Posthumous award goes to friend of golf

It is one of those open-ended words that means far more than the massive industry that is its multi-headed modern-day expression.

For Paul Backman, communication meant sharing information and fostering understanding among media members and golf industry professionals.

The news release, that staple of the public relations wing of the mass media world, showed up in an e-mail this week. It tells about a man, Backman, with deep Olympia roots, who died April 13 at age 41.

For the 12 years before his death, Backman was the executive director of the Western Washington Golf Course Superintendents Association and the Northwest Turfgrass Association.

“Because of this,” the news release said, “Paul quite literally touched every single golf facility in the Northwest.”

The author of the release, Tom Cade, is the director of communications and marketing for the Pacific Northwest Golf Association (PNGA) and editor of Pacific Northwest Golfer magazine.

Cade is also the current president of the Northwest Golf Media Association (NWGMA), of which Backman was a longtime member.

When the NWGMA gathers Monday for its annual season-ending banquet, a highlight will be the presentation of the NWGMA Distinguished Service Award. The recipient of this year’s award is Paul Backman.

Backman had a strong working relationship with press types, Cade said this week.

“He was smart about contacting the media and getting the word out,” Cade said, “not just for his own things, but for golf in general.”

As savvy as he was with newsies, he was even more valued by his peers. For Bob Pearsall, superintendent at the developing Salish Cliffs course near Shelton, he was a colleague and friend and “nerve center” for the newest and latest in maintenance, turfgrass and the craft they shared.

“I would pick his brain quite often,” said Pearsall, who dates his relationship with Backman to 1991. “He was just a good guy to get in contact with to learn what’s going on.”

Backman, a lifelong resident of Olympia, graduated in 1987 from Olympia High School, where he was a four-year letterwinner in golf and, as a senior, won the OHS Bud Ward Trophy.

Backman was back-to-back men’s club champion at Tumwater Valley Golf Course in 1988 and ‘89.

He went on to Western Washington University, where he played on the golf team. He transferred to Oregon State University and graduated with a degree in horticulture in 1992.

He worked at Overlake Golf and Country Club in Medina, and then moved on to become assistant superintendent at Everett Golf and Country Club. His local résumé includes jobs at Indian Summer and Hawks Prairie.

Backman earned a master’s degree in plant pathology and biological disease control from Penn State University in 1997, and then returned to the Northwest as a research assistant at the Washington State University Puyallup Research and Extension Center.

In 1998 Backman married Julie Forner in Olympia.

Cade credits Backman for bringing several golf course superintendents in as members of the golf media association … because he believed only good could come of better communication between media and the industry.

It was Backman who coordinated the efforts of the superintendents’ association, the PNGA/WSGA, the Club Managers Association and the Pacific Northwest Section PGA to develop a golf lobbyist in Olympia to represent the industry to the Legislature.

It was Paul who pestered reporters to write about a bill being pushed by then-Gov. Gary Locke which ensured the survival of high school and junior golf programs throughout Washington.

And it was Backman who led the work to compile information for the Economic Impact Study for golf in Washington, recently completed by the World Golf Foundation and Stanford Research Institute (The Olympian, March 9, 2010). The study was commissioned to educate the Legislature on golf’s significant contribution to the state’s economy.

All that bio stuff comes courtesy of the news release, of course. Indispensable as they are in the communications industry, releases can’t tell the story of the man.

Pearsall remembers Backman as a happy guy, always in a good mood. He worked hard to further the cause of superintendents and the game they supported, and was a touchstone for his fellow golf-maintenance pros.

“It really hurts,” Pearsall said. “So many times I think I could call Paul, and he’s not there. It hurts.”

The NWGMA’s annual award has more often than not been given to media members. Craig Smith, a longtime Seattle Times sportswriter, was the ’09 winner.

But achievement comes in many forms, and though a guy shouldn’t have to die to get recognized for it, voices from several directions agree this year’s winner is vastly deserving.

Olympia freelance writer Bart Potter can be reached at

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