No one in the golf industry has ever come closer to matching the legacy of Old Tom Morris (1821 – 1908) than Jack Kidwell (1919 – 2001). They were both golf professionals of the highest order (Jack being a Class “A” Member), Golf Course Superintendents (Jack was a class “A” GCSAA member), Golf Course Designers (Jack joined ASGCA in 1972 and was President in 1979-1980), and both left behind a legion of young people that they inspired and mentored. Both men were devoutly religious, pious in their daily lives and dealings, and never had a harsh word unless unjustly provoked. They were strong family men who also tried to give back to their communities by serving in leadership roles when needed. They loved the game of golf for the pure joy of it, and although they played it at the highest levels they always welcomed a round with beginners to encourage them. Although richly decorated by the golf industry both men were humble and unassuming, almost to a fault. Old Tom and Jack would have been best friends in another time and place.
Jack Kidwell was a share cropper’s son, who learned the game as a caddy, becoming a 1936- 1937 Ohio high school State Champion, and convincing his family to buy a small nine-hole golf course in the middle of the Depression on land contract. Out of necessity Jack learned all aspects of owning, operating, maintaining, and improving a golf course, and doing it with limited money. He learned the basics and built on them to become one of the most revered professionals in golf by freely sharing his knowledge and time. His golf career was interrupted when he served as an Infantry Officer in the Japanese Islands during WWII. Many of the over 100 golf courses he is credited with were for farmers who wanted to get into the golf business, who had little or no money, knew nothing about turfgrasses or the golf business, but relied on Jack to properly guide them. Jack earned respect because he demonstrated that he was a “doer” and not just a “talker.” Jack’s golf course designs are virtually unchanged since his first one in 1957 until his last in the late 1990s, simply because they were so fundamentally sound, fun to play, easy to maintain, and profitable. Because he worked with low budgets his courses are not flashy or famous, they are just timeless. One of his most memorable statements was, “I am happy to help people get into the golf business who have no money or experience because if those were a perquisite, I would never have enjoyed the life that golf has given me.”
Jack was elected into ASGCA in 1972 and served as ASGCA President from 1979-1980. During Jack’s time as a member, he would mentor and influence ASGCA members, including Dr. Michael Hurdzan, ASGCA; Dana Fry, ASGCA; David Whelchel, ASGCA; Jason Straka, ASGCA; Craig Schreiner, ASGCA; Bill Boswell, ASGCA; Bill Kerman, ASGCA; and Jon Garner, ASGCA. Jack’s legacy will be remembered for the relationships he had with others as much as it is the golf courses he created.