It is logical to assume Kevin Dawson is called “Magic” for the way he plays golf. After all, the 60-year-old Georgian boasts a 1.8 handicap index and is a former club champion at the East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, where Bobby Jones learned the game. A member of the prestigious Society of Seniors, Dawson rarely misses a fairway or green, and when he does find a bit of trouble, he always seems to bail himself out.
But the real reason Dawson carries the Magic moniker is revealed after he puts away his golf bag and pulls out his bag of tricks, for he is a first-rate magician who delights in entertaining people with card tricks, shell games and other sleights of hand.
Dawson quickly draws a crowd whenever he begins making rubber balls disappear, sets wallets on fire and uses rubber bands and thumbtacks to shoot playing cards and dollar bills into ceilings, all the while talking in an easy drawl that woos wide-eyed kids and high-powered CEOs alike.
It is not a stretch to say that Dawson is one of the most popular – and accomplished – magicians in the country. And what is even more unique is that he has built his business almost exclusively around his beloved game of golf.
The mustachioed illusionist is a fixture at the top club tournaments in the country, whether the SWATS at Oakmont and Scioto and the Shootout at Bay Hill. He is frequently invited to play in events at heady retreats like Olympia Fields and Seminole, Camargo and Whisper Rock.
And when he is done with his rounds, Dawson cheerfully dons a pair of plus fours or a kilt, straps on a sort of leather apron and begins his act. Sometimes he can’t even wait for the golf to end and has been known to produce a deck of cards on the course when play has backed up and keep fellow players amused with a few quick tricks.
Dawson also finds his way to professional golf tournaments, but strictly as a magician. He regularly works corporate outings off The Masters, the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship as well as regular PGA Tour events like the Memorial and the Wyndham. He has also taken his show on the road – or more accurately across the pond – performing for guests celebrating Hogmanay at Turnberry in Scotland, for example, and at corporate outings during a number of Open Championships in the U.K.
“Kevin has worked all the great clubs and events in golf,” says Shinnecock Hills head professional Jack Druga. “He knows the game, he knows magic, and he knows how to turn us all into kids again with his act.”
Dawson got into magic when he was 6 years old, after watching an illusionist on Saturday morning TV. By the time he was 12, he was putting on magic shows around Atlanta, his parents driving him to gigs.
“I liked the whole idea of magic, and I loved to entertain,” Dawson says. “I came by that last thing naturally. My father was a traveling salesman and a great joke teller, and my mother was a terrific hostess.”
Dawson took his talents to a new level in 1975 when he began entertaining at a Snowmass, Col. bar called The Tower that was owned by John Denver. Two years later, Dawson and his mentor, Bob Sheets, opened a magic bar in Aspen, dubbed the Jolly Jester, an appellation he continues to hang on himself. And it was around that time that he reacquired his passion for golf.
“I grew up across the street from Peachtree Golf Club and learned the game as a boy,” Dawson says. “But I stopped playing in college and didn’t really pick it up again until I started bartending and had some free time during the day. I’d ski in the winters and play golf in the springs, summers and falls. It was the restaurant lifestyle that got me back into it.”
Dawson moved back to Atlanta in 1980, and began teeing it up even more, reviving a passion not only for playing the game but also for its history and culture.
“Over time, I learned how to combine my talents in magic and entertaining with my passion for golf and started getting asked to perform at tournaments and corporate outings,” he says. “Things took off from there.”
One of his big breaks was becoming the “resident magician” at The Cloister on Sea Island, Ga., a gig that lasted four delicious summers.
A former director of the Georgia State Golf Association who was deeply involved in course rating and rules officiating, Dawson has performed for Presidents (Ford and Carter) and Kings (Arnold Palmer and Richard Petty). He has worked the finest clubs in the land and the most exclusive tournaments. And he typically gets to play 150 rounds a year.
“I love the game and love being around golfers,” Dawson says. “I feel a little like Peter Pan with my magic. It brings out the child in me, and I try to do that with the golfers I entertain. I want to make people laugh. I like to make them wonder.”
Ask anyone who has seen him: Kevin Dawson does all that with his magic act. And he has a very good time in the process.