Nearly a decade ago, when the Southwest Kansas Pro-Am was finished celebrating 30 years as the preeminent men’s professional golf tournament in Kansas, the organizing committee decided it wanted to honor some of its own by establishing the event’s Hall of Fame.
A volunteer, then a founder who was followed by a local doctor who played an integral role of the Pro-Am’s charitable fund destination were the first three to be honored.
Now, in its 10th year to recognize people who have made significant contributions to the 40-year event, the Pro-Am will induct the Dale Gillen family, long-time volunteers and host family, along with four-time Pro-Am champion Bruce Vaughan into the Hall of Fame.
The induction ceremony will take place on Thursday, Aug. 8, at the annual Corporate Sponsor dinner at the Clarion Inn.
The Gillen family includes Dale, his daughter, Deann, and his late wife, Delores, who passed away in May of 2015.
Since the Pro-Am became a permanent fixture in Garden City in 1983, the event’s fourth year, the Gillen family has both hosted professionals every year, but also saw Delores and Deann anchor the all-important scoreboard area at The Golf Club at Southwind, as well as handling the tedious compilation of scores and inputting them into computers for official scoring purposes.
Paige Kraus and Beth Koksal, current and former tournament coordinators for the Pro-Am, surprised Deann and her children with a recent lunch outing and informed her that the family would be honored with the hall of fame induction this year.
“We were just kind of talking about idea for the tournament and all of a sudden they said that our family would be inducted,” Deann said recently. “I was shocked, to say the least. In a way, it feels weird since Mom passed away, but it feels weird in a good way that they wanted to honor the family.”
Dale and Delores would host one or more professionals each year, providing a quite place to rest, relax and be entertained with great food and low-key talks during their few days in Garden City.
“Mom really loved to entertain, so this was right up with what she enjoyed,” said Deann, who said she began running scorecards from course to course as early as middle school years.”
Regular participants such as Todd Rosetti, Mark Walker and David Petry, among many others, would find refuge at the Gillen home each year.
“She just liked to spoil them while they were here since she saw them as her own kids,” Deann said of Delores. “Her favorite meal to fix was steak and potatoes with fresh corn on the cob from the field. She would make fresh cinnamon rolls every morning so they didn’t leave hungry for the golf course.”
Deann said the large scoreboard at Southwind was always a place for players and fans to congregate to see who was leading or how other players and amateur teams fared each day.
“She was a perfectionist in how she wanted things done at the board,” Deann said of her mother. “There was a certain way to write, and everyone kept their jobs from year to year. She always wanted to treat people with kindness and make them feel welcome when they were here in Garden City.”
Deann said that it was just a natural fit for her parents to host professionals and volunteer for the Pro-Am.
“Mom was a big part of the community and knew a lot of people and always wanted to help support and promote different events,” Deann said.
The day she found out about the hall of fame induction, Deann went to her dad’s home to share the news with him.
“He, too, was shocked. At first it didn’t sink in,” Deann said. “But he had a big smile on his face and I think he’s proud of this. He can go out and watch the players and follow along.”
Deann said her mom would downplay such an honor if she were still alive.
“She would say, ‘Oh no, you don’t need to do that,’” Deann said. “She would be humbled by this because she just thought it was normal to open your house to the players. Many of them would send Christmas cards each year to Mom and Dad. So it has been a special occasion for us every year.”
Vaughan, who has called Hutchinson home for much of his adult life, is a living legend when it comes to players competing in the Pro-Am.
When he received news of his induction into the Pro-Am Hall of Fame from his mentor, Ralph Terry of Larned, Vaughan said he was surprised but that it was a pretty good honor.
“I guess it’s a measure that you’re old, too,” Vaughan said with a laugh during a telephone interview. “Four wins in four decades is something pretty special I guess. I’ve always enjoyed coming to Garden City and playing in the Pro-Am. You’ve got two outstanding courses and they just seem well-suited to my game.”
Thinking back to 1987 when he won his first Pro-Am, Vaughan said he recalled that it was his performance in the Wyoming Open the week prior that set things up for him in Garden City.
