There are any number of reasons why Dottie Pepper is a deserving recipient of the Old Tom Morris Award, which she was scheduled to have received January 31 from the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America at a ceremony in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Pepper won 17 times on the LPGA Tour, represented the United States on six Solheim Cup teams and, two decades ago, began a television career that has enhanced her voice and presence in the game.
All worthy reasons for the award, but there is another, perhaps more basic reason, that Pepper and Old Tom, the legendary Scottish greenskeeper turned course designer and pro, belong together.
Like Morris, Pepper learned the game from the ground up.
“After our turkey farm closed, my dad built a nine-hole pitch-and-putt course with a lighted range,” said Pepper, who was raised and still lives in Saratoga Springs, New York.
“That’s where I honed my early skills and where I picked the range and mowed the fairways. I helped make sure the course was ready. I did everything from putting it together properly for the winter to getting the aerification done and putting the top dressing down. It was the real deal.”
So is Pepper.
She won two major championships and was named LPGA player of the year in 1992. Before that, she won the New York Amateur as a 15-year-old, was low amateur in the 1984 U.S. Women’s Open and was a three-time All-American at Furman University.
“Dottie Pepper … has a deep appreciation for what all goes into making the game happen and the work that superintendents do, which is why Dottie Pepper is an ideal recipient of the Old Tom Morris Award.” — Rhett Evans, GCSAA CEO
Pepper played five years of varsity golf on the Saratoga Springs boys’ team because the school did not get a girls’ team until recently.
When she retired from competition in 2004, Pepper quickly found her way into broadcasting, first with NBC and Golf Channel. As part of the CBS Sports golf crew, she became the first walking reporter at Augusta National during the 2020 Masters.
It all began at home where her father, Don Pepper, a former first baseman who had a brief late-season call-up with the Detroit Tigers in 1966, got her involved. He was ahead of the curve in a sense, constructing a short course (the longest hole was 90 yards) decades before they became as popular as they are today.
Though the Saratoga campus of SUNY Adirondack now sits on the former short-course site in Queensbury, New York, Pepper’s credentials began taking shape while she was working the land.
“Dottie Pepper has had a standout career as both a major champion and a golf reporter,” GCSAA CEO Rhett Evans said. “But she also has a deep appreciation for what all goes into making the game happen and the work that superintendents do, which is why Dottie Pepper is an ideal recipient of the Old Tom Morris Award.”
The appreciation of digging in the dirt has never left Pepper. She and her husband, golf writer and historian David Normoyle, have close to 1 acre of land bordered by perennial gardens.
“We drive our landscaper crazy,” Pepper said. “If we get an early start on spring, I can get my hands dirty before the Masters, but it’s usually after I get home from the Masters and Hilton Head (for the RBC Heritage in late April).”
The transition from being a player into becoming a television commentator came easily to Pepper.
“Golf has always been a part of what I do,” Pepper said. “But I try hard to make sure it’s not my identity. It’s what I do, and I’ve done it on different levels.
“I’m blessed to have had different levels of exposure in the game, whether it’s been in my playing career, in college, serving three years on the PGA board, which was extremely rewarding, and working on some foundation boards that are tied to golf.”
Pepper will begin her 21st year in television in July. By working the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines last week, she marked an anniversary of sorts, eight years since her debut as part of the CBS team in 2016.
Having been a successful player, Pepper has a built-in connection to the competitors whom she covers from week to week. She established a rapport with Tiger Woods years ago, and others, such as Rickie Fowler, are close acquaintances.
“Given my position within the team, live it, breathe it, smell it and feel it,” Pepper said.
“Just to know that most of the players realize I’ve been in their shoes and know what it’s like to fail and to hit a great shot under the gun, I have appreciation for what they are doing.”
Working as part of a crew that has included Jim Nantz, Nick Faldo, Trevor Immelman and others, Pepper has been able to nurture the team aspect she came to love through the Solheim Cup and other events.
It’s different from playing competitive golf, but Pepper has found some similarities across the arc of her career.
“It still is competition, trying to put the best show on TV every day,” she said. “I still get antsy at the beginning of the year, and you ramp up for the majors. In that way, it’s like playing.
“(Playing competitively) it’s very much packed away, but you always, as a Type A striver, think you could have done better. But I don’t think I could have imagined a life as full as it is after playing.”
Top: A fierce competitor in her playing days, Dottie Pepper channels that same drive in her role as an on-course golf reporter. Tracy Wilcox, PGA TOUR via Getty Images
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