off four more sleeves on this round trip. Then, Owens told Decker: "I have to go out to the car for a few minutes."
When Decker asked why, Doc said: "For goodness sake, Charlie, do I have to paint you a picture? I have to empty my pockets."
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