End of Era in Yale Golf

June 9, 2008

by Steve Conn, Yale Sports Publcity Director

A legendary era in Yale golf has come to an end with the retirement of Dave Paterson, who coached the men's team for 33 years and also directed the Course at Yale for 25 of those.

The Course at Yale and the golf teams have seen many changes since 1975, the year Paterson came to Yale. In terms of stature, both have steadily risen like the climb up to the 10th green on the world famous course tucked away in the Westville section of New Haven. Much of that can be attributed to the military-like management style of the Scotsman and former member of the Royal Air Force.

Paterson, 72, graduated from Barrhead High School in Scotland and then attended the Glasgow School of Art and Paisley Technical College. He is an accomplished artist whose watercolors have won several prizes. He still enjoys painting, especially golf course landscapes, as a hobby.

The man who came to the United States in 1965 learned the game of golf from his father, a former golf pro and greenskeeper in Scotland. The family lessons paid dividends. The young pupil couldn't get enough of the sport and progressed through youth play at a rapid rate before making a career out of it.

Paterson, whose best round was a 61 (with nine consecutive threes) at the Riddell's Bay Country Club in Bermuda in 1962, won the 1960 Bermuda Goodwill Tournament before playing two years (1961-62) on the PGA Tour.

He has likely given more than 100,000 lessons since he began working in the game in 1956 as an assistant pro at Scotland's Turnberry Golf Course. Paterson came to Yale after a six-year stint as the head professional at the Country Club of Fairfield. He was at the Brooklawn Country Club (Bridgeport, Conn.) and the Riddell's Bay Golf and Country Club (Warwick, Bermuda) prior to that.

His original assignment at 10 Conrad Drive covered many of the functions Yale Golf Association Treasurer and legendary athletic department staffer Widdy Neale had performed for many years. Paterson took over those duties in 1975 for an annual salary of $20,000. Much of his work led to the course being ranked among the most challenging and beautiful golf venues in the world.

When Paterson took over the director's job, Bulldog men's hockey coach Paul Lufkin was serving double-duty as acting men's golf coach, which he continued for the 1975 campaign, until Paterson was ready to take over.

Paterson's first and only collegiate coaching job began in 1976 with the Eli men and has included eight Ivy League titles, 10 teams that qualified for the NCAA championships and many grateful student-athletes. He also coached the Yale women's team for 13 years (1981-1993), combining it with the men's job and the golf director's duties. Three of his protégés, Peter Teravainen '78, Bob Heintz '92 and Heather Daly Donofrio '91, have gone on to professional golf careers that continue today.

Not every Bulldog golfer mentored by the swinging Scotsman aspired to professional golf. Paterson's vast experience made that evaluation quite easy.

"He knew that few of us were ever going to play golf past the level we were at with him. He knew that part of coaching us was coaching us in life, which meant school work ahead of golf," said Steve Huffaker '97.

"Dave was a friend and a mentor as my coach and taught me about the psychology of managing my game," said Justin Shanley '89. "He taught us to relax and play our own game. He felt we shouldn't worry about the other guy. He said if you do your best, you will excel."

More than 50 of his former players gathered on a May weekend to celebrate his legacy and the dedication of the David Paterson Golf Technology Center in the Payne Whitney Gym. The state-of-the-art center, located on the second floor, was made possible through the generous donations of Harry You M.A. '83, Michael Friedman '55, Jim Warner '81, Jim Israel '90, John Beinecke '69 and Bill Beinecke '36.

The dedication of the tech center included a well-attended reception in the facility replete with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and speeches in the Kiphuth Trophy Room. Most of those attending walked over to the Yale Law School for a dinner that featured traditional Scottish fare and a bagpipe band and was hosted by the Yale Golf Association.

"I am a teacher and watching players improve under my tutelage was the most rewarding aspect of my work. Turning on a light that took them up a notch in performance was most satisfying," said Paterson. "Occasionally, a superior talent would come along. They were the necessary leading players that took us into national level competition and won championships for us. The record shows that having one of these superstar athletes on the team leads to wins."

The Yale Golf Association organized a fundraising golf event that May weekend and Paterson played among many of his former student-athletes on a very coastal Scottish-like spring day. To celebrate the Glascow native's impact on the Yale course, a fully outfitted bagpipe brigade marched on the 18th hole as the Yale coach came over the hill to locate his ball (Paterson arrived for the tech center dedication that evening wearing a kilt of his own).

"Scottish bagpipes immediately take me back to the `auld country' and bring to the surface childhood and family memories, most of them good ones," said Paterson. "Scots are very nationalistic and proud of their heritage. As a young man I played a b-flat coronet in the local town band and we always found ourselves behind the pipe band on any parade. I must admit a tear came to my eye on when I came over the hill on 18."

Most of the events of the weekend were a complete surprise to the long-time coach. Either way, he never would have expected the turnout he received.

"The whole affair was very secretive. I had a clue that something was going on but not in the scope that emerged. I was able to remember the names of all the boys that attended and recount some special occurrence in their time on the golf team. Coaching a small program allows very close bonds with the student golfers. We, as coaches, move into a surrogate parent/friend status bridging the gap between leaving home and the step into a new life in business."

His service as director of golf lasted for 25 years (1975-2000) before Paterson decided it was time to focus on coaching and teaching the game that took over his life. He has since worked exclusively with the Yale men's team and other fortunate golf pupils at Yale for the last eight years.

"Through Dave's mentorship, I was truly able to appreciate the historic significance of the Course at Yale, and I only hope that I can continue to preserve its place in early American golf architectural history," said Yale's Director of Golf, Peter Pulaski. "He always felt Yale should be a special place to play the game and I aspire to create that special place."

Paterson has always had a plan and he's not going to deviate from that now. He may have retired from coaching collegiate golfers, but he will be just as active in everything else.

"I am never idle and like all golf addicts I will continue to improve my game... especially my putting. My friends will be amused by that," said Paterson. "I will endeavor to play as much as possible because a recent study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports in Sweden noted that the death rate for golfers is 40 percent lower than for other people of the same sex, age and socio-economic status."

He may have recruited his last golfer, planned his last team practice and filed his last athletic department paperwork, but Paterson will be involved in the collegiate game.

"I strongly believe in the need for a standard tournament format in college golf since all national rankings are gathered from all the events played throughout the nation," he said. "Events that are played under many different formats and conditions surely skew the rankings. All other sports play on standard courts and fields, so why not golf? I am also a strong proponent of abolishing the 36 holes on one day format that becomes less a golf event than an exercise in stamina. It is also a student welfare issue. No other college athletes play on the field of competition for more than 10 continuous hours. I will continue to lobby the NCAA for change."

Retirement won't be all business for the business-like coach. He enjoys writing, art and travel too much to ignore the opportunity to expand those horizons.

"I will write a memoir of my experience at Yale and do some writing on swing technique. And of course, pursue my painting. I am doing some large scale pastels of golf holes and dog and cat portraits. I will also continue to develop golf tours and take Yale Alums and friends around the world on golf adventures."

Under the word "experience" on Paterson's resume, he groups the time period of "birth to 1956" as the years he learned the game of golf. Talk about a lifetime of dedication to the sport that originated in his home land.