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Jim Wise is retiring from Rogue Valley Country Club. Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch

The Back Nine

Jim Wise did what came naturally to him as a young man with time on his hands.

He played a round of golf.

What transpired immediately after, however, was anything but routine, for it changed his life.

Wise, fresh out of the Navy and preparing to return to college to become a physical therapist, was met as he came off the 18th green at Rogue Valley Country Club that fateful day by Tom Clark, a friend since childhood and the top assistant to RVCC head pro Ron Caperna.

"Another one of the assistant pros was leaving," recalls Wise, "and (Clark) asked me if I wanted to be a golf professional."

Wise told Clark he knew little about the profession other than being around golf as a kid.

"We talked about it over a couple of beers and I said yes," says Wise. "Thirty-nine years later, I'm retiring."

Wise, who turned 65 last Saturday, will step down at the end of the year. He cites a desire to spend time with his family — "The family is growing in grandkids," he says — and to pursue other interests: hunting, fishing, working in his wood shop and, sure, playing golf.

A popular adage is, if you like to play golf, don't become a club pro. When the conditions are ripe for playing, that's when the people you take care of play.

"That's absolutely true," says Wise, noting that he got in about a dozen rounds in 2010.

Wise will be replaced by Tracy Snyder, an assistant at the club for 11 years. Snyder takes over Jan. 1.

Wise started as an assistant in mid-April, 1973, then became the head pro on Jan. 1, 1981, replacing Caperna. When Wise walks away, his nearly four-decade run at RVCC will be the longest at a private club in Oregon and the second longest in the Pacific Northwest Golf Association, which includes five states and part of Canada, according to Jeff Ellison, PNGA executive director.

"I think it's just great he stayed there that long," says Clark, who owns Neskowin Beach Golf Course, north of Lincoln City. "That's hard to do. He's done a wonderful job."

Clark, who years ago sold Caperna on the hire, remembers chatting about the job with Wise.

There was little doubt in Clark's mind that his friend could handle it. The two played golf together in the stellar Medford High program before graduating in 1964. They both played at Oregon State and both went through naval aviation training and served the country.

"Definitely," says Clark. "Jim is a very flexible, capable person. It takes a lot of maturity and stick-to-itiveness to get through the (aviation) program he went through. By the time you're operational, you're probably in the last 10 percent of those who applied. If you can make it through, you can do anything, and he can."

Wise was born in Redmond and was introduced to golf at age 6 by his father at Juniper Golf Club. The family moved to Medford two years later, and after dabbling in tennis, Wise settled into his two sports passions, golf and basketball.

He lettered one year at Medford High in the former and served three years as the basketball team manager for coach Frank Roelandt.

Wise attended Southern Oregon State College and played in the club golf program that would go to the NAIA national championships during his two years.

"We had a bunch of guys who liked to play golf," says Wise. "We put a team together and ended up being pretty good."

Al Akins was the coach. He oversaw a 36-hole qualifier, made the cuts and that was the team, says Wise.

One of the members was Len Creason, who was 48 when Wise was 18 and was "one of the better amateurs who ever played in Medford. He's still the oldest All-American in the history of the NAIA."

Wise transferred to Oregon State, but transfer rules prevented him from joining the golf team as a junior. Instead, he won the intramural championship, earning a six-inch trophy that still is on display at his fraternity, Delta Upsilon.

A year later, he was on a Beaver team that barely missed out on the NCAA championships. The team came up one stroke shy in the Pac-8 Conference tournament at Los Angeles Country Club.

Soon after, Wise, with the encouragement of Clark, signed up for the Navy. Wise spent six years in the service and golf took a back seat.

"The designation of being an aviator was far more important than playing golf," says Wise.

Indeed, Wise was a lieutenant on the mission that recorded the last air combat victory of the Vietnam War when he and his F-4 Phantom fighter crewmates brought down a North Vietnamese MiG-17 fighter over the Gulf of Tonkin. It happened on Jan. 12, 1973, as peace talks were going on in Paris.

The mission was launched from the USS Midway, which has been decommissioned and converted into a museum in San Diego. Wise, who did two tours of Vietnam from 1971 to '73, and the other crew members are among those immortalized on the Midway.

Wise did manage to find his way to golf courses from time to time. He won the 7th Fleet championship while stationed in Atsugi, Japan, in 1971, and he remembers an immaculately manicured facility.

"It was done by a lot of little ladies in bamboo hats on their knees," says Wise. "There was not a weed anywhere."

When Wise left the service and the option of becoming a golf pro was broached, it didn't take much to convince him to wave off college.

"Part of the naval experience, especially aviation, is that you're in a constant state of education and high-demand situations," says Wise. "I wasn't sure I wanted to go back and be a student again."

One thing he found out early, he says, was that with a 27-hole facility and a thriving membership, RVCC was among the largest private clubs in the Northwest and among the busiest for rounds played annually.

Dealing with regular play, organizing tournaments, giving lessons, handling merchandise, cart concessions and the driving range were among the chores.

Bob Harrell, a member since 1966 and a top amateur player, believes a job that required so many hats was perfect for Wise.

"He's as organized as any pro I've ever been around," says Harrell, "maybe more. I'll tell you, they're going to miss him when that Southern Oregon (Golf Championships) comes around and he's not there to run it. He puts in the hours in the week."

Next week's SOGC will be the 82nd, and when he finishes overseeing his last one, Wise will have had a hand in running nearly half of them.

RVCC general manager Jim Norris says Wise is the consummate pro when it comes to the myriad duties of the profession.

"But the thing that impresses me more than anything," says Norris, "is his integrity and honesty. Deep down, he's just a good guy. He's there for the club and members 100 percent. There's no question about where he stands, and his values, and the club is always first on his mind."

Among the most satisfying tasks for Wise through the years has been giving lessons.

"You have to have a good understanding of the golf swing but also the ability to communicate it to many, many different personalities," he says. "It's a challenge to do that and do it well and see the results at the end of the lesson period. That's really enjoyable. The student may be 10 years old or 80."

Two things he's particularly proud of are the number of assistants he's helped train to become head professionals, and the sustained success of the area's junior golf, for which he's been a chief advocate and administrator.

"It's a true delight watching these 8-, 9-, 10-year-olds walking down to the range carrying golf bags as big as they are," he says. "I think you can only truly appreciate that if you sit there and watch it happen."

He's done so for years, and for years to come, those kids and others will be reminded of his legacy.

A plaque was fashioned three years ago and affixed to a large rock by the No. 1 tee box on the Rogue Course. It features an inscription hailing Wise as a friend and countryman. Above it are the RVCC logo and a replica medallion signifying Wise's military service — which occurred well before the notion of becoming a golf pro.

"You look back, and it seems like it happened overnight," he says.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or e-mail ttrower@mailtribune.com

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