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McConn earns 2009 Rutledge Award

Larry Olin, John Bartley and Rick Johnson have played in 25 Pine to Palm Tournaments. They received their silver at the Rutledge banquet Thursday night.1 / 3
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Greg Potvin (Rutledge Award coordinator), Dick McConn (2009 Rutledge Award winner) and Gerri Rutledge celebrate at the Dr. John B. Rutledge Memorial Award Dinner Thursday evening.3 / 3

Dick McConn has played some of the best and most famous courses in the world, but there is only one he keeps coming back to -- the Detroit Country Club.

The same can be said about McConn's experiences with some of the top-rated amateur golf tournaments in the world -- but the one he continuously returns to is the Pine to Palm Tournament.

It is for those reasons McConn was named as the 2009 Rutledge Award winner after 40 years of dedication to the Pine to Palm Golf Tournament.

McConn's career -- who was an officer in the Air Force and currently the CEO of several aviation companies in Washington D.C., Canada, Morocco and Corpus Christi, Texas -- has allowed him to play and experience the top golf courses and tournaments in the world.

But it's the attraction of what the Pine to Palm Tournament offers which has McConn coming back for the last 40 years.

"I've been to lots of tournaments throughout the world and have been the chairman of some of them, but none of them can beat the Pine to Palm," McConn said. "It's just a great, little place to go and the tournament is good just because of the way it's run.

"There's some humility to it and it has a down home feel. It's also just an honor to be given the Rutledge Award."

McConn's parents owned a cabin on Lake Melissa since the 1950's and that's when he was introduced to the tournament.

As a 16-year-old, he played in his first Pine to Palm and he shot a 77-77 for a 12-over par 154, missing the cut by 10 strokes.

"That was a bit humbling," McConn chuckled.

With his family living in the lakes area for all those years, McConn learned to love the DCC and the tournament it ran in early August.

"For the people who grew up here and moved away, the tournament is a rallying point for them," McConn said.

After joining the Air Force Academy and serving in Vietnam, as well as traveling through the service and his job, McConn has missed nine years of the Pine to Palm off and on.

He has forged many friendships and relationships through the years he has competed and attended the tournament, including Jack Rule, who won the tournament three years in a row from 1958 through 1960.

Still close friends with Rule, McConn said the golfer from Waterloo, Iowa, was one of the best golfers to play in the Pine to Palm.

"Historically speaking, Jack was one of the greatest players to play in the Pine to Palm," McConn added. "He won it three years in a row and lost his fourth one in 1961 as runner-up (to Dayton Olson 3 and 1)."

McConn had some deep runs into Championship match play, the longest in 1981 when he played to the semifinals, before losing to eventual champion Mark Norman on the last hole.

The uniqueness of the DCC golf course has also been an attraction to McConn.

"Even though the course is only 6,100 yards long, everybody still wants to play it," McConn said. "It offers a challenge and golf is about confronting your fears. Anybody can play this course, too, due to the fact that it's short and you can attack it.

"But you need to hit it straight."

And he has shared his love of the tournament and the area with many people, including his wife Mili, who grew up in Colorado.

The McConn pair rebuilt a new cabin on his parent's Melissa site and now Mili lives in it during the summer, while Dick travels for work.

"Mili loves it here, there just isn't anything more anchored than living here," McConn included.

He has also introduced the area to some influential friends.

This past July 4, he invited a four-star general, former Secretary of the Air Force Mike Wynne and a couple of CEO's of multi-billion dollar companies down to his place on Lake Melissa.

"These guys have traveled to many exotic places in the world, but all of them just loved it here," McConn. "There's an attraction here."

The Pine to Palm Tournament carries that attitude, sort of a microcosm of small town America.

"There's a mentality that's not pretentious or sanctimonious here," McConn said.

After a successful life, McConn is now ready to give back, especially to the sport of golf.

"There are three basic elements to life," he said. "Earn, learn and then return. I'm at the return stage of my life. I want to return what golf has given me."

Brian Wierima
Detroit Lakes Newspapers Sports Editor for the last 15 years. St. Cloud State University graduate, who hails from Deer Creek, MN.