It will be 50 years ago this fall that Dale Williamson’s college golf career got off to a fantastic start.
The Chadron State Eagles were going to open the season in a tournament hosted by South Dakota Mines in Rapid City. Four of the five lettermen from the previous year had returned, but no one was available to fill the fifth slot.
Randy Hunt, a native of Rapid City, was on the Chadron State team. Late in the summer he had played in the same group with Williamson during a tournament in Rapid City. He had seen that the Custer youth was an excellent golfer and learned that Williamson was going to be a freshman at Chadron State in a few weeks.
Thus Hunt advised Coach Harry Simonton to go through Williamson’s hometown of Custer and bring him to the tournament at Mines. Those arrangements were made. It was the first time Simonton and Williamson had met. Guess who won the tournament?
Yes, it was Williamson.
“That was great coaching,” Simonton often noted with a grin when the unlikely occurrence was recalled even years later.
Many more top notch performances on the golf course would follow, both while Williamson was in college and long afterwards when he had earned the reputation as one of the best, if not the best, golfer in the area.
For several years in the 1990s and early 2000s he was the only golfer at Ridgeview Country Club in Chadron with a plus handicap. That means a couple of strokes were added to his score while everyone else could deduct a few stokes.
Williamson won about a third of the college tournaments the Eagles entered during his four years at Chadron State. He also won or was a member of winning teams at numerous tourneys played on courses in western Nebraska and southwestern South Dakota afterwards.
Just like he began his collegiate career, he capped it in grand style by winning the NAIA District 11 Tournament by four strokes and didn’t have to three-putt a single hole in the spring of 1974 just before he graduated with a business degree. Forty-four golfers from nine Nebraska colleges were in the competition
Williamson was the second CSC golfer to win the district championship. The first was big Jim Hoagland, who also played tackle on the football team, in 1969. They are the only golfers who have been inducted into the college’s Athletic Hall of Fame. Dale’s induction took place in 1995.
After living in Chadron the past 36 years, Dale and his wife Megan recently sold their home on East Ninth Street and moved back to their hometown in Custer, S.D.
Dale worked at Chadron State nearly 34 years before retiring in the fall of 2017. Most of the first 10 years at the college, he was involved in admissions, became director of admissions and in 1992 was named the college’s registrar, or director of records, as the position was later known.
Megan was a “stay at home” mom while their two children, Sarah and Jake, were tykes, then was employed by the Chadron Schools for 29 years. During the last 11, she has enjoyed being the secretary for Activities Director Andy Pope.
The fact that Sarah, who is married to Derrick Linn, and has two children, Briar and Asher, and Jake and his wife, Brooke, and their two kids, Harper and Lucas, all live in Sturgis, was a primary reason Dale and Megan moved to Custer. They are residing in Megan’s parents’ home that Dale has been refurbishing the past year.
”We’re not going away mad,” Dale noted. “We’ve enjoyed living in Chadron. It’s been good to us.”
Dale’s dad, Wesley, was his first coach. Dale says when he was five or six they began going to the Custer’s Rocky Knolls Course and started “putting around.”
Dale said his father loved to play golf and probably would have been an excellent player, but in 1952 had an accident at the saw mill where he worked and cut off all four fingers on his left hand. The ends of three of them were retrieved and reattached, but were frozen in place and not very useful.
“Dad still liked to play golf and did pretty well,” Dale remembers, “but nothing like he probably could have been able to if he’d had full use of that hand.”
Dale said that as the trips to the golf course and lessons from his dad continued, he became obsessed with the sport, similar to someone who is introduced to basketball and shoots the ball whenever there’s a spare moment.
Dale recalls trying to play golf in the backyard frequently.
“I hit the ball off the house a lot of times, but only broke a couple of windows, the way I remember it,” he said with a grin.
When Dale was about 12, a family friend and one of Custer’s top golfers, Merle Newberg, took an interest in Dale’s passion for golf and began working with him.
“Merle was a rural mail carrier and had to be to work about 8 o’clock, but lots of times in the summer, he’d swing by my house around 6 and we’d go to the golf course and hit balls for an hour or so,” Williamson said. “He helped me develop my game a lot. He and my dad were my mentors.”
