Rick Jones took to golf early in life.
For so many years, the golf course was like a second home for Jones – a place to soak up the fresh air and sunshine and take in the abundance of spectacular scenery after a day at work, a place to practice and play, a place to test and challenge himself during a round, a place to meet people and strike up a conversation over the course of a few hours, a place to take his mind off of text messages, emails and phone calls.
Jones played the game as a left-hander, but only had right-handed clubs when he started, his wife, Christy Jones said.
“He learned the game of golf using right-handed clubs and flipping them over. So when they gave him left-handed clubs, he was hitting them the correct way. All of a sudden he was like, ‘Oh, this game’s easy,’ ” Christy said. “He was really good at golf.”
Growing up, Rick Jones played golf close to his home in Baldwinsville, a village that is located in the Syracuse area of New York. He played on his high school team, at Baker High, and also worked on the grounds crew at a course.
He was the first person from his immediate family to go to college, attending Cornell University, a member of the Ivy League.
He was interested at one time in playing on the golf team at Cornell, but realized it would be too much with all of the work and time spent taking classes as a civil and environmental engineering major.
“I think that he enjoyed the camaraderie of getting out with friends and playing, but he also went out as a single, meeting new people. He was always just really gracious to people,” said Christy Jones. “He was just super kind.”
“He used to teach golf. He helped me get a lot better at golf. He was always just so patient and so kind about it.”
“He enjoyed playing golf. He enjoyed teaching it. It was just something fun for him to do.”
Christy and Rick met at Cornell as freshmen. They were in the same dormitory, on the same floor. They graduated the same year, 2003. Christy also majored in civil and environmental engineering.
When Christy took a job in Sacramento after college, she soon let Rick know about a golf facility – the Haggin Oaks Golf Complex, which features the Alister MacKenzie Golf Course, Arcade Creek Course, Haggin Oaks Academy Holes, MacKenzie Putting Course, and Player Performance Studio.
“After college, I had a job lined up in Sacramento, through my college advisor, and Rick had a job in Syracuse. We were across the country from each other for a little while,” said Christy Jones.
“I told him that he could choose anywhere in the United States to go live and we would make it work. The jobs were tough to get at that point, so he decided to come to Sacramento and join me since I already had the job.
“I said, ‘Rick, there’s a driving range here that’s open 24/7, the Haggin Oaks Driving Range.’ I was like, ‘You can play golf literally 24 hours a day, seven days a week here.’ You know, I laugh – that was the hook that got him,” Christy said recently.
Rick Jones traveled west and got a job at an engineering firm in the Sacramento area in 2004. He soon discovered Haggin Oaks and played a lot of his golf there, joining Christy in a Tuesday night nine-hole league in the summertime.
Rick and Christy loved Sacramento so very much – the restaurants and breweries, the closer proximity to Lake Tahoe for skiing, the fact that they were close to wineries in Napa County, Amador County, and Lodi. They also enjoyed going to the coast.
“We had good jobs. We had good friends. We just had fun,” said Christy.
Later this year, Christy Jones will leave her home in Washington, D.C., where she works for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and go to Sacramento.
She is president of Jones’n for a Cure, a nonprofit foundation that honors her late husband, Rick Jones, who died on Nov. 4, 2017, after a four-year battle with an inoperable malignant brain tumor. Rick Jones was 36. He was diagnosed in 2013 with glioblastoma.
Glioblastoma is an aggressive type of cancer that can occur in the brain or spinal cord, according to www.mayoclinic.org.
A golf tournament, Jones’n for a Cure, now in its fourth year, is on Sept. 27 at Haggin Oaks and is played in memory of Rick Jones. He played the game at a very high level – like a scratch golfer, shooting scores right around par.
“I encourage anybody who is looking for a fall tournament, when the weather’s good and the vibe is fabulous, to come check us out because I think they would have a great time and they would know they’re there supporting a really great cause,” said Richard Ehisen, a member of the foundation’s board of directors.
Proceeds from the tournament go to the National Brain Tumor Society.
“I don’t know of many people that could have faced it like he did. He never gave up. He always wanted to continue to work. He didn’t want pity from anybody,” said Christy Jones.
“We just lived our lives and rolled the (chemotherapy) into it and rolled whatever else into it that we had to. We kept up with the things that we’d like to do as much as we could until we couldn’t anymore.
“He faced things so bravely and he fought so hard.”
This fall marks the fourth year of Jones’n for a Cure Tourament, which has raised $70,000 for the National Brain Tumor Society.
On its Facebook page, www.facebook.com/jonesnforacure, the tournament reported: “We are beyond excited to be able to donate $27,500 to the National Brain Tumor Society after this year’s Jones’n for a Cure golf event. Despite the major challenges of 2020, the golfers, sponsors, volunteers, and friends from near and far showed their amazing generosity and made this our best year yet!!
A special thanks to Haggin Oaks Golf Complex for working with us to host a fun and safe event. Your support in helping us raise valuable funds for the NBTS and remember Rick continues to motivate us year after year. We’ve donated an incredible total of $70,000 in our first three years.”
The tournament, which has the support of sponsors, is open to the public. It’s open to 144 players.
Christy Jones leads the event’s board of directors as president. Also on the board are Mike Konieczki, Virginia Rynk, Kathleen Ward, Tyler Hatch, Katie Hatch, Chuck Vertucci, and Richard Ehisen.
The tournament features one hole on the course where every player has to hit the opposite club off the tee. For example, if you are right-handed, you hit with a left-handed club off that tee.
“We added that into the golf tournament as a tribute to Rick,” said Christy.
“We welcome everyone to this golf tournament, with or without knowing Rick. It’s a fun day out on the course, with some fun surprises as you wind your way around the golf course.”
