Gone too soon: Ron Stull passes, leaves his mark on golf community

Ron Stull, who served as PGA head professional at several courses in western Washington during his long career, passed away at his home in Union near Hood Canal on May 4. He was 71. There will be a celebration of Ron’s life on Sunday, June 9, from 1:00-3:00 p.m., in the clubhouse at Alderbrook Golf & Yacht Club along Hood Canal. All of his friends and associates are invited to attend.

In 2018, Ron – born Ronald Brady Stull Jr. – was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, the same aggressive brain cancer that claimed the life of Sen. John McCain. “Stully” is survived by his wife Katie, daughter Valerie, brother Steve Stull, and sisters Brenda Draper and Peggy Johnson.

Ron Stull
Ron Stull

Ron, a lifetime member of the PGA of America and an honorary member at Seattle’s Sand Point Country Club, was known for his intelligence, decisiveness, ability to fix or build anything, and wonderful sense of humor. Sand Point members who knew Ron will never forget his distinctive laugh, which seemed to emanate from somewhere deep inside. Thankfully, for all of us, Ron laughed often.

Ron was born in the Tri-Cities in southeast Washington. After serving a stint in the U.S. Army and attending college, he went to work at Santa Rosa Country Club in California. He then moved to Lakeridge in Reno (where after a full day of work at the golf course he installed sheetrock eight hours at night); Sand Point in Seattle (as an assistant under Ron Hagen); Alderbrook as the head professional; back to Sand Point, replacing Hagen after he retired; Alderbrook, again, as the head professional; and then to his final job as the head pro at Lake Limerick near Shelton, Wash.

After serving as Sand Point’s head pro from 1984 to 2001, and before returning to Alderbrook, Ron served as a caddie for Steve on the Senior European Tour for the 2002 season.

As a youngster in the Tri-Cities, Steve Stull was inspired by his 0-handicap father and equally talented older brother Ron to eventually become one of the Northwest’s most accomplished players. Among his many titles was the European Senior Tour’s Tobago Seniors, with Ron as his caddie during their overseas adventure in 2002. Of growing up with two skilled golfers bearing the same name, Steve recalled fondly, “My ‘extra’ name then was Ron. I didn’t mind that one bit.”

Here are some of Steve’s memories of his beloved brother:

“Our father was a scratch player who won all the Tri-City amateur events, including the biggest, the Tri-City Amateur. Ron and I both started golf around seven years old, with lessons from Bill Welch Sr. at Tri-City CC.

“I won the 2002 European Senior Tour Qualifying Tournament in Portugal when Ron caddied for me. He was on my bag for my first season in Europe. I won the Tobago Seniors and tied for first at another event in northern England, but lost in a playoff to Noel Coles. I also finished second at the British Senior PGA. All of these tournaments with Ron on the bag.

“Ron started getting homesick and returned to the U.S. following that first season. I never had a top-three finish after he left. That tells you how important he was to me. He was so confident in my play. He once said Greg Norman should be afraid of me!

“My favorite story was the British Senior Open in Ireland. We made the cut. Ron had let me know he needed to go home and that it would be our final round together. So, unbeknownst to him, I let him make every decision. It wasn’t until the last hole when Ron figured it out. I shot even-par or 1-under at Royal County Down, the hardest course I’ve ever played. All I had to do was hit the shots. That tells you a lot about Ron’s knowledge of golf.”

Ron Stull with his grandson
Ron Stull with his grandson

Many aspiring golf professionals sought to be hired by Ron Stull, who was widely known as the consummate mentor. “Ron was the reason I wanted to work at Sand Point,” said Bruce Christy, who was on the club’s staff from 1992-97 before becoming the head pro at Inglewood and then the director of golf for the city of Everett. Bruce is currently the GM and PGA head professional at White Horse Golf Club in Kingston.

“He had a reputation for turning out head professionals and he spent so much time teaching me what it took to be a great teacher, merchandiser, club-fitter and leader,” Christy added. “I’ll miss our on- and off-course ‘life’ lessons. I still do many of the things he taught me and try to pass them along to my assistants on a daily basis. Just thinking about him brings a smile to my face. He was a true one-of-a-kind. I will miss him.”

Added Tom Sovay, another Seattle-area pro who’s achieved much success: “Ron went out of his way to help this (once) assistant pro at Jackson Park. He told me to use Sand Point CC as my refuge from the busy muni. Can you imagine a dumpy little muni assistant pro being treated like that by such an esteemed pro? He treated me so well I could never thank him enough. Whatever I am as a golf professional, Ron was a big part of it and always will be.

