William “Bill” Penn 1931-2003
Written by Tyler Conlin
One of the all-time great gentlemen of the game of golf was William “Bill” Penn. He was one of the truly great Austin-area golfers throughout his life, but what he did off of the greens was just as important. Bill Penn lived a life that inspired many, and had an effect on many more, even if they don’t realize it. He was the driving force behind the successful expansion of the Texas Golf Association, lobbied for easier access into the game he loved by way of lower junior entry fees, and was a mentor and role model to golfers of all ages.
List of Accomplishments
- 1951 Austin Men’s City Championship Winner
- 1957 4th of July Firecracker Open Winner
- 1959 Austin Men’s City Championship Winner
- 1966 Harvey Penick Invitational Winner
- 1971 Austin Men’s City Championship Winner
- 1973 Harvey Penick Invitational Winner
- 1973 Austin Men’s City Championship Winner
- 1973 President of Austin Country Club
- 1989 Lions Spring Partnership Winner (paired with Roane Puett)
- 1999 Captain of the U.S.G.A. State Championship Winning Team
- 1999 ACC Sportsman of the Year
- 2002 STPGA Amateur of the Year
Bill Penn was born in Austin, Texas on November 25, 1931 to Myrle and Albert “Grip” Penn. He spent his entire life in Austin, attending Austin High and the University of Texas. Bill was immediately drawn to the game by the qualities of integrity, honor, and civility that are synonymous with golf. Learning the game from his father, Penn’s career began early by winning the 1943 Dallas Junior Championship at the ripe age of 12. His success at a young age would set him on a path that would eventually lead to perhaps his proudest achievement, playing golf under the legendary University of Texas coach, Harvey Penick.
Bill began his college years in 1948 by attending the University of Texas and immediately bursting onto the golf scene at the University by winning the Golf Singles Intramural Championship in 1948-49. Even after joining the University Golf Team the next year, Penn was a fixture in intramurals. He was part of the 1951-42 Class B Touch Football Championship team, and won the 1952-53 and 1954-55 Class A Volleyball Championships as both a player and coach. Bill also was an active member of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity and Cowboys Service Organization throughout his time on campus.
Penn’s crowning achievement at the University came when he was brought onto the golf team coached by Harvey Penick. During his tenure on the team, UT Golf would have one of the most successful runs in school history. Along with teammates Morris Williams Jr., Wes Ellis, Reece Alexander and Marion Pfluger, Penn would win his first of back-to-back Southwest Conference Championships in 1950. In 1951, it would again be Penn and Wes Ellis, along with newcomers Gil Kuykendall, Bernard Riviere, and Bobby Walcowich that would take the SWC title. This photograph of the 1950 SWC Championship Team in College Station, Texas shows the winning team members: left to right: Reece Alexander, Marion Pfluger, Coach Harvey Penick, William “Bill” Penn, and Morris Williams …
Penn’s success would not be limited to only team events during his time at UT. In fact, he was voted the 9th best Amateur golfer in the city by the Austin American Statesman in 1950 and 10th best in 1953. With his schedule limited by the constraints put on by being a participant on the golf team, Penn would be forced to pick and choose which amateur events in the city he could participate in. He was a surprise entry into the 1950 Firecracker Open due to the fact that he had just come back into town after playing with the team at the Collegiates at Columbus tournament in Ohio, and despite the quick turnaround was able to qualify.
It wouldn’t be until the next year that he would finally break through and win one of the major amateur tournaments in Austin by taking home his first Men’s City Championship. Penn finished out his time at UT by graduating in 1955 with a law degree, and immediately joined the Army. He would go on to work for Austin National Bank and as a financial advisor to E.G. Morrison later in his life.
Golf Takes Center Stage
After a few years focusing on finishing his degree and serving his country, Penn would burst back onto the Austin amateur scene again by winning the 1957 Firecracker Open. He would come close to repeating in 1958, but it would take a tremendous effort to sneak into the quarterfinals. Penn was 1 down on the 17th hole but was able to string together 3 birdies in 4 holes to move on, only to come up short in the semi’s and fail to defend his title.
