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Kansas Golf Associaition

Prominent Kansas Golfer and Leader, David Dennis, passes at age 88

“He was a fierce competitor and a true gentleman, and those are qualities you rarely find in one man,” was the reaction of 5-time KGA Senior Player-of-the-Year Ron Brewer upon learning of death of David Dennis.

Hundreds of golfers throughout Kansas and the nation would have a similar thought about the Independence, Kansas native.  David Dennis was passionate about the game of golf while experiencing his greatest joy from the friends he made along the way in an amateur golf career that stretched over 50 years.   Dave passed away peacefully on March 16th at an adult care facility in his hometown with many family members and friends nearby.

David Dennis was one of the “Greatest Generation” of Americans that served in World War II (Navy) and embraced his small town roots, attended local schools and universities, excelled at sports, built a successful insurance agency, assumed a leadership role in his community and church while raising a loving and prosperous family – all in Independence, Kansas.  It was the game of golf that allowed him to travel the nation and show all he met his calm and friendly approach to the game and to life.

Dave found golf while still a schoolboy and built a rhythmic swing good enough to win the Kansas state high school golf championship in 1944 – for sand greens.  His conversion to grass greens was quick and equally successful.  He was the runner-up in the Kansas Amateur inDave Dennis - 1992 KGA Senior Amateur Champion 1947 at Salina Country Club losing out in the final match to Al Littleton, and he won the national junior college championship in 1948 while attending Independence Community College; this being after his service in the US Navy.

Dave’s second sport was basketball.  His shooting ability was good enough to attract the attention of legendary coach Phog Allen.  David easily accepted the offer to play basketball at the University of Kansas.  He was also a member of the KU golf team.  In fact, he became a 2-sport letterman at KU and he led the golf team to a Big Seven golf championship in 1950.  Decades later David would explain to his grandchildren, albeit tongue-in-cheek, that his KU basketball jersey number was “retired”.  His number was 26.  Shortly after his graduation from KU the rules of basketball were revised to limit the digits used on a player’s jersey to one from 0 to 5 because that was Dave Dennis - runner-up at 1971 Kansas Amateurthe number of fingers on a referee’s hand used to signal which player had just fouled!

In the summer of 1950 Dave continued his dominance of the Kansas golf scene by winning his first of two consecutive Kansas Amateur Match Play titles at Shawnee Country Club in Topeka.  Ironically, both wins in ’50 and ’51 were against the same final opponent, Willie White.  The rematch in 1951 took place at Manhattan Country Club.

Back at Shawnee Country Club for the 1954 Kansas Amateur, Dave posted the lowest stroke play score for the 36 holes making him the medalist and the number one seed in the match play bracket.  He advanced all the way to the final match where he met Jim English.   There was no shame in losing to English, a golfer who eventually also claimed the state amateur championship titles in Nebraska, Iowa and Colorado to go along with a Trans-Mississippi title.  That gave Dave two titles and two runner-up finishes over the course of eight years and he was only 27 years-old.

In the 1960s David teamed with fellow Independence CC member Don Dancer to play in the Heart of America Four-Ball in Kansas City.  They advanced to the finals in 1964 to lose to JimTom Watson & Dave Dennis Colbert and his partner Matt Tabor.  They were successful champions in the 1967 finals when The Heart was played at Indian Hills CC.

As a sign of his consistency with golf, Dave found himself in his fifth Kansas Amateur final match at the age of 44 in 1971 at Topeka Country Club.  His opponent was a much younger Frank Rose, who that day claimed his first of five Kansas Amateur titles, a record for most wins that still stands today.   That gave Dave his third Kansas Amateur runner-up finish, over 23 years!

Dave played in ten USGA national championships, including the 1948 U.S. Amateur Public Links where he advanced to the fourth round of match play, three U.S. Amateurs between 1951 and 1955, and three U.S. Senior Amateurs between 1984 and 1990 and three U.S. Senior Opens in 1982, 1985 and 1988.

His experience at the 1953 U.S. Amateur was the most noteworthy and memorable.  The championship was held at nearby Oklahoma City Golf and Country Club.  200 contestants qualified from a pool of 1,284 total entries.  In those days, the entire event was played at match play, so the bracket was quite large and included some early bye rounds.  Some notable players in the field included Arnold Palmer (who would win the U.S. Amateur the next year in 1954), William Campbell (future USGA president), Robert Goldwater (brother of presidential candidate Barry), Charlie Coe (amateur legend who won the U.S. Amateur in ’49 and ’58), Harvie Ward (who would win the U.S. Amateur in 1955), Ken Venturi (future golf legend), Billy Casper (future golf legend), Grant Spaeth (future USGA president), Eddie Merrins (would become the legendary golf pro at Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles who was an instructor to the game’s greatest players), Gay Brewer (future golf legend), and Frank Stranahan (’48 and ’50 British Amateur champion and runner-up to Palmer in ’54 U.S. Amateur).Dave Dennis at 1991 World Senior Invitational at The Broadmoor

Dave drew a first round bye at the ’53 U.S. Amateur and then advance through the second round with a 2&1 win over Joseph Gagliardi from Winged Foot.  In the third round he met an unknown amateur from La Jolla, California - Gene Littler.  The future U.S. Open champion (1961) beat Dave 3&2 and went on to win that year’s U.S. Amateur!  How might have golf’s table of champions been changed had Dave won that fateful matchup?

