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David Paterson

David Paterson
Director of Golf and men’s and women’s team coach

When Dave Paterson retired in 2008, the “Scottish Bulldog,” as he has affectionately come to be known, was one of the longest-serving coaches in NCAA golf history. In thirty-three years as Yale’s golf coach he led the men’s team to eight Ivy League titles and twelve individual titles and to five New England Division 1 championships and nine individual titles. Two of his teams played in the NCAA National Golf Championship and ten of his teams qualified for the NCAA Regional Tournament. Five of his players have ventured into professional golf. Peter Teravainen (1978) and Bob Heintz (1992) established long, impressive careers, winning a number of major events. Two other past Ivy League Champions played professionally for a few years: Ken Rizvi (1997) on the Gateway Tour and Chris Eckerle (2002) on the Hooters Tour. Paterson began the women’s varsity team and, as its coach, worked closely with Heather Daly-Donofrio (1991), who went on to a career as an lPGA pro.

Despite this distinguished coaching record, Paterson himself is the first to insist that he is much prouder of his team members’ successes in life than on the course. Certainly the testimonies of former players, from his first team in 1975 to his final team in 2008, speak of the lasting influence of his teachings. Equally important, as Director of Golf for almost as many years, Paterson was the key individual who finally brought professional management to all aspects of the golf course and the golf program.

David Paterson was born and raised on golf courses in Scotland. His father was a golf professional and Head Green Keeper at the Fereneze Golf Club and later at the Paisley Golf Club, both the suburbs of Glasgow where Paterson spent most of his youth. He was one of six children, including three brothers who played golf together endlessly during the long summer evenings. “We only knew golf and sheep,” as Paterson put it in an interview (the sheep handling came from the British government mandate during World War ii that sheep graze on golf courses for maintenance). He grew up helping his father with whatever tasks were needed, including collecting sheep droppings off the course. Picking up the game himself, with few formal lessons and plenty of practice, he was already playing to a four-handicap at age twelve.

After three years of mandatory service in the Royal Air Force, Paterson started studying chemistry at the Paisley Polytechnic College near Glasgow with a view to a medical laboratory career. But, one day while running an errand for his father, he came across Ian Marchbank, who had just joined the world-famous Turnberry Resort Hotel and Golf Club as the head professional. Knowing the young man’s reputation as a golfer, Marchbank offered him a job as his assistant on the spot, and the very next day Paterson was a golf pro. He remained at Turnberry for four years in the late 1950s, work­ing six-day weeks, often from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Turnberry was a five-star resort. Paterson picked up all aspects of golf management and become a respected teacher of the game. He also had the chance to meet and play with a wide range of political dignitaries and business leaders, including then-­President Dwight Eisenhower. Ike drove over in an open, white, Rolls-Royce convertible from an apartment at the nearby Culzean Castle that he had maintained since his days as World War ii Supreme Allied Commander in Europe

Paterson became intrigued with the United States by listening every Saturday morning in his home to the popular radio program, “Letters from America,” which was produced and narrated by the famed journalist, Alistair Cooke. In his fourth year at Turnberry, he jumped at an opportunity to become head pro at the Riddle’s Bay Golf and Country Club in Bermuda. As a member of the British PGA, he was allowed to play seven US PGA events each year. During the summer off-season in Bermuda, he qualified for such tournaments as the Western Open, the Cleveland Open, and the Canadian Open. Although his winnings were modest, it was a wonderful experience for Paterson, and the many friends he made helped him make a permanent move to the United States.

In 1964, Paterson was invited up to be the assistant pro at Brooklawn Country Club, in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where he worked for four years before becoming head pro at the Country Club of Fairfield. Five years later, he saw an advertisement in the Bridgeport Post newspaper for an opening at Yale as Director of Golf. He was offered the position and accepted it on the condition that he could also coach the golf team. Paterson claims it was the wisest move he ever made because, without a close connection to the students, the job would be less personal and much removed from campus life. The University accepted his condition.

It was a critical moment for golf at Yale. Distracted by campus turmoil and disinterested in the course, the Univer-sity administration had seriously considered selling the entire Tomkins property to a housing developer. It was only the strenuous dissent by trustees, such as William Beinecke, and a few faculty, such as Philip Nelson, then Dean of the School of Music and an avid golfer, that thwarted what would have been the demise of golf at Yale. As profiled earlier, Nelson headed the search committee that hired Paterson.

Though the course was safe from developers’ bulldozers, Yale golf still lacked coordinated management when Paterson arrived. Joe Vancisin, the men’s basketball coach, was assigned to run the golf team, and Gene Sheehan operated the small pro shop. Harry Meusel, always with inadequate staff, was superintendent of the course, and Widdy Neale controlled the business side of the course from his Connecticut Golf Association office on Howe Street. Paterson noted that it took him nine months to get a look at the books! Once in his hands, he raised prices. The student daily fee was doubled to $2.00 and the annual staff membership raised to $75. Course rules were tightened, practice on the course was prohibited, and a ball rental system installed on the driving range, all moves strongly opposed by the existing membership.

Paterson began immediately to build programs, draw attention to the course, and improve the course. He created the William S. Beinecke Annual Member-Guest Tournament, which remains a centerpiece on the annual calendar, and the Widdy Neale Invitational, a popular state-wide event that sadly was discontinued. He successfully pursued funding for a new irrigation system, a new putting green, a chipping green, and an expansion of the driving range. And, finally, the Beinecke family’s Prospect Hill Foundation funded a new clubhouse that was completed in 1984. Under Paterson’s guidance the first ungendered club tournament organization was created, so that men and women competed equally in all club events. The term “ladies tees” was eliminated from the scorecard; they were renamed the “forward tees.”

