The Illinois Golf Hall of Fame will add four new members on October 21st at The Glen Club in Glenview. The honorees are Steve Benson of Buffalo Grove, the late Robert A. Gardner of Hinsdale, Sherm Finger of Lake Bluff and Paul Voykin of Lake Bluff.
Steve Benson, 64, is one of the most decorated professional players in Illinois PGA history. He earned All-American honors while captaining the 1968 Michigan State University golf team and was named the Chicago District Golf Association (CDGA) Player of the Year twice (1971, 1972) after winning the 1971 CDGA Amateur Championship and the 1972 Illinois State Amateur Championship.
A three-time winner of the Illinois PGA Championship (1982, 1984, 1994) and Illinois PGA Match Play Championship (1981, 1982, 1989), Mr. Benson has continued his outstanding play as a senior, winning the Illinois PGA Senior Championship (2006) and the Illinois Senior Open Championship (1996, 1998, 2009). In 2006, he was named the Illinois PGA Senior Player of the Year.
In addition to his victories in the Illinois PGA, Mr. Benson also qualified to compete in many national events. The impressive list includes: 12 Western Open Championships, 4 PGA Championships, 1 U.S. Open Championship, 4 U.S. Senior Open Championships and 2 PGA Senior Championships.
In 1957, Sherm Finger, 67, started toward a career path in golf that would take him from his hometown of Wilmette, Ill., to Pasadena, Calif., to Fort Knox, Ky. and back to Chicago. Along the way he would become a collegiate All-American, Chicago District Golf Association (CDGA) Amateur Champion, and PGA head golf professional at two of Chicago’s most prestigious country clubs.
Mr. Finger started out as a caddy and worked the driving range at Westmoreland Country Club in Wilmette before focusing on golf his final two years in high school. The extra work paid off in 1963 when he earned a spot on the golf team at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, Calif.
Sherm Finger was very involved in the Illinois PGA, serving on the Board for over twenty years. He served on numerous committees and was elected by his peers through all of the officer chairs, culminating with his service as president in 1987 and 1988.
In addition to his collegiate success, Mr. Finger was an accomplished player on the local and national levels. In 1965, he won CDGA Amateur Championship, Pasadana (Calif.) City Amateur Championship and the Palm Springs (Calif.) Amateur Championship. He competed in the United States Amateur Championship four times (1961, 1962, 1964, 1965).
Robert Abbe Gardner, (1890-1956), was born in Hinsdale and won the 1909 United States Amateur Championship held at Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton. At the time, he was the youngest ever to do so at the age of 19 years and 3 months. The record stood for 85 years until Tiger Woods won his first U.S. Amateur at age 18 years, 8 months in 1994. In 1915, Mr. Gardner won his second U.S. Amateur Championship, which took place at Country Club of Detroit in Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich. He would go on to finish as the runner-up two additional times in 1916 and 1921.
An outstanding multi-sport athlete, Mr. Gardner was captain of both the golf team and the track team at Yale. In 1912, he set a world record of 13 feet 1 inch in the pole vault at the National Intercollegiate Championships in Philadelphia, Pa. He was the first person to ever vault over 13 feet.
Mr. Gardner played on the first four Walker Cup teams (1922, 1923, 1924, 1926) and served as playing captain for his last three. He finished as the runner-up in the 1911 Western Amateur Championship and 1920 British Amateur Championship and won the Chicago District Amateur Championship three times (1916, 1924, 1925), one of only three people in the history of the Championship with three victories.
Mr. Gardner graduated from Yale in 1912, where he was also a leader of the famed Yale Glee Club. He served as Vice President of the United States Golf Association from 1921-1925 and served on a number of USGA committees over the years. He also served as president of the CDGA from 1924-1927.
In his more than 50 plus years of work as a golf course superintendent, Paul Voykin, 80, innovated the way many golf courses look and are maintained today. What started out 39 years ago with a controversial presentation titled “Overgrooming is overspending” to over 600 high-ranking United States Golf Association (USGA) officials, has turned out to be the norm in today’s environmentally conscious society.
After serving three years at Olympia Fields, Mr. Voykin was named the head superintendent at Calumet Country Club in Homewood, Ill. In 1961, he was hired as head superintendent at Briarwood Country Club in Deerfield, Ill., where he remained for 47 years until his retirement in 2008.
After 10 years at Briarwood, Mr. Voykin, always experimenting, wanted to see what would happen if he let areas that did not affect play grow instead of mowing them and using fertilizers and other chemicals in those areas. The result was a colorful mix of plants, wildflowers, butterflies, dragonflies and unfamiliar types of grasses. Mr. Voykin began to let other areas of the course grow with the same result. Soon afterwards, because of those areas, a variety of wildlife began to exist at Briarwood, which still can be seen today.
Mr. Voykin was a pioneer in another area as he is credited with being one of the first superintendents in the country to hire Hispanic workers in the early 1960s. He created and administered a Mexican Open golf tournament for his employees to teach them about the game of golf. His long-time assistant Moe Sanchez started working with Mr. Voykin in 1964 at the age of 15 and was still there with him when he retired in 2008. He was honored by the golf course superintendents group in Mexico for his dedication and commitment to providing opportunities for Hispanic workers.
Among his many awards and recognitions, Mr. Voykin was named the 2003 Superintendent of the Year during the 75th Annual Golf Course Superintendents Association of America conference and was a former president of the Midwest Association of Golf Course Superintendents.