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Keene's Blaisdell Knows the Rules

Pete Blaisdell
Pete Blaisdell

KEENE, N.H., 1/4/08 - Snow might be filling the bunkers at the Keene Country Club and covering the greens at the Bretwood Golf Course, but that hasn’t stopped Pete Blaisdell from thinking about the sport he calls the “most difficult in the world to play.”

While he’s played some of the top courses in New England and around the country, Blaisdell, son of late Senate President Clesson “Junie” Blaisdell, is the first to admit that his game needs a little work. But when it comes to knowing the rules of golf, the Keene native goes right to the top of the leader board. If you want to play the sport, you have to know the rules. And if you have a question about a rule or an interpretation, then Blaisdell is your man.

Calling the rulebook his “bible,” Blaisdell knows the 34 rules and 1,200 decisions like some people know their street address. Knowing the rules, however, is just the beginning of the game. “Most people think a golf official is someone who sits in a cart with a radio and just waits to get a call to make a ruling,” said Blaisdell. “But it’s more involved than that. I don’t care if it’s at the local level or all the way up to the PGA tour and the U.S Open. It’s a logistical challenge.”

No one was more up to the challenge than Blaisdell, who has been monitoring thee fairways and greens for 28 years. This past summer he officiated his 500th event.

Blaisdell couldn’t have had a better role model than his father. In addition to his work at the statehouse, Junie Blaisdell was also a devoted sportsman. The co-founder of the Keene Little League, he also helped to get the Keene Babe Ruth League off the ground, assisted in the formation of the N.H. Special Olympics, and was one of the original organizers of the Keene Swamp Bats.

“You never knew who was going to be in the living room when I came home from school,” said Blaisdell. “My dad knew everybody.”

Junie’s friends included Ted Williams and Red Auerbach. He used to bring the Celtics up to Keene High School for a preseason intra-squad scrimmage,” Blaisdell said. “I was always the ball boy and got to rub shoulders with Bill Russell, the Jones boys (Sam and KC), and Bill Sharman.”

Junie, who owned a sporting goods store on Roxbury Street, also served as a scout for the Los Angles Dodgers and was a highly respected basketball official. He still holds the record for refereeing 54 state finals. He even had the opportunity to join the NBA’s officiating crew. “My father was tempted, but he was so involved with the community, he passed on it,” Blaisdell said.

Although he went out for several teams at the University of New Hampshire, Blaisdell, who stood 5 foot 10 inches and weighed 145 pounds at the time, quickly learned he didn’t have the size needed to play college sports. A devoted baseball fan, he instead began umpiring games while still attending Keene High School. Initially umpiring Little League games, he quickly moved up the ladder to Babe Ruth, high school, American legion, and the college ranks, taking advantage of his father’s many contacts. Blaisdell also served as a bird dog for the Baltimore Orioles.

Blaisdell, who returned to Keene to help run the family business and complete his degree at Keene State in 1973, also got his start as a golf official at the local level. Running his father’s local political office, he began conducting events at Keene Country Club and Bretwood and was later asked to join the New Hampshire Golf Association Board of Directors in 1986. Working numerous tournaments and getting involved with the United States Golf Association, Blaisdell attended rules workshops sponsored by the U.S. Golf Association (USGA) and PGA of America and earned his national certification in 1994. It wasn’t long before he was working his first national championship.

You name the major tournament and Blaisdell has been there. Crisscrossing the fairways of New England and the country, he has officiated 47 USGA championships, including the U.S. Open, the U.S. Amateur, Senior Open, Public Links, the Senior and Mid-amateur and the boys’ Junior. He has made rulings for current starts such as Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia as well as legends like Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.

For all the big names that Blaisdell has made a ruling, he says the toughest assignment is right in his backyard. “You might have to penalize a guy from the local bank who just gave you a car loan.” he said.

Depending on the tournament, Blaisdell could find himself walking the course with a group, serving as a rover, or doing his favorite job, working as a setup man. Getting to the site a few days before the start of competition, the setup man is responsible for a plethora of jobs, ranging from marking and lining fairways and hazards, defining out of bounds, measuring greens, and determining hole locatons. On numerous occasions, Blaisdell has found himself on the edge of a water hazard pulling up old stakes.

“You can’t believe how much effort and physical labor goes into doing this,” Blaisdell said.

Upon completion, Blaisdell sits down and writes up the local rules pertaining to that specific course.

Except for the hole that is 4¼ inches in diameter and putting a tee within two club lengths of the designated area, every golf hole in the world is different. That’s why there are so many rules and why the sport needs officials such as Blaisdell.

Despite long hours and work that lacks the high profile of baseball and football umpires and referees, Blaisdell has had the opportunity to watch top golfers perform their magic on some of the top courses in the world.

“To watch a player like Woods or Garcia hit the green out of hazard with a shot they have no business making defies description,” Blaisdell said.

He also understands the tremendous pressure on the golfers to perform. “There are no contracts,” he said. “You got to make the cut to get a check no matter who you are.”

Spending long hours on the links, Blaisdell has not only gotten the chance to watch, but has also gotten the chance to know some of the tours’ top names. “Tiger Woods didn’t always get what he wanted, but he was always a gentleman,” Blaisdell said. “He’s very firm, but very civil. Some players aren’t like that.”

Blaisdell won’t forget the first time he met Arnold Palmer. Following a round at the senior open in Des Moines, Iowa, several officials and players had congregated at the local hotel lounge to exchange war stories. One of the officials told Palmer about Blaisdell’s daughter, Laura, who had been diagnosed with cervical cancer. Palmer, whose first wife, Winnie, was also battling ovarian cancer at the time, sat down beside Blaisdell.

“Arnold wanted to know everything about my daughter,” Blaisdell said. “He said, ‘tell her to keep plugging and don’t give up.’”

A year later at the Saucon Valley Country Club in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Blaisdell got an unexpected tap on the shoulder. “It was Palmer, asking about my daughter,” Blaisdell said. “Guys like that don’t do stuff like that. But that’s Arnold Palmer.”

A passionate man himself, Blaisdell has an affinity for the countless golfers looking to make the cut and earn their professional card. He helps oversee the rules and competitions for the North American Pro Golf Tour, which helps everyone from college kids to veteran players get up to the big time. “Some of these guys are living out of the car or living six to a room,” Blaisdell said. “You meet a lot of guys like that along the way.”

With a wife Carol, a son Robert, and daughter Laura, not to mention a fifth grand child on its way, Blaisdell, 57, said he would like to cut back on his schedule a little bit. But it won’t be easy.

“There’s no where I’d rather be, outside of my family, than out on a golf course, especially early in the morning when the sun comes up and the first tee goes in the ground,” he said.

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