At 74 years of age, Chuck Renner completed a run at the 86th Pine to Palm golf tournament that is in one word - extraordinary. His play at Detroit Country Club has become legendary.
“The first time I heard somebody say, ‘Chuck, you’re becoming a legend around here.’ I told Mike Metelak (Pine to Palm Rules official) if I’m becoming a legend than we’ve got to go into a recruiting mode.”
Renner’s first appearance at the Pine was in the Seniors division in 2009 and a first-round draw with Dan Elton, who defeated Renner in sudden death.
In 2010, the first year of Super Seniors play, Renner won three matches before losing to Paul Krueger on hole No. 17 watching Krueger sink a 20-foot putt to get up and down from the bunker to claim the title.
“I stood over there watching the other match go on and said, ‘this is not going to happen again,’” said Renner. “I’ve got to start practicing hard and it started right there. I didn’t prepare properly.”
He went on to write the Super Seniors record book winning the next 27 straight matches, 33 of 37 in total, which included streaks of three medalist honors, six straight championships and an appearance in all nine finals.
“I remember Jack Rule (1958-60) had three in the championship division,” said Renner. “That’s impressive. I just wanted to get on the board once.”
Detroit Lakes’ Doug Gillam finally snapped the win streak at 27 in the 2017 finals and that loss was the beginning of end for Renner at the Pine to Palm.
“I just realized the fun’s gone because I’m no longer on the streak,” he said. “The streak was what made it so much fun.”
After this year’s tournament, Renner knew.
“I feel relieved, though,” he said. “I can’t go into this tournament and not work my butt off; I don’t know what it is.”
Other than one-day tournaments in the Phoenix area, Renner has made the Pine to Palm his trophy of choice each summer.
“It’s really the only tournament I play,” he said.
After running so many tournaments as a club professional, he was not into tournament action, just the Pine.
“I never ran anything like that though; it takes a big crew to do what they do,” he said. “I’m amazed at how good they are and it’s such a great tradition. I don’t think you can go anywhere in this country and find what this little town has here. It’s such a well-coordinated effort.”
Renner found out about the Pine by chance in Phoenix from visiting Bob Rath, a long-time member of the greens crew at Detroit Country Club.
The two struck up a conversation as Chuck and his wife Barb had been spending summers in Detroit Lakes since 2006.
Rath told Renner, “You’ve got to play the Pine to Palm; you can handle some of these guys.”
The rest is literally tournament history, especially the winning streak.
“I really hope it inspires others to play better, to grind it out and if they beat it, great,” Renner said. “If they don’t, I’ll be long gone when somebody does. It’s a target, just like the one I had on my back. It’s something to shoot for. If it inspires people, then I did a good job. I’m happy with that.”
Renner was inspired to pick up the game at nine-years old on a nine-hole golf course by his father in Des Moines, Iowa. That first round of golf had something baseball or basketball did not.
“I decided I’m going to have to work on golf,” he said. “Right about the age of 15, my dad told me, ‘I’m not going to put you through college; you’re going to have to figure out how to do it.’ So, I figured I better get a scholarship.”
Against the advice of the pro giving him lessons, Renner increased his strength by working out with weights and with hard work on the course secured a scholarship to Eastern New Mexico University - a big change from Iowa.
“It was a big move and boy, when you go to the desert southwest, they’re aren’t a lot of trees,” Renner laughed. “There are sand dunes, dust and dirt everywhere.”
His first round of New Mexico golf found him eyeing up a putt and a large tarantula crossing the green with lunch in his mouth.
“Back to his hole,” said Renner.
Renner served four years in the Navy and had the fortune to find himself stationed in great places to golf. He completed basic training in San Diego and communications school in Pensacola. His first duty station was in Norfolk, Virginia.
“I was lucky because you don’t know where you’re going to go,” he said.
In Norfolk, the division commander was nearing retirement and wanted to have a good golf team.
“I changed my billet there and became an administrative assistant for him, which was nice and we had a good golf team,” Renner said.
Renner and the naval team had to practice in distracting conditions from nearby underwater demolition teams that would frequently produce explosions in the back swing.
“That was a challenge on the first three holes, bombs going off,” he said.
Renner began meticulously tracking his own golf game while in the Navy keeping notes on each round. He has a trajectory chart noting each drive, approach, and how many putts attempted and their locations. It was the precursor to a version used by PING today.
“It all started because I had missed a green with a wedge on one hole and I missed again on a second hole,” Renner said. “If I had tracked that, I would have made an adjustment. I developed a saying, it is a Cardinal sin to miss a green with a wedge.”
Part of what makes Renner such an excellent golfer, something talked about by many at each PIne to Palm, is his smooth swing, but more so, his adaptation to and study of the game.
“You can address patterns, but you can’t do anything about sporadic results,” he said. “Until you start to break down information, there isn’t a lot you can do to deal with that.”
Renner got into making deals in the business of golf taking over a lighted par 3, mini-golf, driving range combination in New Mexico while completing his studies before becoming an assistant pro in Albuquerque. He moved on to a head professional position in Sun City, Arizona at a Del Webb development.
“He was the first to really do retirement communities and he did it right,” said Renner. “He built the golf course first.”
Renner decided to morph his profession after a decade in Sun City witnessing a change in the business.
“I had seen the golf industry change because the channels of distribution went away from the green grass golf pro shops to retail outlets,” he said. “Boy, when that happened, it changed everything.”
A friend pointed him in the direction of PING Golf, headquartered in Phoenix, and he spent nearly three decades there mastering his craft.
“The thing I had was experience on the other side of the counter. Having been a golf professional, I knew what I liked about dealing with PING and what I didn’t like about dealing with the other companies,” he said.
Renner started in fitting and became an instant problem solver, repairman and answer guy. Soon he was overseeing eight departments and involved heavily in the hiring process.
Renner mobilized the fitting department nationwide visiting pro shops and hiring experts to create an efficient, knowledgeable team to service PING accounts.
It was a refreshing change from the grind of the retail clubhouse, something that zapped his love for playing the game.
“I didn’t really care about playing after that; I’d rather go fishing,” he said. “I went away from it for a while. I didn’t have any real desire to play and my son really helped me with that. He told me he was going to beat me and I said, ‘Well, we’ll see about that.’”
Renner was focused on providing a level of service at PING that would be a difference maker.
“Really the motivation was to service the people and our accounts,” he said. “I had to be able to do a lot of different things to satisfy our executive management with our program.”
Renner and three others created the PING fitting manual and crisscrossed the country producing fitting seminars and driving-range sessions creating a boom in PING accounts.
He also found himself rejuvenated with the idea of playing and instructing.
“I felt because I was heavily involved with our fitting program that I better get back and start making sure I could help anybody no matter what their skill level was and just get back into it,” he said.
He also decided to help out his own game. That meant straightening out his swing from a right to left hooker to working the ball the opposite way.
“I started working; I’m going to need to hit more greens, more fairways and it took me part of a season before I really felt comfortable and could trust that,” he said.
Anyone who has seen him play knows how trusty Renner’s game is in top form, which includes a course-record 61 shot at Hawley Golf Club in 2014.
“That’s what is really fun and when you can no longer challenge those things it’s still enjoyable but the real excitement is gone, because you know you’re probably not going to do that again,” Renner said.
Eventually, the RV trip from Phoenix to Detroit Lakes is something the Renners might not do again either, but if golf won’t bring the champ back, there is one excitement that might.
“You can’t catch bass in Arizona like you can around here,” Renner said.