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Honoring The Legend Of ‘Cha’

The gathering this past weekend at Pine Needles Resort in North Carolina was at times celebratory, at times somber and mostly reflective. For a group of two dozen former Dartmouth College players and some local Pinehurst-area friends, it was a time to assemble, play golf, consume some adult beverages and remember a giant of the game of golf who quietly passed away this fall. Retired Dartmouth coach Bill Johnson died suddenly in September at the age of 73. He insisted on not having a funeral, so this late-fall gathering served as part wake, part funeral, part celebration. I say “former golf coach,” but that phrase somehow rings a bit hollow. Bill Johnson was much more than just a golf coach. He was a mentor, an innovator, a philosopher, an eccentric, a friend, a gentleman. A Michigan native, Johnson was appointed coach of the Big Green in 1967, and he would serve in that capacity, as well as head pro at the college-owned Hanover Country Club, for 34 years until he retired in 2001. A legend in New England golf circles, Johnson’s teams won three Ivy League championships. He coached players who appeared in 17 NCAA championships, either on a team or individual basis, and four all-Americans. It’s all very impressive when you consider the length of the golf season in New Hampshire and the high admission standards he had to deal with. For all his accomplishments in the college game, he was inducted into the College Golf Coaches Hall of Fame in 1990. The man known to all his players simply as “Cha” was, as one former player described him, soulful about the game of golf. “He was a philosopher,” former player Dave Aznavorian told me recently. He was reflective, thoughtful and matter of fact – kind of a perfect guy for New Hampshire. No frills, no attention required. And yet, he had a grandfatherly way with the kids in the New Hampshire Junior Golf Association that he co-founded.


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