Golf Community Remembers Jim Ruschioni - MASSGOLF

Jim Ruschioni Remembered As Extraordinary Gentleman, Competitor Within Mass Golf Community

By Steve Derderian

Universal admiration. Even though integrity and sportsmanship are among golf’s core values, it might be lofty to consider anybody worthy of such a distinction. Over several decades, however, Jim Ruschioni came about as close as anyone to embodying such status within the Massachusetts golf community.

Ruschioni, a Leominster resident most of his life, was Mr. Longevity. In addition to winning over a dozen statewide and regional championships and tournaments, he shot his age more than 100 times and won over 20 club championships, his last at age 73. He earned the utmost reverence as a club member, particularly at Oak Hill Country Club in Fitchburg, and Wachusett Country Club in West Boylston.

More importantly, Ruschioni was equal parts competitive, encouraging, knowledgeable, and compassionate and discovered the ideal balance of enjoying golf amidst life’s constant demands. Particularly fond of team events, Ruschioni was everything golfers could want in a playing partner and more. That’s why golfers from every corner of the state were saddened to learn that Ruschioni passed away on May 14 after a months-long battle with pancreatic and liver cancer. He was 76.

“He was well respected, in every way, shape, and form,” said Jason Ruschioni, Jim’s son, who recently recalled several fond memories of winning the Mass Four-Ball (1996, 2001) and Wachusett Four-Ball together. “He was self-taught, never had a lesson, had the will to compete, and loved the game. If you respected the game and you shot 90, it didn’t matter. He loved to be around people who respected the game, and that’s the way he carried himself around the course.”

Ruschioni’s life will be celebrated from 2-5 p.m. June 9 at Wachusett Country Club. In lieu of flowers, the Ruschioni family has asked for contributions to support the Mass Golf Youth Fund, particularly First Tee — Massachusetts, in his memory. First Tee is a youth development organization that enables kids and teens to build the strength of character that empowers them through a lifetime of new challenges. Each year, First Tee – Massachusetts impacts more than 1,000 kids and teens at its green-grass programs and hundreds more through its Community Partner and Schools programs.

“Jim Ruschioni was always a phenomenal representative for our golf community here in Massachusetts,” said Jesse Menachem, Executive Director/CEO of Mass Golf. “He was a regular presence at our championships and tournaments — always competitive, yet always willing to share his wisdom and knowledge of the game with fellow golfers. Jim will be deeply missed by all within the Mass Golf and New England community.”

Online: Jim Ruschioni Obituary | First Tee — Massachusetts | Mass Golf Youth Fund

Jason Ruschioni, left, and Jim Ruschioni won several Mass Golf events together. (David Colt, file)

James D. Ruschioni was born in 1947 and took to the game early in life. He grew up 50 yards from the Winchendon Golf Club near the New Hampshire border in north Worcester County, where his father Dino was superintendent of the now-defunct Donald Ross-designed layout.

While Dino was a fine golfer himself, Ruschioni proved to be a natural athlete. He showcased his prodigious hand-eye coordination through baseball and golf, in particular. His first big golf achievement came in 1971 when he shot a course record 65 to win the Westminster Country Club Amateur-Guest Tournamen

While he would go on to have tremendous success in competitive golf, Ruschioni was your typical club golfer for most of his life. His play mainly was reserved for the Wednesday men’s league at Oak Hill and weekends. At age 20, he began his professional career at the General Electric plant in Fitchburg which spanned 31 years, retiring in December 1998. According to his obituary, “his professional acumen in his role as a Purchasing Agent made him well-respected by his peers and colleagues for his unwavering dedication.”

There was a similar sentiment when he joined Oak Hill in the 1970s and quickly rose to become the club’s best player. He won his first of 18 titles at the club in 1978, capturing at least one in every decade through his 18th title in 2005.

When he advanced to the 1985 Mass Amateur final, supporters rallied around him by donning T-shirts that said “Ruschi’s Army.” While he came up short against Steve Tasho in the 36-hole match, Ruschioni had another golden opportunity in 1987 when the New England Amateur came to Oak Hill. Fully aware he was a favorite given his course acumen, he shot 72 in a rainy opening round but cranked it up with a 67 in Round 2 to move into the lead heading Day 3, featuring the final 36 holes. Facing 90-degree heat and humidity, he was paired with 19-year-old David Cummings of Maine, who reportedly goaded Ruschioni (then 39), saying he was too old to win. By the lunch break, Cummings was out of contention and, in the closing stretch, was pulling for Ruschioni, whose final scoreline was 72-67-69-72-280, becoming the first player since Brad Faxon to win the title on his home course.

“This one is for the old guys,” said an exhausted Ruschioni, who also willed together the energy to secure an 8th club championship that weekend.

“Jim was the greatest champion in Oak Hill history and a tremendous ambassador for the club and the game of golf,” said Thomas Bagley III, former president of both Oak Hill and Mass Golf. “I don’t think there has ever been a player more respected by Mass Golf officials for his sportsmanship and character on and off the golf course. Mass Golf’s long-time Executive Director, Dick Haskell, told me many times that he felt that Jim was the best possible representative of amateur golf – a champion who worked for a living and had to use every hour of vacation time he had to play competitive golf. He was a great golfer, but an even better person, and will be sorely missed by all who knew him.”

