Remembering Brent Wadsworth
Golf course superintendents reflect on the legacy and share memories of the prolific golf course builder, who passed away in February.
May 08, 2018
John Gurke, CGCS
Brent Wadsworth entered the golf course construction business in 1958. His company, Wadsworth Golf Construction Co., has built or remodeled more than 900 courses across the United States. Photo by Eric Ginnard
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the April 2018 issue of On Course, the monthly publication of the Midwest Association of Golf Course Superintendents.
On Feb. 7, 2018, one of golf’s biggest names and a true benefactor — not only to our industry, but to so many outside of golf — moved on from this life. Brent Wadsworth, the founder of Wadsworth Golf Construction Co., was 88 years old when he passed away at his home in Yorkville, Ill. He left behind his wife of 64 years, Jean, and their four children.
Brent was born in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1929. Brent’s parents moved to Joliet, Ill., shortly thereafter, where he grew up attending Joliet public schools. He attended the University of Illinois, where he studied landscape architecture, and went on to work in the office of prominent mid-century golf course architect Robert Bruce Harris. Brent had a passion for aviation as well, and he obtained his private pilot’s license from the Lewis School of Aeronautics. He also served in the U.S. Air Force from 1952 to 1954, before joining with Edward L. Packard in forming the Packard and Wadsworth golf course design firm.
In 1958, he established Wadsworth Golf Construction Co., as his interest in building courses outweighed his interest in designing them, and he saw at the time that there were too few builders specializing in golf, especially in creating superior golf facilities. With the rapid growth of the game across the country at the time, Wadsworth opened offices in the Tampa, Fla., and Phoenix areas to meet the demand, and maintained the original location in Plainfield, Ill. Today, Wadsworth Golf Construction Co. has built or restored more than 900 golf courses, mostly in the U.S., many of which you may have heard of — Augusta National, The Greenbrier, Castle Pines and Shadow Creek, to name but a few.
Mr. Wadsworth’s contributions to building the venues we play our great game on is notable enough, but what he has done throughout his life to build the game itself and help less fortunate souls enjoy it — particularly disadvantaged youth and physically impaired people — is even more commendable. In 1997, Brent and his wife and children established the Wadsworth Golf Charities Foundation. The foundation has, through the years, sought to make the character-building attributes of golf accessible to more people by making gifts and grants to many organizations across the country that support the foundation’s mission of self-improvement, which in turn benefits society by making the world a more honorable, gentler and friendlier place.
Brent Wadsworth’s legacy stretched beyond the world of golf. Around his hometown of Joliet, he may be better known for his contributions to local institutions and causes than for his prodigious efforts in our industry. He was a benefactor to the Rialto Square Theatre along with the Joliet Township High School Foundation, for which he served on the reunion committee every five years when the class of 1947 would get back together. The Farragut Elementary School, which he attended, has a park named after him. He was a donor to the Joliet Grade Schools Foundation for Educational Excellence, and he started the Brenton Wadsworth Scholarship Fund, which assists Joliet grade school students.
Here is just a sampling of the honors that have been bestowed upon Mr. Wadsworth:
- Illinois Golf Hall of Fame inductee
- American Society of Golf Course Architects’ Donald Ross Award
- Golf Course Builders Association of America’s Don A. Rossi Humanitarian Award
- Illinois PGA Foundation’s John Gleason Ambassador of Golf Award
- Chicago District Golf Association’s Distinguished Service Award
- ExxonMobil Community Philanthropic Award from Channahon Parks Foundation
- University of Illinois’ Alumni Lifetime Achievement Award
- Phi Gamma Delta’s Distinguished Fiji Award
- Lewis University honorary doctorate of humanities degree
- Joliet Area Sports Hall of Fame inductee
- GCSAA’s Col. John Morley Distinguished Service Award
I could have asked any of our many friends in this association who knew Brent personally, had worked with him, or had just drawn the lucky straw and got to play a round of golf with him, and all would have had the same things to say. Our industry, our association, our entire world has lost one of the truly great men to have lived among us. Brent Wadsworth is gone, but his legacy will live on forever. Godspeed, Mr. Wadsworth.
In their own words: Superintendents remember Brent Wadsworth
“I was very fortunate to get to spend time with Brent Wadsworth. He was very involved during a renovation project at Fox Bend in the mid-1990s, and I had the chance to play golf with not only him but his good friend Leon McNair on several occasions. I always felt, after spending time with Brent — whether walking and discussing the project or any other maintenance at Fox Bend, or playing golf with him — that I always learned something that helped me in my career. How could you not when you look at the list of the courses around the world that he had been involved with? I wrote Brent a letter back in December of 2016, congratulating him on his Distinguished Service Award from GCSAA, and told him how much I enjoyed the time I got to spend with him and how it had helped me become the superintendent I am today. He wrote back saying, ‘Your letter was so nice that I am putting it in my keepsake file.’ He truly was a nice, nice man and a true gentleman who did so much for the game of golf. He will be missed.”
— Dan Sterr, superintendent at Stonebridge Country Club in Aurora, Ill.
Photo by Eric Ginnard
“It hurt deeply to learn of Brent’s passing. He was my mentor for many years and my employer for 14 of those years, but more than anything, he taught me accountability, responsibility and attention to detail. Most everything that I learned in this business came from being a student of the ‘Wadsworth school.’ Suffice it to say that I learned to do it right the first time and to be observant, because ‘If you can’t see the problem, you can’t fix the problem.’ He was a true believer of whatever we do in this business, we must do it ‘for the good of the game,’ and he was a true friend to golf course superintendents all over the world. Beyond his support of our industry, Brent was one of the most generous people I have known. His generosity continues not only to impact the game, but many of the communities where he lived. When I think of him, I remember so many good times, conversations and golf matches that I played with him as my partner. He had a very lively sense of humor. We laughed a lot, especially during matches against my two brothers, Jerry and Leon. The comments made during the matches contributed to our success as much as whatever skill we may have displayed. He loved to verbally stick it to them. I’m smiling as I write this with some of those great memories.”
— Jim McNair, CGCS Retired
John Gurke, CGCS, is the golf course superintendent at Aurora (Ill.) Country Club and a 31-year member of GCSAA.