May 10, 2013

Golf legend Auggie Navarro honored by friends, family

Friday was the kind of day Auggie Navarro would have loved.

Friday was the kind of day Auggie Navarro would have loved.

Outside the clubhouse at the late golf professional’s beloved Sim Park, many of Navarro’s family, friends and acquaintances sat in carts or stood around the practice green, reminiscing about the man who oversaw the popular public course in Riverside for nearly 31 years.

They were there for the dedication of a pergola and stone landmark featuring a picture of a smiling Navarro, located at a can’t-miss spot between the clubhouse and practice green. The privately funded tribute, which features 10 benches underneath the pergola, landscaping and memorial brick walkways purchased by donors, was first suggested more than a year ago by Navarro family friend Kelly Isham.

One of Navarro’s sisters, Helen Chavez, traveled from California to attend the ceremony honoring her brother, who died last June at age 83. Navarro’s sons, Gary and Rick, and daughter Debbie Wright, mingled with golfers awaiting the start of a scramble tournament organized in conjunction with the festivities to benefit the Wichita Junior Golf Foundation.

And 87-year-old Dick Hartwell was there with a spot in a playing group with Navarro’s sons and grandsons, Chase and Matt. During Rick Navarro’s consultations with various people about the memorial, he met Hartwell and learned Hartwell’s late father, Godfrey, frequently selected Auggie Navarro to caddie for him when Navarro worked at the former home of Crestview Country Club (now Braeburn Golf Course).

“My dad would have gotten the biggest kick out of the fact that we are playing golf with the son of the guy who used to hire him to caddie,” Gary Navarro said. “That’s the special type of thing this day has brought.”

Hartwell’s father loaned a then-teenage Auggie Navarro his golf clubs to play in a local caddie tournament. Navarro won the tournament, earning a spot in a national caddie championship in Columbus, Ohio.

From there, Navarro, the son of Mexican immigrants, went on to graduate from North High and eventually became an assistant pro at MacDonald Golf Course under head pro Tex Consolver. In 1962, Navarro was hired by the City of Wichita as the pro at Sim, a position he held until 1994.

A story attached to the stone landmark highlights Navarro’s accomplishments, including the 57 he shot at Sim in 1982 that tied a U.S. record for low score and earned him a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records. It also mentions a 1988 senior tour event in Florida that featured the likes of Arnold Palmer and Billy Casper. Navarro’s place atop the leaderboard during one of the rounds landed a headline in a Florida newspaper titled, “Who The Heck Is Auggie Navarro?”

On Friday, those words were displayed on the back of neon green t-shirts worn by tournament volunteers.

During a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the pergola, Gary Navarro fought back tears as he shared memories of his father and late mother, Donna, who helped run day-to-day operations at the golf course.

“I just wish everybody had the chance to grow up in this type of environment,” Gary Navarro said. “It was pretty special.”

Rick Navarro announced a donation of more than $2,000 to the Wichita Junior Golf Foundation to go for scholarships. The Navarros plan to make their tournament an annual event with proceeds to the WJGF.

Marilyn Linn, who founded the junior golf program at Sim with Auggie Navarro’s cooperation, attended Friday’s ceremony. Her program led to the creation of the WJGF.

“I worked with Auggie for years and years, and also played here,” Linn said. “It means a lot because this might be a way to pull even more children into junior golf in Wichita.”

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