Colorado Sports Hall of Famer Dow Finsterwald, stellar player and longtime director of golf at The Broadmoor, dies at age 93
By Gary Baines – 11/6/2022
Dow Finsterwald, a PGA Championship winner, longtime friend of Arnold Palmer and a beloved fixture at The Broadmoor for more than half of his life, passed away in his sleep on Friday night in Colorado Springs. He was 93.
Finsterwald, the PGA director of golf at The Broadmoor for 28 years starting in 1963, was a member of both the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame and the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame. He also was inducted into the PGA of America Hall of Fame, along with the Ohio University and Colorado Springs athletic halls of fame, and received a lifetime achievement award at Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial tournament, played in Finsterwald’s native state of Ohio.
“He did all he could for the game,” Dow Finsterwald Jr., his son and a longtime PGA head professional at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, told the Associated Press. “He enjoyed his friends and they always remembered. He loved the rules and he cared about the game. He had a wonderful life and he felt like for sure it was complete.”
Colorado Golf Hall of Famer Russ Miller, one of Finsterwald’s successors as director of golf, also paid tribute.
“We lost an icon in the game of golf, but mostly a great friend of many people,” Miller said in an email on Sunday. “Dow’s presence will be missed greatly, but we’ll always remember him for being a wonderful person in addition to a great player.”
Dow Finstwerwald (left) after the biggest of his PGA Tour victories, the 1958 PGA Championship. (Photo: PGA.com)
Finsterwald won a dozen times on the PGA Tour from 1955 through ’63, when he was considered among the best players in golf. But the biggest victory of them all came at 1958 PGA Championship, the first PGA contested at stroke play and the first to be broadcast on network TV (CBS, in this case). A year after finishing runner-up in the event — losing 2 and 1 to Lionel Hebert in the match-play final — Finsterwald, paired with Sam Snead, posted a two-stroke victory over Billy Casper in the 1958 PGA in Havertown, Pa. He earned the princely sum of $5,500.
He famously told the media at the time, “Gentlemen, you’ve got yourselves a colorless champion.”
That win significantly “affected my life,” Finsterwald told Colorado Golf Journal in 2008. “At the time, I didn’t realize what effect it would have. It has opened certain doors. It was quite an experience. I took a great deal of pride in winning.”
Finsterwald (right) with his longtime friend, Arnold Palmer.
Finsterwald, who captured the Vardon Trophy in 1957 for the lowest season-long stroke average on the PGA Tour (70.3), was named PGA Player of the Year in 1958. In one stretch, he made a remarkable 72 straight cuts on Tour. In addition to his 12 wins, he finished second 28 times and third 24.
“Finsty” also nearly won another major as he and Gary Player lost in a playoff to Palmer at the 1962 Masters. Finsterwald, born four days before Palmer in 1929, for many years lived across the street from Bay Hill, Arnold’s course in Orlando, and he practiced there on a fairly regular basis.
Finsterwald also finished third at the 1960 U.S. Open that Palmer won at Cherry Hills Country Club. He ended up two back of champion Palmer at the 1960 Masters, where Finsty took a self-reported two-stroke penalty for taking a practice putt after finishing a hole in round 1.
Finsterwald would represent the U.S. four times in the Ryder Cup as a player — accumulating a 9-3-1 record — then served as non-playing captain in 1977, the final year in which Americans played opponents limited to Great Britain and Ireland, rather than from the whole of Europe. He called that Ryder Cup the second-most memorable golf event of his life.
“Being captain of the Ryder Cup team was a close second to winning the PGA,” he said. “It was the end of an era and the beginning of an era,” with a team from Europe as a whole facing the U.S. starting in 1979.
Finsterwald was a prominent part of the history at The Broadmoor for 59 years, ever since the press conference announcing he was taking the job at the resort was canceled. You see, it had been scheduled for Nov. 22, 1963, the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.
“It was a heck of a start,” Finsterwald told The Gazette in Colorado Springs in 2018. “I’m just glad they kept me around.”
Finsterwald, pictured in early 2020, kept working at his game into his 90s. (Photo: @JeffBabz62 on Twitter)
Even after he stepped down as director of golf at The Broadmoor, it wasn’t at all unusual for folks at The Broadmoor to see Finsterwald out and about around the golf facility.
“This place is special to me and it’s special to the state of Colorado because of a lot of things, but this one in particular: all donations from the Penrose Foundation must stay in the state of Colorado. And I love that. It has always had a great history of philanthropy,” Finsterwald said to The Gazette.
Three-time U.S. Open champion Hale Irwin, who grew up in Boulder and attended the University of Colorado, has paid tribute to Finsterwald on multiple occasions.
“After getting the stuffing beaten out of me playing football (at CU), I came to The Broadmoor in 1965 and asked Dow one thing: ‘Do I have the game to play professional golf?’” the 20-time PGA Tour winner said in an event at The Broadmoor in 2007. “He took me to the range and asked if I could hit a draw, so I hit one. Then he asked if I could hit a fade, so I hit one. He was a guy who believed in me and is responsible for getting my career started.”
Finsterwald was one of the top competitors in golf from the mid-1950s to the early 1960s. (Photo: PGA.com)
Besides his prominence as a player and as director of golf at The Broadmoor, Finsterwald served as a vice president of the PGA of America (1976-78), on the USGA Rules of Golf Committee (1979-81), on the Rules Committee for the Masters for several decades, and as a president of the Colorado PGA (1971-72). Finsterwald, by the way, won the Colorado PGA Section championship three times during the 1970s.
During much of his latter years, Finsterwald split his time seasonally between Colorado Springs and Orlando, where he played occasionally with his old friend Palmer, who died in 2016.