Ehisen and Christy Jones spoke a few years ago about putting on a golf tournament in Rick Jones’ memory. The reaction and feedback that Ehisen got after the first year were so very positive.
“I had a lot of people come up to me and say, ‘Wow, this was so much more than what we expected. This was great. It was fun. And everything was so professional. Not only am I going to play next year, I’m going to get my company to be a hole sponsor or donate,’ ” said Ehisen.
It’s an all-volunteer board that works so hard throughout the year to put on a great event.
“The first year we raised about $17,000. It’s gone up by a significant amount every year since. We’re just eight Type-A individuals who all love Rick. And we all wanted to do something that we felt made a positive out of a very terrible negative, something we thought Rick would be proud of,” said Ehisen. “We really do strive to attend to every detail.
“We’ve had great support from sponsors. We have people sponsor us from across the country.
“The National Brain Tumor Society is a fabulous partner. They’ve been great and very supportive. They’ve been helpful at every turn.”
Ehisen expressed thanks and appreciation to the staff at Haggin Oaks for all the help and support that goes into putting the tournament on each year.
“I can’t say enough about what a great partner Haggin Oaks has been,” said Ehisen. “They have helped at every step of the way to make this a super professional tournament. They have been fabulous. “The people at Haggin Oaks have just been fantastic. We can’t thank them enough for how great they’ve been to work with.”
Before he passed away, Christy told Rick that she was going to put on a golf tournament. The National Brain Tumor Foundation and the Brain Tumor Society merged in 2008, forming the National Brain Tumor Society, according to braintumor.org.
“Rick and I never wanted other people to have to go through this. And if they did, then what could we do to help make it better,” said Christy Jones.
“Part of the reason that I’m doing this is that I really want to help the families who are going through this. Working with the National Brain Tumor Society … their mission is to cure and conquer brain tumors, once and for all. And in my mind, that’s exactly what I want to do. I’m super aligned with what they are doing. They’ve got the ability to get into the research for brain tumor treatments.”
According to its website, braintumor.org: “Today, the National Brain Tumor Society continues its legacy of driving research accomplishments and discoveries toward treatments, servicing, guiding, and preparing patients to face their disease, changing public policy agendas through country-wide advocacy, and providing a powerful voice that unites the brain tumor community.”
According to jonesn-for-a-cure.perfectgolfevent.com:
“Jones’n for a Cure is a 501(c)(3) Public Charity created by Rick’s wife Christy and a few of his close friends to honor his memory. A golf tournament is a great way for us to turn something bad into hopefully something good for others. Rick and Christy always believed that there had to be a way to help other people not go through the same thing they went through. By signing up for this tournament, you are helping Rick achieve that belief.”
Rick Jones enjoyed getting out and playing golf around the Sacramento area. Besides Haggin Oaks, he also played at Teal Bend Golf Course in Sacramento, Whitney Oaks Golf Club in Rocklin, Darkhorse Golf Course in Auburn, and WildHawk Golf Club in Sacramento.
He and Christy would also travel to places to play golf.
Rick had a solid all-around game and was also a gentleman every step of the way, said Ehisen.
“Nobody in the world is a saint or perfect or what have you, but I can’t think of anybody who would have anything ever bad to say about Rick,” he said.
“He was so smart. He really was one of those guys who was probably the smartest guy in any room you went into, but he never acted like it. He was always such a gracious person. He could add something to any conversation, to any event. He always did it with such class.”
“He was a fun guy and a great golfer, a great shotmaker. He was very consistent, very accurate, a tremendous ball striker, a very solid putter with a great short game.
“Rick could have fun playing with anybody. I played a few rounds with him where he wasn’t really on his game, but he had the same demeanor, just always so even keel.”
Rick Jones was diagnosed in 2013. He was told he probably had 18 months to live.
“It was cancerous from day one,” said Christy. “When he was first diagnosed, he was stage two.”
More tests came back.
“They said, ‘You have got this DNA deletion in the tumor, that this one chemo is really good at fighting. So actually, we’re going to estimate about 7 to 17 years. That’s the chemo that he took for about a year and he went through radiation,” said Christy.
Christy asked Rick one day in 2013: “What’s on your bucket list?”
Rick’s response: to travel to the Open Championship, one of golf’s majors.
“I said, ‘OK, we will make that happen. We’re going next year. So we did. And that was really amazing. He was still taking chemo at that point. We went and we saw Ireland and Scotland. We played golf in Scotland,” said Christy.
Rick and Christy went to Open Championships in 2014, at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, Wirral, England, and 2017, at Royal Birkdale Golf Club, Wishaw, Sutton, Codfield, England.
Rick Jones was in remission, starting in 2014, for a little less than three years.
The tumor resurfaced in 2017.
“They said, if it comes back, it’s going to come back really malignant, really fast. It’s going to go quick. And when it came back in 2017, I mean it was aggressive. We tried a bunch of different things, but it was just too much,” said Christy.
On the foundation’s event page, jonesn-for-a-cure.perfectgolfevent.com, organizers point out:
“Rick was one of those special people who you don’t get to meet very often, always willing to share a joke, always ready to hang out for some golf or a beer, and never willing to give up the hope that things would always get better. He is missed by his family and so many friends.”
For more information
For registration information or more information on the tournament, go to http://www.jonesnforacure.com/ or on the event’s Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/jonesnforacure, or call Haggin Oaks at (916) 481-GOLF.
* Marty James is a freelance writer who makes his home in Napa. He retired on June 4, 2019, after spending 40 years as a sports writer, sports editor, and executive sports editor for the Napa Valley Register, a daily newspaper in Napa County. He is a 1979 graduate of Sacramento State and a member of the California Golf Writers & Broadcasters Association. He was inducted into the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Hall of Fame in 2016.