Turning age 55 opened the wonderful world of “senior” golf competitions for Dave Dennis.  With a little more time available from work and financially secure, Dave was able to begin competing all over the nation in senior events.  He won two Kansas Senior Amateur titles, the first in 1987 at Southwind in Garden City and his second in 1992 at Manhattan Country Club, the site of his second Kansas Amateur win.   In 1991 he won the World Senior Invitational at the famous Broadmoor Golf Resort in Colorado Springs.  In 1990 the Kansas Golf Association started a Senior Player-of-the-Year award and Dave Dennis won it in both 1990 and 1991.

By 1992 Dave Dennis had amassed such an impressive resume of golf accomplishments that he was honored with induction into the Kansas Golf Hall of Fame.  Fellow class members included Stan Thirsk (long-time Kansas City CC head pro and instructor for Tom Watson), Jean Ashley Crawford (U.S. Women’s Amateur champion), Virgil Parker (Kansas Amateur champion and KGA board member/president).

Dave teamed with long-time friend and fellow Independence CC member Odie Wilson (1976 Kansas Amateur champion) for several KGA senior team events.  They won the KGA SeniorDave Dennis at 1991 World Senior Invitational at The Broadmoor Four-Ball in 1994 at Manhattan CC and in 1998 they were co-champions at Tallgrass CC in Wichita (where Wilson eagled the final hole of regulation from 150 yards to put their team into a playoff that ended after 4 holes due to darkness).  Later in 1998 Dave partnered with another Kansas Hall of Famer, Bill Toalson, to win the KGA Senior Team at Manhattan CC.  Note: Dave Dennis won four KGA titles at Manhattan Country Club!

David Dennis was always recognized for his calm demeanor on and off the golf course along with his friendly and engaging personality.  His opinion was valued so much so that in 1960 he was elected to the Kansas State Golf Association board of directors and later served as the association president in 1973 and 1974.  Dave along with a group of other forward-thinking KGA directors hatched the idea in 1983 that the KGA needed to hire a full-time executive director to grow and guide the KGA into the modern era of golf.  They hired Brett Marshall who served in that position until 1993.   Marshall had the following recent statement about Dave:

“He was the consummate amateur golfer and gentleman. You always knew that Dave would give you his best in competition, but he was always the most fair and generous player in the group. As far as his playing skills, I always wondered if he ever missed a fairway, or missed a putt. He had as good a short game as any player I watched during my years at the KGA.  Dave gave so much of his time and energy to the Kansas Golf Association, and his contributions are immense. I was privileged to be at the Kansas City
Country Club in 1992 when he was inducted into the Kansas Golf Hall of Fame. He was among the group of experienced KGA Board members, who saw the opportunity to grow the organization and played a big role in that movement in the 1980s.”

Dave Dennis at 2000 Kansas AmateurKim Richey, the current KGA executive director who followed Marshall, had this story about Dave Dennis:

“In 2000 we were preparing for the Kansas Amateur Match Play Championship to be played at Topeka Country Club.  I called Dave to point out that it was the 50th anniversary of his first Kansas Amateur win.  I wasn’t trying to make him feel old, but rather to invite him to use his lifetime exemption from qualifying to enter the event.  He agreed that was a great idea!  The night before the championship started with the stroke play qualifying, the KGA presented Dave with a trophy memento recognizing his win 50 years ago.  The next day, playing with Ron Brewer and Fred Rowland, Dave shot 73 – which happened to be his age at the time!   That feat was reported in the USGA’s Golf Journal magazine the following month.  The rest of the story is that Dave shot a 76 in the second round for a total of 149, which meant he would be seeded into the 64-player match play bracket.  Dave came to me with his problem – he HAD to be home that evening in Independence (a two hour drive) for a dinner party his wife was hosting so he would have to withdraw from the event.  When we determined that his first round match would be after 11:00 a.m. Dave excitedly proclaimed “I’ll be back tomorrow!”  He lost that match to a colle
ge player by a 7&5 margin, but he was the story of the championship.”

Ten years later the KGA would be conducting its 100th Kansas Amateur Match Play Championship at Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson.  Dave Dennis quietly donated the funds needed to purchase and create a new Kansas Amateur trophy – one that should last another century!

All avid golfers set performance goals, usually based on scores and maybe titles won.  But the interesting thing about golf is that most other golfers don’t remember the specifics of scores posted, shots made or tournaments won.  What they remember most about other golfers is what kind of person they played alongside during the trip through 18 holes.  Dave Dennis is remembered today by hundreds of fellow golfers throughout the nation as a man recently described in this way by Don Kuehn, two-time Kansas Senior Amateur champion:

“Not having played in a lot of tournaments during my working years, the first time I was paired with Dave in a senior event it was just another tournament for me.  I didn’t know my fellow competitor was a former Kansas Amateur champion.  I didn’t know he had won the KGA Senior in 1987, and I had no idea about the longevity of his great golf career.  And nothing Dave said or did that day or since betrayed that secret.  There was no braggadocio, no hint of ego, no show of superiority.  He was just there to play his best and to let the chips fall where they may.  What a pleasant, gentle man he was.  Dave Dennis is an inspiration to me and to every Kansas golfer who knew him.  We should all enjoy the longevity, the grace and dignity he showed over what must have been a near 70+ year run as one of the most respected amateur golfers in Kansas.”

David Dennis leaves a family to honor his memory: his son Bo (wife Vanessa) Dennis of Independence; daughters Debi (husband Bart) Duckworth of Houston, Texas, and Judi Hastings of Denver, Colorado; brother Robert Dennis of LaQuinta, California; along with seven grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

Thank you Dennis family and the City of Independence for giving us and sharing with us your favorite son – David Dennis!