Colorado Sports Hall of Famer Dale Douglass, a highly accomplished tour player for more than 50 years, passes away at age 86
By Gary Baines – 7/6/2022
Colorado Sports Hall of Famer Dale Douglass, who won three times on the PGA Tour and counted the 1986 U.S. Senior Open among his 11 PGA Tour Champions victories, passed away on Wednesday in Scottsdale, Ariz., after being in failing health in recent years. He was 86.
A native of Oklahoma, Douglass grew up in Fort Morgan, attended the University of Colorado and lived in Boulder, Arizona and Castle Pines in his adult years. Beyond his own stellar career, he’s often credited for helping lay the groundwork for World Golf Hall of Famer Hale Irwin as he preceded him as a CU golfer and on the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions.
“Dale was so very proud of being from Fort Morgan and the University of Colorado,” Irwin told CUBuffs.com on Wednesday. “He wore the school colors proudly. Personally, I’ve lost a close friend I’ve have 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.”
Douglass, along with fellow Coloradan Jennifer Kupcho, were recipients of the inaugural Hale Irwin Medals — which recognize outstanding Colorado golfers who “exhibit competitiveness, resiliency and a proven record of winning” — back in 2019.
“When I started on the tour it was sort of a natural attraction to lean on Dale,” Irwin said at the time. “It shows you how far the tour has come, but back then there was no advance housing and nothing done in terms of hospitality like there is now. You drove yourself to the next tournament, you found a taxi or rented a car or your drove your own car. It was more word of mouth where to stay, what roads to take, where was the golf course once you got there.
“I found out very soon that it wasn’t just a matter of hitting a golf ball — that seemed to be the easier part. The harder part was how do you live, how do you make your way from point A to point B and once you get to B how do you live before you get to point C. That’s what Dale and (his late wife) Joyce were so good at with us.”
Though he didn’t view it as such, arguably the biggest highlight of Douglass’ own professional career came at age 50 when he bettered Gary Player by a stroke to win the U.S. Senior Open in 1986 at Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio.
Douglass’ three victories on the PGA Tour came in the course of just nine months as he prevailed in the Azalea Open and the Kemper Open in 1969, then the Phoenix Open in January 1970. He also played on the 1969 U.S. Ryder Cup team. In senior golf, besides his 11 individual victories, he teamed with Charles Coody to claim three titles in the Legends of Golf in the 1990s.
In Colorado, among Douglass’ wins as a pro were the 1978 Jerry Ford Invitational in Vail; the 1983 Frontier Airlines Pro-Am at The Broadmoor Golf Club, where he beat PGA Tour veterans Billy Casper and Don January; and the 1983 Colorado PGA Professional Championship. Another victory came at the 1965 Arizona Open. He was also low amateur in the 1959 Wyoming State Open.
At CU, where Douglass played golf for longtime coach Les Fowler, Douglass was a Kappa Sigma fraternity brother of actor Robert Redford during the 1950s. Redford only attended CU for a year and a half, but was born the same year as Douglass (1936).
“I knew him,” Douglass once said of Redford. “In fact, I called him to ask him to play in the Crosby (the PGA Tour stop at Pebble Beach in which a pro-am is held during championship rounds) one year. He wasn’t able to (play). He was going to be doing a movie and it turned out to be (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid). He was filming that and therefore couldn’t play with me. I ran into him one time in (Utah). He recognized me and we had a nice visit.”
Douglass was arguably the first golfer who grew up in Colorado to have considerable success on the PGA Tour level. And, being nine years older than Irwin, he proved to be a key mentor. Indeed, after Irwin won the individual title at the NCAA tournament in 1967, Douglass asked him to play as partners at the U.S. Pro-Amateur.
“We played together and we won,” Irwin said. “That really started a close friendship between kindred spirits, being from Colorado and all that.”
To show the stature of Douglass and Irwin in Colorado sports, they were the first two top-level male golfers to be inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame, with Irwin going in in 1986 and Douglass in ’89. Douglass is also in the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame and the CU Athletic Hall of Fame, as is Irwin.
“Is there anyone more deserving than Dale because he was on the map long before I was — and really kind of established that Colorado did have a golfer who went out on Tour and succeeded,” Irwin said.
When Douglass prevailed by four strokes in the 1969 Kemper Open, the fellow Buffs shared a memorable moment just as the event concluded.
“I’ll never forget when I won the Kemper Open in 1969, Hale was the first person to congratulate me on the 18th green,” Douglass said. “He had played earlier and waited around. I’ve always felt that was a great thing he did then.”
Like Irwin, Douglass spent his early years in the central U.S. — Douglass in Oklahoma and Irwin in southeastern Kansas — and moved to Colorado in their early teens. Douglass’ high school years were in Fort Morgan and his college days at CU. And even during a PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions career that lasted more than 50 years, Douglass resided part-time in Colorado — in Boulder and Castle Pines.
