Gary Baines, Colorado Golf Journal
When it comes to Will Nicholson, Jr. and the impact he’s had on golf, both in Colorado and nationally, perhaps Dow Finsterwald said it best. “Over my 60 years around the game of golf, both as an amateur and a professional, I firmly believe Will is one of maybe five people who have given the most to the sport while not actually playing,” said Finsterwald, the 1958 PGA Championship winner and a former longtime director of golf at the Broadmoor Golf Club.
All that giving back to the game of golf has resulted in the lifelong Coloradan receiving a spot in the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame, just like Finsterwald. Nicholson’s induction comes just two days after the conclusion of the Masters, where he has played such a key role during his 31 years as a member at Augusta National Golf Club. As chairman of the Competition Committee from 1992 through 2006 — and a prominent authority on the Rules of Golf — Nicholson was responsible for setting up the course for the Masters. He also was chairman of the Masters Rules Committee for 17 years, starting in 1989. And though he doesn’t play as prominent a role at the Masters anymore, the first major championship of the golf season remains a fixture on his calendar. But the work Nicholson has done at the Masters is but one of many golf roles for which he’s volunteered his time over the years.
The highest-profile position he ever took on was as president of the U.S. Golf Association in 1980 and 1981, which culminated his 11-year run on the USGA Executive Committee. Nicholson is one of just three Coloradans who have held the USGA presidency since the position was established in 1894 — joining Frank Woodward of Denver (1915-16) and CSHOF member Judy Bell of Colorado Springs (1996-97).
In Colorado, Nicholson has served on the Colorado Golf Association Board of Governors since 1973, and he was part of the board that helped make the CGA/CWGA-owned CommonGround Golf Course become a reality. He’s also played key roles in many prominent tournaments that have been staged in Colorado, including the PGA Tour’s International, which was contested at Castle Pines Golf Club from 1986 through 2006. When Denver Country Club hosted the USGA’s Curtis Cup Matches in 1982, Nicholson was the general chairman. He’s long been a member of the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame, as was his father, former Denver mayor Will Nicholson, Sr.
Nicholson captained the U.S. squad at the 1984 World Amateur Team Championship, and since the late 1980s, he has been a member of the Captain’s Club for Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament. “I learned early on in my life (that) if you have something you enjoy and are successful at, one of the obligations is to give back,” said Nicholson, a prominent banker and one-time chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Appropriately, the Nicholson Award has been given in recent years to honorees who have demonstrated a lifetime of commitment and dedication to the game of golf. Among the recipients are Arnold Palmer, Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Ben Crenshaw and Bell. Said Crenshaw of Nicholson: “Not many people have been that devoted to the game in a lot of different capacities.”
I learned early on in my life that if you have something you enjoy and are successful at, one of the obligations is to give back.