Foothills Park and Recreation golf director Tom Woodard started playing in a junior program at Denver’s City Park at 9 years of age, when instructors correctly recognized a budding golf prodigy.
The family had moved from Midland, Texas, to Denver into a house just two blocks away from the course, where some of the neighborhood kids worked as caddies.
“I just followed them down there,” said Tom Woodard, 56, Foothills’ golf director for the last six years. “It just took off from there.”
His parents never had to worry. “I was either at home, at the golf course or at school,” he said.
It was the beginning of a love affair with the sport that led to a career as a professional golfer for nine years and then as a professional golf club manager for 30 years.
This year, Woodard has received two major honors. He was inducted into the National Black Golf Hall of Fame in Tampa, Fla., in March. Then, in late October, he was chosen as one of three players to be named to the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame for 2013, along with Alan Abrams and Jimmy Vickers.
The three will be inducted June 9, 2013, at a dinner at Castle Pines Country Club in Castle Rock, the night before the annual Colorado Golf Hall of Fame Tournament.
Woodard was chosen for the Colorado Hall of Fame based on his playing record, business career and service to the sport. He competed for 2½ years on the PGA Tour, qualified for two U.S. Opens and a PGA Championship. and twice was Colorado PGA Player of the Year, according to CUBuffs.com
Woodard was the first African-American to play varsity golf at the University of Colorado and was one of the first blacks to receive the prestigious Evans Caddie Scholarship as a senior at Denver’s Manual High School.
At CU, Woodard was known as the “Human 2-Iron” for his stringy, 6-foot-3 inch frame. He became the sixth player in CU history to twice be named first-team all-conference (1976 and 1977), according to CUBuffs.com.
He said it was exciting when he reached the level where he could compete as a professional with stars like Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Lee Trevino, Greg Norman and Nick Faldo.
“Now, I didn’t beat ‘em up. The best I ever had was 10th place in the Quad Cities Open in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1982. Still, it was quite an accomplishment,” Woodard said.
Woodard still has the lowest-ever round at City Park Golf Course: an 11-under-par 61 in 1988.
He has been head professional at City Park Golf Course, Littleton Golf Club, South Suburban and Buffalo Run. He was director of golf for the city of Denver before joining Foothills in 2006.
Ron Hopp, Foothills’ executive director, said Woodard is a great asset “because of his vast knowledge about the game, his connectedness to the industry and his love of the game. He is a kind and generous person who recognizes the strengths of his staff and appreciates their efforts to provide a great service to our community.”
Woodard helped found the First Tee program in 1998, which helps provide access to golf for needy juniors.
As director of golf at Foothills, Woodard oversees two golf courses and has succeeded in keeping standards high on a limited budget, still making a profit and keeping the facilities affordable for district residents.
Most people aren’t aware that Foothills Golf Course, built in 1971, is the busiest in the state, averaging about 120,000 rounds a year. It has 36 holes, including an 18-hole regulation course, an executive 9-hole course and a par-3, 9-hole course.
“There’s something for everybody. It’s family friendly,” Woodard said. “You can walk it. It’s not that far between tees and greens.”
The Meadows Golf Course has 18 holes and was built in 1983.
“It’s a little more difficult in the sense that water comes into play on 14 of the 18 holes,” Woodard said.
As a manager, Woodard said his biggest accomplishment was surviving the golf glut.
“The golf industry went through a stretch where there were a lot of golf courses built, and there was just too much inventory. We haven’t seen the (same) growth in the numbers of players. The biggest challenge is maintaining the level of play and maintaining courses in good shape,” Woodard said.
“We have had our financial challenges trying to address deferred needs. Golf is one of those entities that is a revenue producer. In 2012, we are projected to net approximately $1 million for the district,” Woodard said.
At Foothills, there are “vast opportunities” for young players, Woodard said. There is a junior rate, and the par-3 course costs as little as $6. Each year about 3,000 kids go through the program, starting with a junior open house in the spring, Woodard said.
On his days off, Woodard still likes to play golf. “I’m a lucky person. I get to go to a golf course at least six days a week,” he said.
His favorite golf course in the country is Pebble Beach for the views. In Denver it’s still his childhood love, City Park Golf Course.