University of Houston legendary UH golf coach Dave Williams is known as the father of college golf. Coach Williams won 16 national titles at UH and literally wrote the book on coaching major college golf.
He lived such a monumental life that his obituary appeared in the New York Times, a rarity for a little-followed sport like college golf. Coach Dave passed away on this date in 1998.
Beyond the 16 national titles, Coach Williams’ teams finished 2nd in the country five times and 3rd four more times. In 37 years leading the Cougar golf program, 25 of his teams finished in the top three.
Due to his unparalleled success, the Golf Coaches Association of America named their Coach of the Year award after Dave Williams. But the GCAA went even further: the Dave Williams Award is given to coaches in the six levels of collegiate golf (Division I, II, III, NAIA, NJCAA, and NJCAA Division II). No other sport has ever named an award at every level after one person.
Dave Williams was born in East Texas and went to East Texas State before going on to get master’s degrees in both chemistry and chemical engineering. He served in the Navy during WW2 and reached the rank of lieutenant. After the war, Williams joined the faculty of the UH engineering school.
He was known to hang around the athletics offices in his spare time. Williams loved talking about sports and had played every sport growing up and through college – all except golf. While a UH professor, he took up golf and finally asked AD Harry Fouke if he could join in on his next round (Fouke also coached the golf team).
Not long after, Fouke asked Williams if he’d like to be the golf coach. Dave jumped at the chance to invigorate a program that had lost over 30 straight matches by that point. The new coach started dreaming about turning his golf program into something special.
Early on, Williams decided he wanted his team to play the best. He called Fred Cobb, who had just won four straight national titles at North Texas State (now UNT). Coach Williams asked if NTSU would play a match against his Cougars, and Cobb agreed.
When the Cougars arrived in Denton, they found that Coach Cobb had forgotten about the agreement. So he went around the dorms rounding up some guys to play the Cougars. UH was beaten soundly by the guys that Cobb rustled up. That didn’t sit well with Dave.
Because of that day, Coach began dreaming about how to change college golf. He didn’t like match-play events where one school faced another. Dave thought that if he got enough pull, he would change tournaments to medal play and have ten or more teams playing at each tournament.
The change he sought eventually happened and revolutionized high school and college golf. Now, virtually every major tournament in college is stroke play using his five-keep-four format (five players compete while the best four scores in each round are counted).
Dave always wanted his golf program treated equally to other teams on campus. “If football can have it, so can we” was his mantra. So, when he decided to host a golf tournament in Houston, he wanted it to be big.
Coach Dave began the All-America Intercollegiate Invitational (called the Double A, Double I). He grew the AAII into a monster in just a few short years.
Months before each AAII, Dave pored over various country club directories. He began cold calling members, selling three tickets to the AAII for $10. He’d do this every night from 7-10 pm, figuring if people didn’t have to buy a ticket, they wouldn’t come.
The result was that the AAII became the country’s best tournament, and thousands of people attended each day. The tourney was carried on local TV and featured a pageant, appearances by the UH band, and even the live Shasta attended.
Coach Williams often told a story from the 1953 spring sports banquet. Williams got up to speak and told the crowd that his team would win the national championship. Everyone laughed and started calling him “National Champion Williams.”
After sixteen national championships, coaching eight individual champions, and 30 First-Team All-Americans, Dave Williams had the last laugh. Williams is a UH legend and deserves recognition as one of the men who built UH athletics.
Special thanks to Peggy Williams Grote for her help on this story.
Dave Williams – A Life In Pictures
Click through the gallery to learn more about Coach Dave Williams and the UH golf program he built.