Asked about his golf prowess during his formative years, Douglass said with a bit of a laugh, “Well, I was the best player in Fort Morgan. But I never won a club championship. I must have been about 17 years old, and I lost to my dad (Hal, who would later turn pro) in the finals of the club championship in Fort Morgan. That’s the closest I came to doing any good there.”
Since 1987, an annual tournament bearing Douglass’ name, the Dale Douglass Classic, has been conducted in Fort Morgan. In conjunction with that event, golf-related scholarships for college-bound students have been awarded to deserving recipients from northeastern Colorado.
As for his days at CU, the Buffs back then played mainly dual matches. Douglass had an impressive 30-9 record in those matches. To make ends meet while at CU, he sold programs at home sporting events, ushered during football and basketball games and then cleaned up after.
After graduating from CU in 1959, Douglass turned pro the next year. For a time he served as an assistant professional at Lakewood Country Club.
Over a tour career that lasted 51 years, he competed in a remarkable 1,131 tournaments between the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions. To put that into perspective, Douglass is in the top 10 in all-time list of career starts, coincidentally right behind Irwin (1,142 as of Wednesday).
An even 600 of Douglass’ tour starts are on PGA Tour Champions, second only to Miller Barber’s 603.
In addition, Douglass holds the record for most appearances in the U.S. Senior Open, with 26 — one more than Arnold Palmer. At age 69, he made the cut in the Senior Open in 2005, finishing 37th. He’s also the youngest winner of the Senior Open, prevailing at 50 years, 3 months and 24 days in 1986. For his performance that same year, he remains the only wire-to-wire leader — no ties — at the U.S. Senior Open
While Douglass’ longevity on tour is certainly impressive, what he did during his half-century on the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions is likewise so:
— During the prime of his PGA Tour career — when he won three times in ninth months in 1969-70 — he earned a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team in 1969, when the Americans and Great Britain & Ireland tied 16-16 in England.
— Less than 40 players have won 10 or more times on PGA Tour Champions, and Douglass is one of them, having captured 11 senior titles from 1986 to ’96, and placing second seven times.
— Douglass remains one of the 10 youngest winners in the history of PGA Tour Champions, having captured the 1986 Vintage Invitational at age 50 years, 18 days. He also is one of the rare players who have won on PGA Tour Champions after age 60 as he captured the title in the 1996 Bell Atlantic Classic about four months after his 60th birthday. All told, Douglass shot his age or better eight times on the Senior Circuit.
— In his magical season of 1986, Douglass won four times on PGA Tour Champions, including arguably the most prestigious event in all of senior golf, the U.S. Senior Open. Douglass finished third on the senior money list in ’86.
How hot was Douglass when he started on the Senior Tour? He led or shared the lead after eight of his first 10 rounds on that circuit.
For the five months after turning 50 on March 5, 1986, Douglass notched three victories — including that U.S. Senior Open — and posted a remarkable 13 top-10 finishes and 10 top 6s.
“The three tournaments I won on the PGA Tour were probably highlights of my career,” Douglass said recently. “I put them a notch above — or maybe two notches above — winning the (Senior) Open. On the other hand, when I turned 50, I hit the ground running on the Senior Tour. The first tournament I played in was Sun City in Arizona and I lost that tournament in a playoff. Then I won the next two tournaments, then won two more after that (later in the year), including the Senior Open.”
During both Douglass’ time on the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions, consistently by his side was wife Joyce, who, like Dale, attended CU.
“I like talking about Joyce. She was a big part of my life,” Dale said. “She passed away in 2016 on June 28. She was my partner. She traveled with me almost all the time. She’d get fed up with it every now and then and have to quit.
“We were married 58 years and we were sweethearts at least two years before that. When you were following me, you were actually walking with Joyce. She took care of my gallery.”
The Douglasses never had any children, but they did have a regular traveling companion. That was “Niblick”, their Yorkshire terrier, who accompanied the couple most of the time for 17 years during the 1970s and ‘80s.
“We had interesting times with him on the tour, but we wouldn’t have traded him,” Douglass said.
Asked if they got another dog after Niblick, Douglass said no. “We figured he was the best, so we didn’t get another one.”
Douglass hadn’t competed in an official event on PGA Tour Champions since the 2011 U.S. Senior Open. But he still enjoyed getting out to play and practice. During the warm months, that was mainly at Castle Pines Golf Club, a course on which he’d lived since 1980.
“What I do now is spend a lot of time playing and practicing,” Douglass said. “An 83-year-old trying to get better is an ugly site.
“I play a few rounds. What I like to do — and have always done — is go out on my own and get some extra shots. I do that every day just about.”
Services for Douglass are pending, but are expected to be held in Colorado Springs.
About the Writer: Gary Baines has covered golf in Colorado continuously since 1983. He was a sports writer at the Daily Camera newspaper in Boulder, then the sports editor there, and has written regularly for ColoradoGolf.org since 2009. He was voted into the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame in 2021. Email: ColoradoGolfJournal@mac.com)