An appreciation for size: In memory of Spokane golf legend Al Mengert

Alfred John Mengert had a lifelong appreciation for greatness wherever he found it.

He enjoyed words and knew their worth. He valued the classic eloquence and balance, be it in the Western art he collected, or in the poise and accuracy that goes to make a great golf swing a win in tournament play. He liked to quote from General Douglas McArthur’s last address to the senior class at West Point in 1962, the famous “Shadows Lengthen” speech.

My father’s days lengthened until the day before his 92nd birthday when he left us to return to his beautiful wife Donna, formerly Donna Jacobsen, in heaven, a reunion he had long awaited and which his Catholic faith had given him had the strength to hug. After a short illness, he fought his way back through rehabilitation to return home for three days for Easter. It should be his final victory.

My father had seen many victories in his life and the price that was taken through practice and dedication to attain them. His golf career has been celebrated and in many ways unprecedented in its diversity and the multiple areas of its accomplishments: tournament play, both nationally (27 majors) and regional, golf club design, hosting major championships in Oakland Hills, and ultimately founding Legend Trail Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona where he was to spend his retirement years. Each of these arenas contributed to the corona of performance that kept my father’s name alive and his memory fresh, especially in his hometown of Spokane, where it all began.

He first played in the Spokane City Championship in 1941 at the age of 12. Seven years later, at the age of 19, he won his first Spokane City title in 1948. The following year he went on to complete a string of city victories that continued in 1949 and 1950.

My parents were teenage darlings who lived just across the street from the Downriver Golf Course. My father learned to play from his father Otto Mengert, who himself was once the city master of Spokane. By the time Dad graduated from Gonzaga Prep to go to Stanford, he had already won two national junior golf titles.

The Korean War intervened in 1951 and he joined the Air Force and was stationed in Great Falls, Montana. While serving there, he was invited to attend his first of eight invitations to the Masters in Augusta, an experience he later celebrated in a recently published golf treatise.

Al Mengert was named America’s best amateur golfer by 1952 and turned pro that same year after winning the Pacific Northwest Open and the Mexican amateur title. It was an honor for a young man from the Northwest to take his first professional job at the famous Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York, under Claude Harmon. After this brief training as a home professional, he accepted a position as Head Pro at the Echo Lake Country Club in New Jersey. Dad soon made a name for himself there by winning the New Jersey State Open in 1957, 1958, and 1960. In 1960 he also won the New Jersey PGA, the Metropolitan Open, and the Arizona Open. His success in the New York area led to an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Where this string of Eastern victories might have led is speculative, but since life has always been more than a string of titles, perhaps the lure of the West was a better choice (it certainly made our family lives more exciting). After New Jersey, Dad moved his young family to Arizona, where he got a winter job at the Moon Valley Country Club in Phoenix and a summer job at the venerable Old Warson Country Club in St. Louis, Missouri.

The professional golfer’s life often involves some degree of mobility and our family has embraced travel and new experiences. A trip to Northern California and his first glimpse of Lake Tahoe led us to the El Dorado Royal Country Club at the foot of the Sierra Nevada, not far from Sacramento in the legendary gold rush country, the gateway to Nevada and Comstock Lode. Our circumnavigation of the country finally brought us back to Washington State in 1965 when we moved to Lake Steilacoom with Dad as Head Pro at Tacoma Golf & Country Club, one of the oldest clubs in America.

Papa’s stature as a competitor soon reached new heights. He was the winner of the Washington State Open in 1963, 1964, and 1965. He also won the Northern California PGA Championship and the British Columbia Open in 1965. When Dad returned to Spokane that summer, he won the tournament title in 1963 and 1966 the Lilac City. In 1966 he also won the Northwest Open and led the first round of the 1966 US Open, which was held at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. Dad won the Pacific Northwest PGA Championship in 1968 and 1969, and the Washington State Open for the fourth time in 1971.