“It’s just so hard to convey what a truly enthusiastic, loving spirit he was and what joy he took in helping us younger pros,” added Sovay, who’s won state and regional tournaments and competed in the U.S. Senior Open. “I have always tried to model my profession after him in that way. His knowledge of the golf swing was incredible. I don’t think there was a golf instruction book he didn’t read.”

Mike O’Laughlin was one of Ron’s assistants, and later became the head pro at Eaglemont GC: “I spent seven years at Sand Point with Stully. We laughed, cried and learned about golf. We learned about members and had fun doing it. He helped me so much. I will always love him.”

Sand Point’s current director of golf, Craig Hunter, said: “When I started at Sand Point in March 2007, Ron was one of the first people to reach out and offer his help. I was really touched by this because I could really tell he wanted me to succeed and wanted Sand Point to have a smooth transition (from Craig’s predecessor, Chuck West).

“I always looked forward to the times Ron would visit the club and play golf here. I used to get in a tizzy getting the place as clean and organized as possible knowing he was coming because his opinion mattered to me.

“His insight was invaluable and I bounced many questions off him over the years. Ron had it all, great player, teacher, club-fitter and a great smile. Ron’s club-fitting skills were most impressive to me. I don’t know how many Hogan Medallion irons were in members’ bags when I first started, but Ron fitted them all. I found all his fittings to be professional and accurate. I will miss Ron as will all the members who knew him. He was a classic, a real pro.”

Said Tim Tate, the director of golf at Marine Drive, Sand Point’s sister club in Vancouver, B.C., who played against Ron many times in the annual Marine Drive-Sand Point team matches: “I have a tear in my eye this morning (after learning of Ron’s passing). He was a class act and one hell of a competitor. He took me down so many times I can’t count them all. I have very fond memories of our time together, but for sure one of the toughest competitors I have ever played against. Had the long putter he created and putted side-saddle like few others. RIP Ron!”

Brady Hatfield, now the general manager at Gamble Sands, worked with Stully at Alderbrook. Brady wrote after learning of Ron’s passing: “This breaks my heart. I loved Ron and love Katie, and working with him at AG&YC was a great time in my professional career. The world has lost a great man! I am so sorry to hear of this.”

Ron Hagen, who preceded Ron as Sand Point’s head pro and hired him: “Ron was one of my very best employees and I will miss him very much. A true professional and a very talented individual.”

Joe Puetz, who was married to Valerie and is the father of Ron’s two grandchildren, said of his former father-in-law: “A father figure to me, I will miss talking, golfing and belly-laughing with Stully. Always such an enjoyable time being around him. ‘God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying.’”

Inglewood head professional Mike Gove posted: “Ron was the best! Always so supportive and anxious to hear about everyone – truly a great man and a special friend.”

Ron’s influence extended beyond the professional ranks. Washington Junior Golf Association’s Director of Operations, Chris Curtiss, said on Facebook: “A big loss for the golfing community. Ron did so much for junior golf!”

John Bodenhamer, former executive director of the PNGA/WSGA and now the USGA’s senior managing director of championships, wrote: “Ron was a great friend to many. He will be missed.”

Sand Point members also chimed in their Ron Stull remembrances.

Tom Budinich:

“At 15, it was my first day at Sand Point washing clubs and parking carts. A busy Wednesday Men’s day, worked my tail off and kept up for the most part to hopefully close and go home by 6. Around 5:45, Stully comes to the back and says he wants to introduce me to Mr. Kirby, who I assumed was someone important. I straightened myself up for a few seconds and walked into the front of the shop only to see Stully behind the counter. I then asked if Mr. Kirby was on his way and he said, ‘No, he’s right there,’ pointing at the Kirby vacuum and telling me to go shake hands with him! Then he busted into that one-of-a-kind Stully laugh. He was a great man and a lot of fun. He will be missed.”

Tracy Quigley:

“When we joined Sand Point, I was not a golfer. My only contact with the club was an occasional family dinner. After a few years and following months of lessons at the UW driving range, I got on the course with (husband) Terry. I was so intimidated with the country club and golf environment.

“As the head professional, Ron made a big first impression. He was welcoming and encouraging. Golf is not easy, but with the support of my playing companions and Ron I stuck with it. Ron was a big supporter of women’s golf, an advocate who spoke up for us at committee meetings. He believed women as well as men belonged on the course.”

Jeff Shelley:

“Ron was one of my best friends, on or off the golf course. We connected immediately, maybe because we both grew up in Eastern Washington in big families, worked in the golf industry, were Army veterans, and could talk to each other like brothers. We had many good times together, some of which got us into trouble with our wives, but, thankfully, not the law.