The next year Penn would take his second Austin Men’s City Championship, moving him further up the ladder of Austin’s great amateur golfers. Bill was considered a favorite going into the 1963 Firecracker but would fall short to another Austin great, Roane Puett. In the 1966 Austin Country Club Invitational Golf Classic, Penn would win by six strokes only having to shoot an even par. He said about his performance, “I played real well today considering what I knew I had to do. I had the lead and I knew I had to keep out of trouble.”
A photograph of participants at the 17thCentral Texas links Classic. They are (left to right): Wally Lawson, Walter Benson Jr., Bill Penn, and Dr. W.S. Brumage.
His win at ACC catapulted him into the 1966 Men’s City Championship, where he was now considered a “veteran” on the amateur circuit. He would make the cut for the four-man finals of the tournament with three students. This particular event could be seen as a passing of the burnt-orange torch as the three students that were joining Bill were current University of Texas student Richard Davis, as well as future Longhorns, William Cromwell and the great Ben Crenshaw. Penn would keep it close in his contest with Cromwell, but would end up losing by only one stroke. Despite losing this time, Penn would finish out 1966 by winning his first Harvey Penick Invitational.
1967 would be a down year for Bill Penn, despite starting strong by pairing with his ex-coach Harvey Penick in a friendly match at Austin Country Club to defeat the duo of Lester Lundell and George McCall. This would end up being the only bright spot for Penn in ’67 as he would run into the hot shooting Ben Crenshaw in the City Championship finishing 3rd. He was putting well in the Aqua Festival Tournament and leading at the halfway mark, but would fall 1 stroke short of the title due to a disastrous 11th hole where he had two unplayable lies, one lost ball, and one shot land up against a radar screen. Penn’s string of bad luck would continue in the ’67 Firecracker, where he would lose to another ex-Longhorn, Eugene Mitchell, after a poor start to the tournament put him too far back to make any sort of run. Fortunately for Billy, 1967 would come to an end eventually and he would get back on track.
Penn would start his climb back by placing 2nd in the 1968 Austin Pro-Am paired with Terry Dill, losing by only 1 stroke with a score of 133, but still taking home a whopping $1,150 prize. He would pair with Dill again in 1969, where they would finish in a four-way tie for fourth. Despite their finish, the final scoreboard would show that Penn, an amateur, shot 1 stroke better than his professional partner (a 66 to Dill’s 67).
1970 was a year with a few missed opportunities as Penn would again lose by 1 stroke to Mason Adkins in the Firecracker Open. Adkins sank a birdie putt on the last hole to end a tightly contested round that saw the lead change hands on multiple occasions. Penn could have won the title on the 18th, but his putt attempt stopped only three inches short of the hole, opening up the door for Adkins’ clutch birdie.
Considered a favorite going into the Men’s City Championship that year due to Ben Crenshaw being unable to compete because of injury, Penn would miss another opportunity as the title would be taken by George Machock. The 1970 Harvey Penick Invitational didn’t go so well either, as he finished in a tie for 8th place.
Beginning in 1971 Penn went on a three year run that would turn out to be the most successful in his career. In the ’71 City Championship, Penn would have to hold-off comeback attempts by his playing partners Lester Lundell and Gene Towry by chipping to within six inches of the final hole from 20 yards away. By shooting a final round 72 and 288 aggregate, he would finally be on the other side of a one-stroke contest and win his 3rd City Title.
In his 1972 City Championship repeat attempt the greens were in poor condition due to rain and were likened to playing on “a basketball court or in the street.” Going into the final round, Penn was tied for fifth behind the likes of Lester Lundell and Ladd Larson. After one round of play he was quoted as saying, “I’m still not hitting the ball as well as I would like but I’m hitting it better. I was pleased with my short game. I was able to get close and get down in two several times.” Despite his average performance, Penn made the realization that he was “pretty far behind. I’m not out of it. But I’m not in real good position either.” It would be the poor conditions that would cause the defending champ’s downfall. On the 9th hole Bill putt a ball straight into the street and would leave the course in disgust before finishing the hole. Lester Lundell would go on to win the tournament.