My father had now reached the stature to return east to become golf director at the prestigious Oakland Hills Country Club in Birmingham, Michigan, where he stayed until his retirement in Arizona. During his tenure in Oakland Hills, he hosted the PGA, US Open, and US Senior Open.

In the years following his retirement, Dad started his own golf wedge company and founded the Legend Trail Golf Club in Scottsdale. He managed all aspects of its construction, even giving the club its personal logo and naming the parkway that led to the square.

Legend Trail was the partial realization of a long-cherished plan my father had for a course called Famous Fairways, which would have recreated the world’s eighteen best golf holes as closely as possible. Really creative minds dream in advance of what can be achieved in a single life. Switching from sports to collecting Western art brought a new dimension to my parents’ life.

Dad always enjoyed the term “classic”. For him it was the best, most elegant and most representative example of something worth cherishing. He enjoyed the prospect of picking the best of the best from what had already been distinguished in each collection. He applied this principle in the selection of paintings for his collection of Western art and especially in his approach to his profession, the game of golf, which teaches patience and determination. To these qualities, Dad added a deeply religious attitude to life, which he once embodied in a collection of sayings that he wanted to include in a book called “This Business of Life.” Already in his last years he had projects in mind that filled his life with enthusiasm and determination.

One of them was a textbook called “The Right Way to Play Golf”. From his longstanding observation and reflection on the best swings of the best players in the game, my father believed that the key to good golf was exposing the right side of the body and using the full force generated in the game to move the upper body around to achieve maximum distance and accuracy. To do this, he recommended a simple baseball style grip and envisioned a practice club that would be easy and useful for all players as they honed their own perfect swing.

His death prevented these dreams from coming true. However, he was able to publish a retrospective of his career in a short volume, in which he reported on his first Masters experience when, as a young soldier, he took an adventurous journey through the country and back to compete with the greatest golfers in America. He hoped his account would inspire young gamers to fulfill their hottest dreams and remember the names of former icons of the game like Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen, Walter Hagan and Sam Snead.

The other concerns of my father in his final years were his devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary of Fatima and his devotion to the Holy Cross, both from the perspective of his Catholic faith. His final years have been a steady climb towards the crucifixion. I thought about these things while walking along a golden beach on the Oregon coast after he left us. It was at this time of day that the light on the waves, as far as one can see, created an ocean of silver from the gray-green water. The wind made it difficult to go home and I thought how easy it is to go south with the wind, but going back north against a stern is a different matter. I leaned forward and looked at the golden sand at my feet as I thought about daddy’s last few days. I thought about how hard my father had worked in the past few weeks to get back to his familiar home, and what a triumph that homecoming had been for him as he greeted the cheering crowd with a raised putter in the 18th green amphitheater am welcomed the Olympic Club in San Francisco in 1966, the day he presided over the US Open.

On the last day of his life he took his last steps on the path that leads to eternity. The image of his walker will always remind us of the last steps he took on earth, when he gave up for the freedom he once knew, as he walked confidently along the fairways in his career, or one record from one record to another crossed. The fetters of the years must seem to have fallen off at this last moment. The bright water of his swimming pool on this day could have reminded of his baptism into eternal life. The God, who assured us that he is making everything new, must have greeted him warmly when he left behind everything he had known and loved on earth in order to achieve what he had longed for and now found: a At home with God in a place where every tear is dried, every grief is put to rest and all questions answered. This was the classic legacy he left to his friends and family. People always said to me, “Oh, your father is Al Mengert; What a great guy! “Even after a short acquaintance, these people could see what we who loved him had always known.

About the author: Thomas Mengert is the oldest of Al and Donna Mengert’s four children. Her parents named her four teas Thomas, Terry, Tana and Trayce. He is the author of 15 books, including the seven volumes of “The Confessions of Sherlock Holmes,” a philosophical retelling of the Sherlock Holmes saga, which is available on Amazon.

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