“I had a chance, but didn’t win there (Wyoming),” Vaughan said. “I think winning the Pro-Am got me over the hurdle and the money at that time was pretty good ($10,000). For me, it was just learning how to win.
“It was a big deal because there were a lot of good players and I beat a pretty good field.”
As a fledgling pro, he participated in his first Pro-Am in 1984 where he tied for eighth to earn a check for $1,250. He didn’t play in 1985, but in 1986 tied for 32nd to cash a paltry $257 check. But it was in 1987 that Vaughan broke through the ceiling and established himself as a rising star.
He won the tournament that year with a 5-under-par 209 and took home a $10,000 check, his biggest payday at that point of his career. Three years later, he would add his second Pro-Am title with one of the most impressive performances in the history of the tourney, posting scores of 66-65-67 for a 16-under-par score of 198, a record that stood for just four years but is only one shot behind Shane Bertsch’s 197 of 1994 and is still the second lowest total 54-hole score.
During the 1990s, Vaughan had moved his game to the Hogan Tour and later re-named the Nike Tour and is now the Web.com Tour, so he was absent from the Pro-Am until returning in 2002 where he would have the first of two consecutive runner-up finishes.
“I had been trying to play my way onto the PGA Tour, but just couldn’t quite get there,” Vaughan said.
Those early 2000 performances also set the table for his return to the winner’s circle in 2005 where he shot 11-under-par to win by a shot and cashed a $15,000 check. In 2006, he played and finished tied for 15th, but that would be the last appearance for him for nearly a decade.
In 1998, Vaughan had a breakout year and put himself in position to play the PGA Champions Tour after winning the Senior British Open in Scotland over a legendary field of senior golfers.
Facing a number of knee operations and then limiting his play on the Champions Tour, Vaughan was coaxed back to playing in the 2014 Pro-Am where he entered at the last minute. At age 57, and playing a limited schedule, Vaughan showed he still had a stellar golf game.
Having to make a series of clutch putts and shots, Vaughan tied fellow Kansan Chris Thompson at 11-under-par 203 at the end of regulation and then drained a 20-foot birdie putt on the first hole of sudden death playoff to garner another $15,000 payday.
“That last one, at that age, to play those kids and be able to win, may be the most satisfying, but that first one will always be the most special for what it meant to my career,” Vaughan said. “I’ve always tried to stay in shape and be active and I guess that’s what has helped my longevity. My problem has been my bad knee – seven surgeries have made it tough for me to practice a lot and keep my game sharp. I don’t play much competitive golf these days.”
Vaughan said he was pleased to see the Pro-Am remain a viable professional tournament in Garden City after having played in his first one 35 years earlier.
“It is a bit surprising since there have been hard times for farmers and on the economy out west,” Vaughan said. “To keep it in Garden City it takes a lot of work to get people to play and it’s been good for the town.”
When the interview was conducted with Vaughan on July 23, he was uncertain about whether or not he would enter this year’s Pro-Am.
“I’ll just wait and see what kind of field they’re gonna have and make a decision probably that week,” he said.
Vaughan’s record and the legacy he has left with the Pro-Am is reflected in the fact that he has won more titles, four, than any other player (Jim Blair of Utah won three times), his wins came in four different decades (1980s, 1990s, 2000s and 2010s), something short of amazing. And when he won at age 57, he was the oldest winner of the Pro-Am.
“You know, I’m just a country boy myself, so I’ve always enjoyed going out west to play,” Vaughan said. “The people are really nice and make you feel at home. I appreciate that they feel I should be recognized, so it’s pretty nice.”
The Hall of Fame, formed in 2010, has previously inducted Bob Whippo (2010, volunteer); Kent Colvin (2011, founder); Dr. Stephen Meyers (2012, NICU founder); Paul Parker (2013, pro at Buffalo Dunes); Bob Bluml (2014, superintendent at Buffalo Dunes); E.C. Brookover family (2015, founder of both courses, posthumously); Ron Schwartz (2016, volunteer, posthumously); Kathy Koster (2017, volunteer, Committee member); Tyler Woodrow (2018, tournament participant, trophy contributor).