Dale also recalls riding his bike to the Rocky Knolls Course and also catching rides with his two older sisters so he could practice before he was old enough to drive a car.
“I spent a lot of hours out there as a teen-ager and even before. It was the only sport I was really interested in,” he said.
Unfortunately, Dale was a one-man golf team in high school. The other boys at Custer High, including Newberg’s son, also named Dale, preferred playing football and basketball or runnning track. That kept Williamson from entering numerous tournaments, but he got to play in the regional tourney his senior year and placed high enough to qualify for state.
“The state track meet and the golf tournament were in Sioux Falls the same weekend, so I rode with the track coach and two guys who had qualified for their state meet. I didn’t play very well and didn’t place, but I enjoyed the experience,” he remembers.
Just three months later, he won the championship at the first college tournament he entered.
In reflecting on his college golf career, Williamson says Simonton was an excellent coach who helped him improve his game and that teammates such as Hunt and Lee Rubottom became close friends. The summer after Dale and Megan were married, they moved to Garden City, Kan., and he served as the assistant pro at the golf course where Hunt was employed.
When asked why he came to Chadron State, Williamson noted it was because “that’s where everybody else in my class was going.” He explained that at least 15 members of Custer High’s Class of 1970 enrolled at CSC, and added that most of them stayed and graduated.
Undoubtedly the best year Dale had on the golf course was 1994. He won the Dawes County Open that was annually played on the Chadron and Crawford courses, also won tournaments in Hot Springs and Casper that summer and teamed up with friend Dale Englehaupt to win Ridgeview Country Club’s Two-Man Scramble.
In addition, he had the first hole-in-one of his career at Ridgeview that June. (He now has five of them.)
Then came the highlight of Williamson’s career. In mid-July 1994, he won the 87th Nebraska Amateur Tournament when it was played at the Scotts Bluff Country Club. He shot a 280, eight strokes under par and five strokes better than runner-up Frank Rose of Omaha, who had won the title twice.
Williamson’s scores of 68, 66 and 68 were the only ones below 70 each of the first three days of the tourney. He had some problems on the back nine during the final round on Sunday when he shot a 78, but he had plenty of cushion and won the championship by a wide margin.
He recalls that he was surprised that he won the championship and apparently so were others. After he had built an eight-stroke lead through the first two rounds, a Scottsbluff television station reporter called him “the man from nowhere.”
Some of the others covering the tournament made quite a bit of the fact that he wore tennis shoes instead of golf shoes on the course. It was something he had done ever since he had played in college and became a trademark the rest of his career.
“I never found a pair of golf shoes that didn’t hurt my feet at the end of the day,” he explained.
The Nebraska Amateur Tournament dates back to 1905 and Williamson is the only golfer from west of North Platte to win the championship aside from two Scottsbluff men, Mike Klein in both 1975 and ’78, and Bill Henderson in 1983.
Through the years, Williamson also was a member of the winning team at the Ridgeview Two-Man Tourney six times, five of them when Engelhaupt was his partner. He also joined with Dan Johnson and Ed McNulty to win the Ridgeview Three-Man Tourney in 1998 and 2000 and was on the winning foursome at the CSC Celebrity, Don Beebe Tournament, three times in a five-year stint beginning in 2000.
“He was as good a player in the amateur ranks in Nebraska as anyone for quite a few years,” Dr. Johnson recently said. “Some of the best golfers from Scottsbluff came here to play in tournaments through the years, but Dale still won most of them.
“He was so consistent and most of all is so much fun to play with,” Johnson continued. “You laugh a lot when he’s in your group. He never fussed about anything. He just went up and hit it. He was terrific. He had the best swing, the best touch and could make all the shots.”
In recent years, Williamson has cut back on his golf.
“I still like to sneak out and practice, but I kind of lost my interest in playing in tournaments,” he says. “They’re usually on weekends and that’s when Megan and I often go see our grandkids.”
The Williamsons also have found another passion. They have become Pro Bull Rider enthusiasts. Besides watching it on TV every chance they get, they’ve annually taken at least one trip to see it in person. Their first such venture was to Connecticut, where Megan’s sister was living. Since then, they’ve watched the action-packed mayhem in places such as Billings, Denver, Pueblo and Colorado Springs.
Be the first to know
Get local news delivered to your inbox!