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William J. Spear was born and raised in Iowa City, Iowa, and attended the University of Iowa, where he earned a degree in botany. Spear went on to Iowa State University to receive a degree in Landscape Architecture and began his journey as a golf course architect.
After graduation, Spear joined a Chicago golf architecture firm headed by Robert Bruce Harris and trained with him for several years. In 1960, Spear entered private practice and spent the next thirty years designing and redesigning courses across the upper Midwest.
Spear was elected into the ASGCA in 1976 as a Regular member of the society. He became a Fellow of the society in 1999 and remained a member for 35 years until his death in 2010.