Long and Full Life

Colorado Golf Hall of Famer John Gardner II, a member at Lakewood CC for more than 80 years, passes away at age 97

By Gary Baines – 2/4/2023

John Gardner II, a Colorado Golf Hall of Famer who was a dedicated and beloved fixture on the state’s golf scene for eight decades, passed away on Friday in Lakewood at the age of 97 after battling heart issues in recent years.

Gardner’s ever-so-full full life included many years of volunteerism in golf, and he served as a president of the CGA in 1990 and ’91 and of the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame from 1988 to ’90.

In fact, Gardner had been a member of the Hall of Fame’s board of directors since 1974, a year after the HOF inducted its first class. He attended the Hall of Fame’s most recent induction ceremony and dinner, in late August at Columbine Country Club.

“He was always very interested in the rules (of golf) and how the game was managed,” one of his sons, Scott, recalled on Saturday. “So as he got older he took an interest in promoting the game, doing what he could to volunteer in numerous roles — rules committees, The International, and with the CGA, becoming president.

“He really enjoyed the social aspect of the game where he could meet people. He was very outgoing as far as that goes.”

Remarkably, Gardner had been a member at Lakewood Country Club since 1941 as he obtained a junior membership as a teenager after his grandfather (starting in 1912), as well as his father and two other family members (all prior to 1920) had also held memberships there. In other words, John witnessed happenings at the historic club for most of its 115-year existence. 

To put Gardner’s longevity at the club in perspective, Babe Zaharias was a semi-regular at Lakewood CC during part of the 1940s.

Though he served in the Army Air Corps from 1943 to ’45 during his early years as a junior member, Gardner once estimated he’d played a lifetime total of more than 3,000 rounds of golf at Lakewood Country Club. He also served as board president of the club in 1971, when he also took on the role as interim general manager for six months. 

Starting in the mid-1960s and continuing for 35 years, Gardner was the Lakewood CC captain for the annual Schrepferman Cup competition against teams from Denver Country Club and Cherry Hills Country Club.

In the wake of Gardner’s passing, Lakewood CC’s club flag was lowered in his honor.

Asked in a 2010 interview for the CGA website what first came to his mind when Lakewood CC is brought up, Gardner said, “I always think it’s kind of the home of competitive golfers. It has all those people in the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame, a lot of state champions and a lot of people who have qualified for national championships. There have been many very good players.”

Scott Gardner noted that his father won Lakewood CC’s Father-Son tournament with three different generations of partners — his own father, Scott and his brother, and Scott’s son.

“He really enjoyed playing with his family,” Scott said. “So like seven times he won the Father-Son out there with a parent, multiple sons and a grandson. That was kind of cool that he did that with several different generations.”

Scott said his dad’s lowest round ever at Lakewood was a 66. And the elder Gardner would sometime share the story about how, on one weekend, he eagled the 15th hole at Lakewood CC on Saturday and the 16th on Sunday. “Which I guess would be a pretty memorable weekend,” Scott noted. 

And when the club celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2008, Scott said John played a key role in the effort to put together a 100-year book, complete with all the key points in Lakewood CC’s history to that point.

Gardner, at far right in bottom row, was photographed with his fellow Colorado Golf Hall of Famers in late August at Columbine Country Club.

Gardner was a Colorado native, having been born in Denver in 1925 and raised not far from City Park Golf Course. He graduated from Denver’s East High School — where he was captain of the golf team — then the University of Denver after previously attending the University of Colorado, going through military training in Montana, then returning to CU for a couple of years after the war. 

During his training in Montana, John set the military base’s record for sit-ups — with a whopping 2,113. “He said he could have done more but it was lights-out time at 10 a.m.,” Scott said. “That’s pretty cool. I can’t fathom that.”

At DU, John’s golf coach was Babe Lind, who with Zaharias and Dave Hill formed the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame’s first class of inductees.

While a very fine player — for instance, he was on the senior amateur team that competed against the pros at the 1984 Colorado Cup matches at Lakewood Country Club — Gardner made his mark in the game through his volunteer work. He served as a CGA committeeman starting in 1970 and joined the board a decade later, eventually becoming president in 1990.

He joined the USGA’s Green Section Committee in 1983. Twenty-five years later, in 2008, Gardner received the USGA’s Ike  Grainger Trophy, recognizing his quarter-century of service to the USGA. In Gardner’s case, the presentation took place, appropriately, at Lakewood Country Club.

As for the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame board, he was a board member since 1974, with a three-year term as president from ’88 to ’90. He was inducted into that Hall of Fame in 1993.

In addition, Gardner volunteered for numerous other golf-related roles, including at the 1978 U.S. Open and the 1985 PGA Championship, both held at Cherry Hills Country Club, and at The International PGA Tour event that Castle Pines Golf Club hosted.

With his training in the Army Air Corps whetting his appetite, Gardner went on to earn his private pilot’s license and to own a single-engine Cessna plane. As he was also avid skier, sometimes working as a ski instructor and on the ski patrol, John would sometimes fly his family to Aspen to hit the slopes there.

“He made national news one time — traveling with my mom in his private plane, back East somewhere,” Scott noted. “He forgot to file a change in his flight plan, so when they didn’t show up where they had the (original) flight plan mapped out, there was a big thing on the news. (In Colorado, it was) ‘Local Insurance Executive and Wife Missing’. But they got it figured out that he had gone to a different airport and hadn’t filed a change in his flight plan. But he really enjoyed being a pilot.”

However, a scare that John and Scott received while on a return flight from Tulsa, circa 1970, had an effect. “On the way back, the engine cut out while we were coming back into Stapleton (Airport),” Scott said. “That was pretty harrowing. It was a problem with the fuel line and he was able to get it transferred over to the reserve tank. There were some pretty tense moments. After that, I think he kind of decided all the flying he was doing was a little too dangerous (and) he gave up his plane.”

John Gardner worked in the family insurance business for 81 years, only stepping back last week, Scott said. He started out as an office boy, received an insurance-related degree from DU, and eventually worked his way up to become the president of the Gardner Agency.

Though Gardner could sometimes be a man of few words, when he spoke those around him tended to pay close attention.

“He was kind of a conservative man, but very thoughtful,” Scott said. “He didn’t speak his mind unless he had something important to say. He had a very dry sense of humor too. We were reminiscing. When people would throw zingers his way, he always had a comeback. You could never get one over on him. He was very quick-witted. If you wanted to banter with him, he was more than happy.”

Gardner is the latest Colorado Golf Hall of Famer to pass away in a little more than a year, with that list also including tour players Dale Douglass and Dow Finsterwald, along with sports writer extraordinaire Kaye Kessler.

Gardner was also a Colorado Senior Golfers’ Association Hall of Famer.

Scott Gardner said a memorial service for his dad will likely be held at Lakewood CC, tentatively in April.

About the Author: Gary Baines owns and operates