Jim Ruschioni, left, shakes hands after winning the Boston Globe’s Tournament of Club Champions in 1987 at Concord Country Club. He won the title three straight years (1986-88). (Tom Herde/Boston Globe)

Jon Fasick became one of Ruschioni’s closest friends around the 1987 New England Amateur. Before the championship, the two played a practice round at Oak Hill. Though it was crowded, the pair went off the back nine, and Fasick marveled at Ruschioni’s ability to call out shots like a billiards player. As Fasick recalled, “I’d ask, ‘Which is the best side of the green,’ and he said, ‘Right where I hit it.’ And I’m saying to myself, ‘Why am I even playing in this?'”

After playing nine, the two went inside where Fasick had a proposal in mind. “I got this brilliant idea to ask him to play in some regional two-ball events I enjoy, and he said sure,” Fasick said. “We traveled to the Berkshires, Springfield, the Cape. We would bring our wives, and we got to be good friends.”

“People would ask who the best team is, and I’d say Jim Ruschioni and anybody,” he continued. “He made you a better partner. You could be shooting 80 and he’d keep you involved in the game and congratulate you on a good shot. He’d bring you over on a putt, even if he already had the read, and make you feel like you were contributing. After the round, we’d sit down. While other tables around you were talking about their rounds, and we’re talking about sports and life.”

Ruschioni and Fasick also were teammates at the year-end Tri-State Matches, but they weren’t exclusive playing partners. Jon and his twin brother Carter have won several state four-ball events together, while Ruschioni became close with Paul Nunez after playing together in Western Mass and crossing paths during USGA senior qualifying events. Nunez would also invite Ruschioni to Florida for weeks at a time so the two could enjoy the game in the offseason.

“They had a similar way they approached the game…both golf nuts,” Jason Ruschioni said. “Their personalities matched very well. It was seamless.”

Ruschioni’s last statewide win came with Nunez in the 2021 Senior Four-Ball, when they took home the Super Senior title (ages 65+). Nunez died unexpectedly in March 2022, and while Ruschioni was originally going to sit out the 2022 Senior Four-Ball, he stepped in to play with Fasick when his brother was out with an illness.

“Whoever he played with, he would be in the hunt,” Fasick said. “It wasn’t just about the golf; a lot had to do with friendship. People always said if you had a problem with Jim Ruschioni, you were the problem.”

Watch: Nunez & Ruschioni react to 2021 Super Senior Division win at Mass Senior Four-Ball

Frank Vana, Jr., a 2016 inductee into the Massachusetts Golf Hall of Fame, referred to Ruschioni as a mentor and dear friend. After Vana graduated from Assumption College in Worcester, he began to feel his way around the amateur golf scene, especially in Central Mass. He particularly recalled the big crowds at the Wachusett Four-Ball, where the Oak Hill tandem of Ruschioni and Ted Rockwell was the team to beat back them. But Vana was a good player in his own right, and despite being 14 years apart, they had a similar approach to the game.

“He’s a little quiet, I’m a little quiet, and then we’re paired together, and we became friends,” Vana said. “He didn’t have to pay attention to me, but we hit it off. We played hard and had a lot of fun, too. I’d ask him something, and he’d know everything about it, just like a walking encyclopedia.”

As much as Ruschioni encouraged and educated others, Vana humorously recalled when he and his caddy RJ Foley tried to lift Ruschioni’s spirits. The two were paired up in the 2002 Mass Amateur at Winchester Country Club. Vana was leading after day 1, while Ruschioni was on the verge of missing the cut for match play. Vana said they were able to encourage him to keep grinding pull him along, and he turned it around. They ended up playing head-to-head in the second round of match play and were tied on the 18th hole.

“I hit my drive down the middle, while he hit left in the rough with a bad lie and played his second only 100 yards up. I was long on the back fringe, and then he hit his next shot to 2 feet. I three-putt, and he wins the match. In Jimmy fashion, he did something great on the last hole.”

Jim Ruschioni holds the trophy for winning the New England Senior Amateur Super Senior Division in 2017 at Wethersfield Country Club. (David Colt, file)

Ruschioni continued to succeed into the 2000s, winning the Mass Senior Amateur title in 2006 and 2011 and earning the George M. Cohen Senior Player of the Year Award every year from 2003 to 2006.

Asked often which win meant the most, Ruschioni would point to the 1994 Wachusett Four-Ball, the first year Jason was eligible to compete after several years of caddying. “That was our first big victory together,” Jason said. “We would reflect on that a lot. We played in 20-25 Four-Balls, and we would discuss them all.”

While Jason has stepped away from competitive golf in recent years, golf is very much alive and well in the Ruschioni family. Last August, Jim, Jason, and his son Colin joined Jon Fasick for a round at Kettle Brook Golf Club in Paxton. While it was the last time they would play together as a family, Colin and his father will always remember it as the first time he outshot his father and grandfather.

“My son has the qualities as my dad, and my dad was his biggest fan,” Jason said of his son Colin. “He was pumping him up as he shot 71.”

Jason appreciates all the family memories made on the golf course.

“Not a lot of guys in this game that get to play with their father in a tournament,” Jason said. “He always had the consistency and drive and tried to forge your own way, and I was always Jim’s son. You don’t realize how fortunate you are to be able to say that until something like this happens. We played great courses and met great people, and to play at a high level with him was a huge honor. Not too many people who get to share that.”


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