Bill Nary, 1915- 2012

‘Gentleman” pro lived a full golfing life

Tod Leonard – U-T
12:37 p.m., March 17, 2012

At the age of 95, Bill Nary was still enjoying his Thursday golf routine.

He would drive himself from his longtime home in Chula Vista to Bonita Golf Club, meet up with three friends for their standing 8 a.m. tee time, usually shoot better than his age for 18 holes, share some stories in the bar, and then go home to watch golf, followed by his beloved Padres.

“He loved to hang out with his friends, smell the grass, and watch the kids practice,” said Nary’s son, John. “His whole life revolved around golf.”

Nary’s was a golfing life, enormously rich and accomplished. The former PGA Tour pro who retired from competition to teach golf for more than 50 years died on Tuesday from the complications of Alzheimer’s. He was 96. He played golf weekly until he suffered a stroke in June of 2011.

Nary literally touched thousands of lives through golf.

A San Francisco native and San Diego resident since 1959, Nary competed on the professional tours, including eight appearances in the Masters; he was the second tour pro ever to shoot 60, doing so in the 1952 El Paso Open. In the same round, Nary needed only seven putts on the back nine, a tour record that stood for 50 years until Stan Utley used six putts for nine in the 2002 Air Canada Championship.

One of Nary’s most cherished victories came when he won the Pro-Am portion of the 1949 Crosby at Pebble Beach with Lefty O’Doul , the popular San Francisco major league baseball player. It was a fitting triumph, given Nary’s close relationship with Bing Crosby. The two were frequent playing partners when Nary was the head pro at Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club from 1938-42.

“We’d play for $2 Nassaus, and I don’t think I ever lost a dollar to him,” Nary recalled with a laugh in an interview with U-T San Diego in 2006. “(Crosby) was very quiet out there. He was very serious about the game.”

Nary was renowned for his long driving in his era, and he earned considerable money competing in driving contests. His swing was so technically sound that he was hired to be Dennis O’Keefe’s golfing double in the actor’s portrayal of Masters champion Jimmy Demaret in the 1951 film, “Follow the Sun, The Ben Hogan Story.”

Paid $600 for three weeks of work, Nary relished the chance to spend time on the set with Hogan and the actor who played him, Glenn Ford.

“When you got to know Hogan, he was a terrific man,” Nary said in a 2000 interview with U-T San Diego.

That Nary would praise the sometimes gruff Hogan was no surprise.

“My dad had such a gentlemanly manner,” John Nary said. “He never had a harsh word regarding anybody. If someone was a jerk, he’d say, ‘Oh, they must have their own things they’re dealing with.’ I’d think somebody was a jerk, and he’d say, ‘Yeah, but he’s a good putter.’ “

Nary’s easy rapport would serve him well when he left the playing circuit in the late '50s. After settling in Chula Vista with his wife, Margaret, with whom he was married 49 years until her death in 2002, he began teaching golf. He worked at Stardust Country Club and “old” Bonita where the Plaza Bonita mall now stands. He made the move to the current Bonita when it opened.

“Teaching to him was more important than playing,” said John Nary, who estimated that his father’s students numbered in the thousands in a 50-year span.

Nary particularly enjoyed working with juniors, and 18 of his pupils were recognized with awards from the San Diego Hall of Champions. Four would win Junior World titles. Nary still had one student he taught until he suffered his stroke in June of last year.

Nary is survived by John Nary, daughter Catherine Nary, and three grandchildren. A public memorial service will be held at noon on April 21 at the Bonita Golf Club. John Nary requested that RSVPs be made by calling (619) 906-8226.

Click here for Bill Nary's personal obituary.