SAN ANTONIO – The Texas Golf Hall of Fame celebrated its 2017 class with an induction ceremony for the ages.
Austin’s Ben Crenshaw drove down to make an impassioned plea to save the public course that helped him become a two-time Masters champion, PGA TOUR player Johnson Wagner spoke about his grandfather, and inductees Buddy Cook and Kelli Kuehne tipped their hats to country legend George Strait, seated in the packed ballroom at the San Antonio Country Club.
“I had no idea, Mr. Strait, that you were going to be in this room,” said Kuehne, who was inducted into the amateur category. “Ace in the Hole has been my family’s theme song. My brothers and I adopted your song as our own.”
Steve Elkington, a three-time national champion at the University of Houston and 10-time winner on the PGA TOUR, was inducted into the professional player category. Cook was honored for in the Golf Professional / Teacher category, and Austin’s Lions Municipal was added to the Texas Registry of Historic Golf Courses.
The dinner capped a day of activities that started with the unveiling of the Class of 2017 on a granite marker, joining other greats in the Walk of Fame at historic Brackenridge Park. The inductees also participated in a question-and-answer session and hit ceremonial first drives to kick off the Gathering of the Eagles tournament at Brackenridge. They received their Gathering of Eagles Trophy after their acceptance speeches.
“I think you can tell we are really passionate about this Hall of Fame,” said Jerry Smith, Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Texas Golf Hall of Fame. “This is extraordinary; the biggest and the best golf hall of fame in America.”
Passion ruled the day. Kuehne, who posted one of the greatest amateur careers in golf history, talked about the importance of family. She developed her competitiveness playing with her brothers, Trip and Hank, who also won national amateur titles.
The Dallas native claimed four consecutive 4A individual state titles (1992-95) while at Highland Park High School. She won the 1994 U.S. Girls' Junior, the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 1995 and 1996, and the British Ladies Amateur in 1996. An All-America at the University of Texas, she played on the 1996 Curtis Cup team before embarking on an LPGA Tour career highlighted by her 1999 Corning Classic victory and two Solheim Cup appearances.
That Kuehne managed to finish her speech was remarkable, coming just six days after the death of her mother, Pam. The family matriarch walked almost every step of the way during her daughter’s playing career. “Let ‘er rip potato chip,” Kuehne said, recalling her mother’s pre-tournament pep talks.
“My dad’s tough but I think my mom is tougher than all of us,” she said. “She should be the one standing here. She deserves to be in the Hall of Fame not me.”
Elkington established his Texas ties after moving from his native Australia to play golf at the University of Houston. He pioneered the movement of Australian golfers to the United States to play collegiately.
Elkington helped the Cougars win national titles in 1982, 1984 and 1985. He also met his future wife there, settling in Houston after turning pro. He went on the claim 17 titles worldwide, including one major title, the 1995 PGA Championship.
He posted 10 top-10 finishes in major championships, highlighted by his 1995 PGA Championship victory. He also captured the Vardon Trophy for lowest scoring average that year. Elkington is a two-time winner of The Players Championship, the PGA Tour's signature event, and played in the first four Presidents Cups.
Elkington recalled the recruiting pitch he got from former UH coach Dave Williams.
“I tell everybody that everything good that’s happened to me has happened in Texas,” Elkington said. “I came over here to be a better golfer, got married, started meeting people like Jackie Burke, my mentor at the Champions Club.
“My whole life I’ve been mentored by Texas men, some of them are in this room, either directly or indirectly.”
Cook, the 1999 Southern Texas PGA Golf Professional of the Year, served as tournament director of San Antonio’s Champions Tour event, and as chairman of the Texas Golf Hall of Fame from 2009 to 2015.
His 40-year career spans a long list of marquee courses, instructors and players. A true promoter of the game, he impacted virtually every phase of the golf industry in Texas and beyond. Strait was one of his many famous students.
Cook mentored 24 PGA Apprentices and Assistant Golf Professionals, including Randy Smith, Warren Chancellor and Bill Harmon. He has served as PGA director of golf and/or head professional at such places as the Royal Oaks CC in Dallas, Dominion CC, La Cantera GC, and Briggs Ranch GC in San Antonio.
“I know there are a lot of other people who deserve this award as much or more than me but fortunately they are not here tonight,” Cook said, laughing. “It’s been an honor for me; I love the game, I love the people. I’ve seen the left side of every golf course from here to Scotland.”
The late Johnson, a 1945 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, served as president of the Amarillo Country Club and the Panhandle Golf Association (1989-94).
As president of the of the Trans-Mississippi Golf Association board in 1967, he helped bring the Trans-Miss event to the San Antonio Country Club. He chaired three committees during his tenure on the U.S. Golf Association’s Executive Committee, and served on the R&A’s rules committee. He was honored with the 1987 Byron Nelson Award from the Northern Texas PGA and entered the Texas Panhandle Sports Hall of Fame in 1986.
“M.T. was such a legend in my family, such a legend in Amarillo, and such a legend in golf that it’s quite moving to actually be up here talking about him,” said his grandson, Johnson Wagner. “He was so into the rules of the game and how you conducted yourself. I learned very young that it’s not how you play but how you conduct yourself that’s important. M.T. really embodied the saying that golf is a gentleman’s game.”
Lions Municipal, created in 1924 and operated by the city since 1936, was Austin’s first public course. Its rich history includes the 1950 exhibition match involving Ben Hogan, Harvey Penick, Morris Williams Jr. and Ed Hopkins. Penick, of course, mentored Crenshaw.
The course, affectionately known as “Muny,” impacted national history in late 1950 when it became the first municipal facility in the South to racially integrate. The USGA formally recognized the desegregation as a milestone for the game.
Crenshaw, a longtime advocate for “Save Muny” and a renowned golf course architect, is working with others to keep the course alive. In February he unveiled plans to enhance the old layout’s playability.
“We’re fighting to save Muny,” Crenshaw said. “It provides us with recreation and enjoyment and a love for the game. I can’t thank these people enough for fighting for what we think will be a great outcome. The University of Texas and the city of Austin are in pretty good, serious talks. It’s a gorgeous asset right in the middle of the city.
“People tend to put a monetary value as a stamp on the property. I just say, ‘how can you possibly calculate what it has been worth to so many people’s souls and what it has meant to all of us who have been around the game and have played Muny.”
For more information on the Texas Golf Hall of Fame, please visit www.texasgolfhof.org.