Warren Rebholz, a public golfer raised on St. Paul’s Highland Park fairways who helped build both the Minnesota Golf Association and Hazeltine National Golf Club into the successes they’ve become, died from natural causes at home in Bloomington on Tuesday. He was 92.
Known far and wide as “Rebbie,” he was a charter member at Hazeltine National. Along with former MGA president and then USGA executive committee member Reed Mackenzie, Rebholz convinced the USGA to bring the U.S. Open back to the Chaska course in 1991 — quite an achievement after what once was a windswept parcel of farmland received such unfavorable reviews after the men’s national championship was played there in 1970, only eight years after the course opened.
He retired in 1992 after he had led the MGA for two decades, but never really ever went away when he invented and ran a state senior tour.
“He was just as comfortable at Highland as anyplace,” his son, Bill, said Wednesday. “He had a great life and did some really fun things out there.”
Rebholz became the MGA executive director in January 1973 with a $15,000 salary and bare-bones staff and modernized it into an financially viable organization that unified the state’s public and private clubs.
The MGA helped develop the USGA’s course ratings system that improved golf’s handicapping system and popularized that handicap system within the state. Under Rebholz’s guidance, the organization also added tournaments and made tournament courses tougher.
He brought back from his travels to USGA national events a professionalism that helped develop young amateurs such as Tom Lehman, Chris Perry and Dave Tentis, all of whom won or played in major championships.
“Everything was better; the levels all went up when he stepped in,” said John Harris, a four-time Minnesota state amateur champion and winner of the 1993 U.S. Amateur at age 41. “The organization was better. The communication was better. He wanted it done the right way, and he trained volunteers and he was willing to do things that made our events in Minnesota feel like real big-time.
“He was the one who single-handedly elevated golf in Minnesota to a national stature.”
Rebholz also left his impression all over Hazeltine National when he helped right its reputation after it hosted the 1970 U.S. Open. Pro golfer Dave Hill infamously said the only thing the course lacked was “80 acres of corn and a few cows.”
No. 27 in Hazeltine National’s original 50-person membership, Rebholz was instrumental in changes to its 16th and 17th holes. He and Mackenzie dug in the woods to discover the back tees for what now is the “signature” par-4 hole beside Hazeltine Lake. They also turned the 17th into an uphill par 3 on which U.S. team member Patrick Reed sunk a memorable putt against Europe’s Rory McIlroy on an unforgettable Sunday at the 2016 Ryder Cup.
“He just absolutely loved Hazeltine and everything it stood for in tournament golf, championship golf,” Harris said, “and he volunteered at every opportunity.”
Created to host major championships, Hazeltine National is one of only two clubs in the country that has hosted every notable championship conducted by the USGA and PGA of America, some twice. It’s the only club selected twice to host the Ryder Cup, which returns in 2028.
“I have great, fond memories of Rebbie,” Harris said. “He was Mr. Minnesota Golf.”