Golf: McCloskey honored for three decades at LAGC

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By Mike Cote

Old habits are hard to break. Especially 32-year-old habits.

“When I’m out on the course and I see something that needs to be done, my first thought is to go do it,” Dennis McCloskey said. “Now, I have to tell myself to leave it alone. It’ll get taken care of.”

McCloskey, the longtime course manager at Los Alamos Golf Course, officially retired after 32 years on the job. He was honored in a ceremony at the course last week during the Atomic City Invitational tournament.

The course’s clubhouse was packed with well-wishers, longtime players, friends and family who wanted to wish McCloskey one final, official farewell.

Not that McCloskey or wife Susan are going anywhere right now. They plan on staying at their home on 35th Street, adjacent to LAGC’s 15th hole.

In fact, one of McCloskey’s retirement chores is to fix up the house that he said hasn’t seen all the repairs it has needed since he started running the golf course in 1977.

“There’s plenty of things for me to do,” he said.

In addition to being the manager of the course, McCloskey is also a professional golfer and has been since graduating from the University of New Mexico.

His crowing achievement as a pro was qualifying for the U.S. Open in 1974. The U.S. Open, held at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y.

Just getting to the Open was a challenge in itself, with McCloskey having to beat out a pair of competitors in a qualifying match in Denver.

McCloskey won the event in a three-way sudden-death event on the third extra hole.

The struggle didn’t end there, however, with McCloskey having to jump in his car and drive up to Mamaroneck in less than a week before the start of the tournament.

At Winged Foot, McCloskey was statistically the top-ranked putter in the tournament, but unfortunately for him, “I couldn’t hit a green.”

The 1974 U.S. Open was won by Hale Irwin, who was 7-over par. It was the first of three lifetime U.S. Open wins for Irwin.

McCloskey said the Open was something he’d never forget.

“The experience was wonderful,” he said. “I wasn’t going up there to beat those guys, but it was wonderful. Winged Foot is a nice, exclusive club and to play on that golf course, I couldn’t believe how different it was.”

But rushing around from course to course to play in events, mostly in his car, got to be a grind for McCloskey, even though he was picking up some money playing professionally. At one point, he decided going on tour just wasn’t for him.

And having a professional golfer as a husband isn’t what Sue McCloskey thought it would be, either.

“I just assumed they all went out and did really well,” she said at McCloskey’s retirement ceremony. “I just assumed I’d run out on the 18th green because he’d just won a Major and it never happened.”

During McCloskey’s July 2 retirement ceremony, several speakers who have known or worked with McCloskey during his tenure at the golf course — or in the case of former boys basketball coach Burt Buehrer and girls basketball coach Gerry Washburn, on the hardwood — gave mostly glowing remarks about the longtime manager. One notable exception was an old boss of McCloskey’s who said he’d fired him just shortly before he took over LAGC.

While many people around the course are pleased that he’s getting a chance to enjoy himself without the constant pressure of watching over the course, they would also miss working with him and hitting the links with him.

“Dennis is one of the nicest, most gentlemanly competitors I’ve ever known,” said longtime golfer Kerry Coffelt. “I know a lot of people who are really aggressive, mean and ugly as competitors, but Dennis is always a gentleman. That’s unheard of in sports.”

McCloskey was born in Madison, Ind. His family moved to Los Alamos in 1951.

While in high school, McCloskey was a standout golfer and basketball player. After college, he decided he wanted to make his living in and around the game of golf.

He took over the course in 1977 after previous manager Sam Zimmerly left to pursue a career in the private sector, opening The Sports Bag, which was a popular sporting goods store.

Los Alamos County councilor Sharon Stover presented McCloskey at the ceremony with a council proclamation that July 3 would be Dennis McCloskey Day in the county.

He was also presented with a framed scorecard from Sept. 3, 1976, when he set the LAGC course record of 9-under par.

With his time off, McCloskey said he and Sue — who got married in November 1978 — are going to do some traveling, to their farm in Illinois, to see their daughter Sarah in Anchorage, Alaska, and their son, Michael, who is a golf tournament manager in Lake Tahoe, Nev.

Michael McCloskey was a surprise guest at his dad’s ceremony.

“I’ve modeled my life after you,” Michael said. “You’re my hero.”

Perhaps the most heartfelt speech of the ceremony was given by his longtime co-worker Donnie Torres, the course’s head professional. Torres choked up several times while addressing McCloskey.

“You are my best friend,” Torres said. “You’ve taught me a lot. You’re my mentor, you’re my teacher and you’re my friend. You’re always there when I need you. I’ll never forget you.”

Even in retirement, McCloskey said he’ll still be a regular at LAGC, playing rounds or hitting buckets or preparing for several senior events he wants to compete in over the next few months.

But now, he said, was a good time to settle in and enjoy some time off with the course running about as well as it ever has in its 52-year history.

“I’m really proud of how it’s improved over the years,” McCloskey said. “The golf course is in good shape, there’s a good staff there. I wasn’t worried about it at all.”