In the course of his career as Director of Golf, Paterson attracted a long list of state and national golf events to the Yale Course, including two Connecticut Opens, two Connecticut Amateur Championships, the 1980 National Insurance Youth Classic, the 1988 USGA National Junior Championship, and the 1990 Ben Hogan New Haven Open. Nike (now Nationwide) tour events in 1991 and 1992 brought celebrity pros, such as John Daly, Stewart Cink, Jeff Maggert, and Tom Lehman to Yale, and, in 1995, Paterson arranged for Yale to host the first World Special Olympics Golf Championship. With a small field of famous Senior PGA stars, he started the Yale Golf Classic, which has become a major support for Yale athletics.

At first Paterson found the atmosphere on the golf team to be rather casual; long hair was in, uniforms absent, and practice was a few holes after class. He did inherit quality players such as three-time, All-American Peter Teravainen ’78, and he started recruiting immediately. Other All-Americans followed, such as Thomas (Trip) Long ’80 and Bill Huddleston ’85. In recent years, Paterson proudly added Academic All-Americans Bob Heintz ’92, Ken Rizvi ’97, Louis Aurilio ’01, Eddie Brockner ’01, Chris Eckerle ’02 (twice), Adam Cyrus ’02, Ben Levy ’04 and Mark Matza ’07 (twice).

With perhaps unrealistic ambition to add another national title to Yale’s record twenty-one championships, Paterson strengthened and expanded the men’s tournament schedule by traveling the country to play the strongest teams, fueled by his belief that performance can only be improved by com­peting against the very best golfers. In an effort to attract top college golfers, he created the Yale Fall Intercollegiate Tournament (subsequently named the Macdonald Cup) and later, the Yale Spring Opener, which inaugurates New England’s college golf season. To elevate New England college golf and bring the Yale course to the attention of the NCAA, Paterson hosted the 1991 and 1995 NCAA Regional Championships and several New England NCAA Division I Championships.

Coach Paterson saw that Yale’s two-week spring term recess offered special opportunity to enhance the golf team experience. In 1980, he took the team on the first two-week tour of the United Kingdom, where they played a series of matches against leading British universities, including Oxford, Cambridge, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and St. Andrews. He also arranged matches against many famous Royal golf clubs, among them Black­heath, St. George’s, Cinque Ports, Liverpool, Troon, and the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers at Muirfield. Every four years since 1980, the UK trip is a highlight of the program that offers each team member a memorable cultural and athletic ­experience.

Paterson has also played an important role in promoting New England college golf and raising its stature within the NCAA. He served three terms as chairman of the New England District NCAA Selection Committee for the NCAA Regional Tournament. When the NCAA’s golf committee proposed to eliminate district selections in favor of selection by national rankings, Paterson led the effort to retain district selection. He managed to stall the change, although alas, for only two years. Paterson earned NCAA New England District Coach-of-the-Year award four times, and he has been honored by the Golf Coaches Association of America with its 25-year and its 30-year Distinguished Service Awards.

Paterson served four terms as president of the Ivy League Coaches Association, and he helped move the Ivy Championship from a schedule that rotated the championship through the four Ivy school courses to a neutral venue. The tournament is held in April, so snow was often still on the ground at the Cornell and Dartmouth courses. The first neutral site was Bethpage State Park, the Black course, where the Ivy Championship was held for eleven years.

Paterson took the women’s program from its infancy to a competitive team within New England. Shortly after the team’s first victory at the Mount Holyoke Invitational, he handed over the program to its first full-time coach, Darci Wilson.

The Ivy League restricts varsity golf competition to twenty days a year. The New England climate that shortens the fall and spring golf seasons and the stiff academic requirements of Yale College were conditions that the Scottish Bulldog accepted with equanimity. He was the rare college coach who demanded of his players and expected their total commitment to the game, but who also appreciated, indeed, insisted, that they came to Yale for its academic excellence. Paterson has been a nationally recognized golf instructor and was always ready with an astute appraisal and well-chosen word of advice, but he treated all of his players with respect and avoided overcoaching them.

During events at Yale, especially the Spring Opener, Paterson took a measure of pride in offering the challenges of the course in the often harsh conditions of Connecticut’s freezing northeasterlies in April. Snow was regarded as casual water and not a cause for cancellation. Golf is never easy, and Paterson’s philosophy of keeping a steady focus, playing within one’s abilities, and always grinding it out has served his legions of players in their careers as well as in their games.

One of Paterson’s longstanding commitments was to develop ways to attract alumni back to play the course and remain supportive of Yale golf. He developed the annual Beinecke tournament and other events to encourage this, and his tours of Scottish, English, and Irish golf courses — for the golf teams every four years, but also for alumni and course members — are legendary.

In 2008, Dave Paterson finally retired as coach of the men’s team, although he can still be found many days at the course, giving lessons, offering advice, and telling stories in his distinctive brogue. His latest legacy is the David Paterson Golf Technology Center, a state-of-the-art training facility in the Payne Whitney Gymnasium. With a course simulator, camera, and launch monitor, it gives the teams opportunities for year-round practice. He bequeathed to Peter Pulaski, who succeeded him as Director of Golf in 2000 and who shares his passion for teaching, a plan for an outdoor practice facility at the course that is now becoming a reality. He has turned over the men’s golf team to one of his own former players, Colin Sheehan (Class of 1997), who worked as assistant coach of the men’s and women’s teams in 2007. Sheehan’s experience as a golf writer, editor, course developer, and passionate student of the game will insure that Paterson’s approach remains alive and well at Yale.

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