Not long after he joined The Oregonian Sports Department in 1961, Bob Robinson approached his editor with a proposition, “I understand that the golf beat is open. I would like to have a shot at it.” Thus began almost four decades of golf coverage focusing on regional players and tournaments but also touching on national events. As Peter Jacobsen notes in his foreword to Golf in Oregon, “Bob was always there, right at the forefront of Oregon golf.” In this interview with History Press West editor Aubrie Koenig, Robinson discusses his career as a sportswriter and shares some of his insight into Golf in Oregon: Historic Tales from the Fairway.
AK: What led to your career as a sports writer and how did you get started covering golf?
BR: I began sports writing by accident when the publisher of a weekly paper in my hometown of Independence, Oregon, asked me to cover high school sports for him. I was 12 at the time. I enjoyed writing and it progressed from there. As for covering golf, that began at The Oregonian in the early 1960s. I was interested in golf and enjoyed playing it. So, when the golf beat became available, I jumped at the opportunity.
AK: What are some of the most striking changes in journalism that you have witnessed?
BR: The demands on the writer have changed dramatically. With the development of computers and the internet, it no longer is sufficient to report the bare facts for a story. In the case of sports, what happened on the playing field has to be sprinkled with behind-the-scene sidelights that the reader won’t find elsewhere. Of course, I have seen major changes in the way stories are transmitted — from the days of typewriters and hot type to computer transmission and the digital age.
AK: Do you have any favorite moments from your time covering golf in Oregon?
BR: Two come to mind. In 1969, I covered the Alcan Golfer of the Year Championship at Portland Golf Club when Lee Trevino blew a six-shot lead on the final three holes and lost to Billy Casper. Later, in 1983, I was at the PGA Championship at Riviera Country Club near Los Angeles as two players from Oregon — Peter Jacobsen and John Fought — made spirited bids for the title before finishing third and fifth, respectively.
AK: You’ve had the opportunity to see a number of players grow up and take on the pro circuit. Is it easy to spot talent at a young age? Are there individuals you’ve particularly enjoyed seeing come up the ranks?
BR: Spotting talent at a young age isn’t all that difficult. The tough part is projecting how that talent will fare at the highest levels of the game when mental toughness is so important. I have been correct about some, incorrect on others. Peter Jacobsen and Bob Gilder have been especially enjoyable to cover through their years on the various professional tours. Pat Fitzsimons and Bob Duden also provided me with several enjoyable moments. Among the amateurs, Mary Budke, Kent Myers and Mike Davis (before he turned pro) gave me many good story lines.
AK: Do you have a top five players’ nicknames?
BR: There are so many good ones. Among my favorites would be: Golden Bear (Jack Nicklaus), Merry Mex (Lee Trevino), Black Knight (Gary Player), Big Momma (JoAnne Carner) and Twiggy (amateur Kent Myers).
AK: Is there a moment or event in Oregon sports history that you wished you had covered or perhaps an interview that got away?
BR: The University of Oregon, my alma mater, made it to football’s 1958 Rose Bowl game when I was just beginning my sports writing career. The Ducks made a valiant effort before losing to No. 1 Ohio State 10-7. I’ve always wished that I had had a chance to cover that game and do so many interesting interviews that would have been possible in its wake.
AK: Who are some of the sports writers you admire?
BR: Nationally, Michael Bamberger (Sports Illustrated), Jim Achenbach (Golfweek) and Tim Rosaforte (Golf World). Locally, Kerry Eggers (Portland Tribune) and Dwight Jaynes (Comcast Sports Northwest).
AK: Do you have a favorite golf course to play in Oregon?
BR: I have difficulty picking just one. Of the public courses, I particularly like Salem Golf Club and Tokatee Golf Course. Of the private-club courses, I’m fond of Eugene Country Club, Riverside Golf and Country Club and Astoria Golf and Country Club.
Bob Robinson has been a sports junkie for as far back as he can remember. He started writing sports stories for a weekly newspaper when he was twelve, graduated from University of Oregon School of Journalism in 1956, then went on to a newspaper career at The Eugene Register-Guard, The Salem Capital Journal, and, finally, The Oregonian for 37 1/2 years before his retirement in 1999. He covered 24 of golf’s major championships, two Ryder Cups and more than 40 LPGA tournaments. He was selected by his peers as Oregon’s Sports Writer of the Year in 1977 after covering the Portland Trail Blazers’ NBA championship team. He has also been honored with awards for his contributions to golf, including the Peter Jacobsen Award in 1997, the Dale Johnson Media Award in 2003, and the Northwest Golf Media Association’s Distinguished Service Award in 2004.
Golf in Oregon: Historic Tales from the Fairway by Bob Robinson will be available from The History Press in summer 2012.