Golf News for Tuesday, December 3, 2013 | People

Chester Mendenhall enters Kansas City Golf Association Hall of Fame

He was tall and lanky and wore a white, long-sleeve shirt and string tie to work.

No, Chester "Chet" Mendenhall was neither a bank president nor chief executive officer. He was, though, all business. As a renowned golf course superintendent, golf course designer and a founding member of the GCSAA, Mendenhall brought his own style of meaning to dress for success.

Recently, in the heart of the Kansas City area, Mendenhall was recognized for his efforts.

Mendenhall, who died in 1991, was part of the inaugural class in the Kansas City Golf Association (KCGA) Hall of Fame. You may recognize some of the other people who were inducted with him. Golf legend Tom Watson (who was not in attendance because he is playing overseas) headlined the class in a ceremony that took place at Kansas City Country Club, where Watson learned the game as a youth.

Brent Mendenhall, Chester Mendenhall's grandson, was on hand to honor his grandfather. He made the drive from his home in Nevada, Mo., for an event he wouldn't have missed for anything.

"This was his life," Brent Mendenhall says. "He was active in the business until his death."

Others inducted were Stan Thirsk, a longtime club professional, mostly at Kansas City Country Club, who till this day still teaches Watson. Also honored was Leland "Duke" Gibson, club professional 25 years at Blue Hills Country Club (he also made the cut in eight U.S. Opens); Opal Hill, winner of nine state and local titles, four Trans-Mississippi championships and participant on the first three Curtis Cup teams; Bob Reid, nationally known expert on The Rules of Golf who worked 20 majors and was executive president of the KCGA from 1982 to 1997; and Miriam Burns, winner of the first seven Kansas City Women Match-Play Championships.

Todd Bohn, GCSAA Class A superintendent at Wolf Creek Golf Links in Olathe, Kan., was a presenter for Mendenhall, and he introduced Brent Mendenhall. Bohn says this was pretty cool for a superintendent to be part of the first class of a hall of fame that featured Watson, one of the game's greats.

"It brings good recognition to our profession. People realize we're an important part of it," says Bohn, a 14-year member of the association.

It seems fitting, one of those meant-to-be things, that Mendenhall was one of the founders of GCSAA. Why? His birthday. Mendenhall was born Sept. 13 in Kingman, Kan. On Sept. 13, 1926, the day Mendenhall turned 31, also just happens to be the day 60 greenkeepers met at Sylvania Country Club in Toledo, Ohio, and formed the National Association of Greenkeepers of America, which in time became GCSAA.

In 1948, Mendenhall was voted in as GCSAA's 12th president. Twenty years earlier, Mendenhall launched his career at Wichita Country Club, where he drove a team of horses to cut the fairways. In 1934, Mendenhall landed at Mission Hills Country Club in the Kansas City area, where his first task was to install a quick coupler snap valve irrigation system. Mendenhall also made a name for himself by being one of the first superintendents to hire women for his staff.

In his later life, Mendenhall designed and constructed courses, including layouts in Hays, Kan., and Richmond, Mo. Mendenhall's work was recognized nationwide when he was presented with the 1990 USGA Green Section Award. Four years earlier, in 1986, Mendenhall received GCSAA's Distinguished Service Award.

One of Mendenhall's final acts was to be among the luminaries as GCSAA opened its new headquarters in 1991 in Lawrence, Kan. He died shortly thereafter on Sept. 25.

More than two decades later, Mendenhall is still receiving accolades for his major contributions to the industry. Brent Mendenhall was proud to represent him, and eager to share stories about his grandfather. He told how Chet Mendenhall loved botany, enjoyed growing vegetables in his yard, and reveled in communicating with others. Then there was that moment at Mission Hills when Chet let Brent do something really neat.

"He took me to work with him and I got to drive the tractor for the first time in my life," Brent says. "I was only 14! He was a wonderful man."