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For Lupton, it was Better to Give than to Receive

They played the NCAA Championship at the Honors Course just outside Chattanooga, Tenn., last week. But what many were talking about, in hushed and reverent tones, was the passing of the Honors Club founder, Jack Lupton, who died at age 83 on May 16. Jack Lupton was one of the amateur game’s greatest benefactors, and his death is golf’s loss.
That’s a strange to say about a man who played his first round at age 25, but it is true.
Lupton grew up across the street from Chattanooga Golf & Country Club. He served in the Navy during World War II, and then returned home to begin a long career in the family business, Coca-Cola Bottling. Upon his father’s death in 1977, Lupton formed JTL Corp., which controlled the largest group of Coke bottling companies in America. He sold the company for $1.2 billion in 1986, and then proceeded to spend the rest of his life giving his fortune away.
Much of it went to various causes and institutions in his beloved home town of Chattanooga, including a reported $50 million for the Tennessee Aquarium. It has been said that his fingerprints were on just about every single significant landmark in Chattanooga, whether people knew it or not. “Not” is how he preferred it most of the time. No small amount found its way to golf, and the game is better for it.
Lupton is best known for creating the Honors Course, a place he hoped would epitomize the values and spirit of his friend Bobby Jones. Lupton hired the soon-to-be legendary Pete Dye to build his pride and joy in 1983, and it quickly became ranked very highly in everyone’s top courses in America. Perhaps the best applause came from the tough-minded but fair Golf Club Atlas crowd, which posed the following challenge in its profile of the course: “Good luck trying to find anyone who has anything negative to say about the Honors Course.”
The Honors is a special place, more than just a special course. Simple and understated, it reeks of golf. Visitors will remember the golf course as much as they will the ambience, the food and service, the cottages named after Lupton’s friends, the feel of a warm, open park.
The NCAA Championship, played there once before in 1996 (when Tiger Woods won the individual crown), was just the latest in a series of important amateur championships the club has hosted. Included are the Curtis Cup, U.S. Amateur, U.S. Mid-Amateur and Southern Amateur, and in 2011 the U.S. Women’s Senior Amateur will be added. The pros have inquired about hosting an event there, but they were gently rebuffed. The Honors Course is about the amateur game.
Lupton helped establish the University of Tennessee women’s golf program as well as the Tennessee-Chattanooga’s men’s program. His philanthropy also included a $3 million gift to the Tennessee Golf Foundation, which made it possible to build Golf House Tennessee and the Little Course at Conner Lane. The latter is one of the more remarkable golf facilities in the country and could serve as a model for others. It is a nine-hole, immaculately maintained course that is intended primarily for junior golf development activities. Designed by Bob Cupp, the Little Course is a public facility that can be played in about 90 minutes. And although it is aimed at kids, you’ll often find some of the area’s better players there, working on their short games.
A member of Augusta National, Lupton served on the USGA Executive Committee in 1983. You know you’re talking about a special person when you learn that USGA éminence grise Bill Campbell wrote warmly of him. Said Campbell: “Jack’s contributions to the USGA have been unique. To my knowledge, he has never declined to help the USGA with money or anything important to the game.”
Lupton was a complex man, whom many found to be an enigma. The former publisher of the Chattanooga Times, Paul Neely, is reported to have commented once: “Depending on the view, he can be gentle, modest, courtly and reflective. He can also be rude, domineering, profane and impatient.” Sounds like the perfect four-ball partner to me.
Nike Golf President Cindy Davis has a different view. She fondly recalls a strapping man in a Hogan beret with a mischievous sense of humor, a deeply imbued sense of loyalty and a love for the game of golf and all it stood for.
Said Arnold Palmer on his friend’s passing: “Jack should be remembered as a wonderful person who gave constantly throughout his life to other people.”
Little more need be said


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