Despite this blemish, Penn would quickly turn around and win the 1973 Harvey Penick Invitational and his 4th Men’s City Championship, placing him in a tie for 2nd most all-time. He was also voted the President of the Austin Country club in ’73. 1973 would be the final time that Penn would win one of the major amateur tournaments in the city, but it would also mark the start of an even greater journey.
The Man behind the Clubs
Bill Penn would become the Executive Director for the Texas Golf Association in 1988 and take the small volunteer association and make it into what it is today, a successful statewide promoter anything and everything golf. Although he had turned his focus toward being a positive influence to young golfers by instilling a strong code of honor and ethics, as well as being an impressive golf historian, his golf game was never too far away. In 1989 he paired with Roane Puett to win the Lions Spring Partnership event, and won the Senior Division Title of the Bill Penn Cup in 1995, a tournament which was named in his honor. He was the captain of the U.S.G.A. State Championship winning team in 1999, and that same year was named the ACC Sportsman of the Year. One year before he died, Penn was honored one more time by the creation of the Bill Penn Grant and by being named the 2002 STPGA Amateur of the Year.
The Bill Penn Grant is perhaps the most fitting way Penn’s legacy can be remembered, not so much as the dominant golfer that he was, but as a man who embodied everything good about the game of golf. The Grant helps financially support established community outreach programs to help reach “thousands of kids on the local golf level by providing instruction, educational material, and, of course, encouragement.” Unfortunately William Albert “Bill” Penn lost his battle with lung cancer in 2003 and we lost one of Austin’s greatest golf ambassadors. Penn was a great man who did just as much for the game he loved without a club in his hands as he did with one. Perhaps the final line in his obituary best encompasses the effect Bill had on his friends and family during his time: “He was respected and dearly loved and will be sorely missed.”
- "Bill Penn Grant." Texas Golf Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 June 2012. <http://www.txga.org/bill-penn-grant.html>.
- Lester Lundell Scrapbook. Stark Center Archives, “Lundell Box 1961-1965-clip-1”. University of Texas at Austin.
- Also used from this collection:
- Lundell Box 1969-clip-5
- Lundell Box Envelope 2 Lundell Joe ACC-clip-2
- Lundell Box Envelope 3 Lundell Joe ACC-clip-3
- Lundell Box Envelope 3 Lundell Joe ACC-clip-6
- Lundell Box Envelope 4 Lundell Joe ACC-clip-6
- Lundell Box Envelope 5 Lundell Joe-clip-1
- Lundell Box Envelope 5 Lundell Joe-clip-5
- Lundell Box Firecracker-clip-2
- Lundell Box Firecracker-clip-5
- Lundell Box ProAm-clip-5
- Lundell Page 63a-clip-1
- Lundell Page 63a-clip-2
- Lundell Page 64b-2
- Lundell Page 65a-clip-6
- Lundell Page 65b-2
- Lundell Page 65b-clip-3
- Lundell Page 65b-clip-6
- Lundell Page 66a-2
- Lundell Page 66a-4
- Lundell Page 66a-clip-2
- Lundell Page 66a-clip-3
- Lundell Page 66a-clip-4
- Lundell Page 66a-clip-6
- Lundell Page 66a-clip-7
- Lundell Page 69b-clip-1
- Lundell Page 69b-clip-3
- Also used from this collection:
- Men's Golf History." TexasSports.com. University of Texas, 25 Aug. 2004. Web. 18 June 2012. <http://www.texassports.com/sports/m-golf/spec-rel/tex-m-golf-history.html>.
- Walter Benson Scrapbook. Stark Center Archives, “Benson Page 17-2”. University of Texas at Austin
- Also used from this collection:
- Benson Page 42
- Benson Page 46
- Benson Page 54
- Benson Page 62-1
- Benson Page 63
- Also used from this collection:
- “William "Bill" Penn." Memorial Obituaries. Weed-Corley-Fish Funeral Home, July 2003. Web. 18 June 2012. <http://obit.wcfish.com/obitdisplay.html?task=Print>.