“Here’s one of our many memorable times together. I caddied for Ron at a couple of Washington Opens. When it was at Glendale one year, I arrived about an hour before our tee time and found him, in full sweat, at the driving range, pounding balls at a rate of about 50 a minute. I approached and said, ‘What the hell are you doing?!’ Ron, almost foaming at the mouth, sputtered: ‘I just drank four cups of coffee and am getting warmed up!’ I responded, ‘Well slow down, you won’t have anything left for the round!’ He says quietly, ‘Okay.’ I then ran up to the clubhouse and bought two beers before he started play. That calmed down Ron enough to card a 75.”

Bob Wolz:

“Ron once comped a visiting pro for a round of golf at Sand Point. For some reason, the guy chewed out one of the junior golfers on the course. Ron found out about it and went out and kicked him off the course.”

Bud Duncan:

“What a great guy! Ron was funny beyond belief, and his sense of humor always amazed me. He did not take life too seriously, but had the ability to blend his golf gifts with handling club members gracefully. He faced life’s adversities with grace and humility. RIP indeed. He has earned it. He came on board at Sand Point after Ron Hagen when I joined in 1983.”

Paul Slatt:

“Last year at this time I was getting ready to play in the best-ball with my buddy, Ron. I still can’t believe he has left us. It is amazing that all the memories I have of us are just fun times. The trips to the Robert Trent Jones Trail, Pinehurst and our own Ryder Cups at Alderbrook, Sand Point and in Oregon. Lots of laughter and beverages went into those outings.

“I can’t ever forget Ron trying to get me to hit my driver. It just didn’t happen and we really had laughs over that. Ron, you may be gone from this Earth but you will always remain in my heart. Like you always said: ‘Love you guys.’ We all love you Ron and will never forget your humor and thoughtfulness.”

Anni Shelley:

“Aside from being our club pro, Ron and Katie became great friends of ours. I had a lesson with Ron one day. When I showed up, Ron said, ‘Jeff said he’d give me beaucoup beer if I could fix your swing.’ I replied, ‘What’s the matter with my swing?’ Ron said, ‘I don’t know. Take a few swings and I’ll see what I can find.’

“I took a swing and, before I was even finished, Ron said ‘I know what’s wrong.’ He proceeded to fix pretty much everything – stance, grip, take-away, weight-shift, follow-through. That was the beginning of my improving game. And Jeff paid up!”

Ray Pinney (6’5” former NFL lineman recalling an early encounter with the 5’7” Ron Stull):

“I remember when I was a newer member in the late 1990s. It was a summer morning and I came into the pro shop to get on the tee sheet. I asked Ron to put me on the list. He looked at me and said my golf shorts were too short. He told me he’d get me on the tee sheet if I came back with more appropriate clothing. I wanted to golf that day, so I went home and changed into longer shorts. Ron was a stickler for the rules but very fair about it, so I went home and changed my clothes and returned to the club and got on the tee sheet.”

Phil Yerkes with another “shorts” story:

“I’m guessing it was late summer 1999 when Jennifer and I had just joined as intermediate golfers. She had probably been on the course a couple of times. We are checking in at the pro shop and Ron asks Jennifer to come with him into the bag room area. I thought it was a little odd. I was watching the exchange and could tell she was a little uncomfortable as she walked out. When she returned, I asked her what happened and she said, ‘He told me my shorts are too short – they don’t meet the dress code.’

“She was quite embarrassed and kind of mad at me that I hadn’t prepped her. Ron could tell things were going a little sideways so he walks up to us and says to me: ‘By the way, Phil, you need to press your shirt too.’ Ha! It was a great way to cut the tension and earn trust with us as new members. He let her play that day without changing but had nicely taken her aside to tell her about the dress code and then made the situation lighter. Ron was a great guy – always friendly and genuinely interested in how you were doing.”

Charlie Johnson:

“Ron was as kind and caring a man as you could ever encounter. We grew up together in the Tri-Cities a year or so apart, yet had so many friends in common that he often joked that we must have fought each other at least once – that being our other favorite activity besides drinking beer and failing to get laid.

“Ron knew exactly what a pro’s responsibility was. I saw him enforce slow play, not allow dress code violations, and develop a great reputation for turning out young pros that were prepared for a head pro’s responsibilities.

“He was a proud military veteran and could plumb, wire, drywall, pour concrete – literally build a house from the dirt up. I’m a witness to this and have a few aching joints from being his ‘hired hand’ who only got paid in beer. He loved and trusted people almost to a fault. He was occasionally betrayed, but that never bothered him. Everyone in his very large circle of friends were the beneficiaries, but probably his dearest friend, Katie, most of all. A fine man gone too soon, Ron lived a life of integrity, love and honor. I will miss him, but never forget him.”

The above story was written and the quotes compiled by longtime golf writer, Jeff Shelley, a Sand Point member since 1993.