CU Golf Legend Dale Douglass Passes Away
BOULDER — Dale Douglass, the University of Colorado's first golfer to play on the PGA Tour, passed away in Scottsdale, Ariz., after a long illness Wednesday morning; he was 86.
At CU, he was a three-time, first-team all-conference performer, in the Big Seven in 1956 and the Big Eight in 1958 and 1959. He finished eighth, seventh and fifth, respectively in the league championships those years and remains one of just five Buffaloes to finish in the top 10 three times in a conference championship. He was inducted into the school's Athletic Hall of Fame in 2010, the second golfer after Hale Irwin to be so honored.
"Dale was so very proud of being from Fort Morgan and the University of Colorado," Irwin said Wednesday evening from Akron, where he is set to compete in a pro-Am. "He wore the school colors proudly. Personally, I've lost a close friend I've had for some 57 years. More importantly, golf has lost a real gentleman and a man who really championed golf throughout the country. He did so much for a lot of people, particularly in Colorado. There was never a bad word you heard from anyone about Dale Douglass."
"Dale was like my big brother and I was like his bratty little brother," he mused. "We throw the word mentor around a lot, but in Dale's case, I can elevate the word mentor to friend. I'll miss him."
"Back in the day before we had sponsors and all the courtesies we now have, you were pretty much on your own," Irwin recalled. "You had to drive yourself to most events, find your own hotel and arrange for a caddy on-site. It was a lot for a young guy to have to figure out, but Dale was the one who helped me navigate the tour. That in of itself was difficult for anyone – it was night and day compared to now."
Irwin was in Charlotte at the 1969 Kemper Open and watched him finish when he won by four strokes over Charles Coody, his second tour win at the time. In 1974, when Irwin won his first of three U.S. Opens at Winged Foot (Mamaroneck, N.Y.), both Irwin, Douglass (who tied for 18th) and their wives (Sally and Joyce, respectively) celebrated that evening with hotel room service, one of countless dinners the couples had together.
Douglass won three times on the PGA Tour (with three playoff losses) and was one of the early players to have great success on the Senior Tour (since renamed the Champions Tour). He won 11 times on that circuit, including one major, as he defeated the legendary Gary Player by one stroke in the 1986 U.S. Senior Open in Columbus, Ohio. He also had 26 runner-up finishes to go with his 11 victories.
He had four top 20 finishes in golf's majors: in 1969, he tied for 13th in the U.S. Open and for 19th in the Masters; he tied for 18th in the 1974 U.S. Open (when Irwin won) and tied for 17th in the 1975 PGA Championship. He became just the fifth player in history to play in 500 tournaments when he reached the mark in 2003 and won over $9 million as a professional. He had turned pro in 1960, earned his PGA Tour card in 1963 and joined the Senior Tour in 1986 where he would become a fixture for over 20 years, playing in exactly 600 Senior/Champions Tour events, with 151 top 10 finishes along with 283 in the top 25 (he made the cut an astonishing 567 times).
Colorado athletic director Rick George, when he was the president of the Champions Tour from 2003-08, had the opportunity to get to know Douglass.
"Dale was a class act," George said. "He was a true gentleman in every respect and carried himself on and off the course with grace and humility. He had a long and successful career, not only playing the game, but giving back to it as well."
Douglass created an endowment for the CU golf program and also sponsored an annual tournament in his name in Fort Morgan, among his many charitable causes.
"This is a very sad day for Colorado golf," CU head coach Roy Edwards said. "Dale Douglass is an icon at every level of the game. As great of a golfer as he was, he was even a better person. A true legend who was a tremendous friend to everyone."
"Years ago, I was particularly moved by how Hale spoke about Dale and what he meant to him," Edwards continued. "I was struck at Dale's assistance and support of Hale as he turned pro – the help he provided to a young man that was coming to the PGA Tour to beat him. He could have shunned him, protecting his own livelihood but instead Dale opened himself up and formed a brotherhood for life. The passion in Hale's voice showed how important it was for Dale to truly help people and his impact on Hale.
"The appreciation Dale had for his family, his hometown of Fort Morgan, Boulder, junior golf, golf in general, and the countless others who helped him in his life went beyond words and were consistent actions to him and his wife, Joyce, as they gave back to so many and certainly an example to all who knew him," Edwards added. He always had time for us when we asked. Always. Rounds with Dale at Castle Pines, Paradise Valley CC, and Estancia were annual traditions for the team. As were the post-round talks, lunches, and short game lessons. To this day, I have never seen anyone with such a 'smoothness' to his short game. He and his wife, Joyce, were givers – they were model Buffaloes and made Colorado Golf a much better place."
He served as a mentor to future players including several Buff alums on the Tour, not only to Irwin, but also to CU's 1996 U.S. Open champion, Steve Jones.
"We played a lot of golf together through the years, and gave me a lot of good advice as well as lessons," Jones said. "The one I remember most was at the start of the 1989 season, I got tips from him and Hal Sutton. Dale gave me some great tips on shots close to the green and in particular, chipping out of bunkers. They were pivotal in helping me win the first event that year, the MONY Tournament of Championships, and then the next week at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic.
"He was a good friend of the program," he added. "I first met him when (coach) Mark Simpson had him visit with the team. He helped us with advice in all areas of the game, especially with our swings. It is sad to hear the news, he meant a lot to the game of golf in Colorado."
CU's 1981 Big Eight champion, Terry Kahl, echoed George and Jones.
"A true gentleman that conducted himself with grace, class and humility," Kahl said. "As tremendous a golfer as he was, a better person and true friend to everyone. To Steve's point, when he was in town for our annual fund raiser or just visiting during off time from the Tour, he knew all of us, remembered all of us and was so giving of his time to help. I remember a year when we played in the Sun Devil event at ASU, he came to spend the day watching us and being a part of the team. He then stayed after to help with our games and answer any questions, then he and Joyce joined us for dinner. It was an honor to know him – he made everyone feel they were a friend for life, even if you just met him for the first time."
Born Dale Dwight Douglass on March 5, 1936 in Wewoka, Okla., he grew up in Fort Morgan, Colo., where he graduated high school before enrolling at CU in the fall of 1955. He was preceded in death by his wife, Joyce and is survived by her sister, Barbara Lebsock of Highlands Ranch. Services are pending but will be held in Colorado Springs.
"We were all really close," Irwin said of the relationship between the families. "It was really a tough time for Dale when Joyce passed. But I'm sure they're together now, with Dale having a golf club in hand, probably practice putting with his old McGregor tourney putter."