Former GCSAA president Cliff Wagoner dies

The longtime superintendent at Del Rio Country Club in Modesto, Calif., helped launch the association’s Certified Golf Course Superintendent program.


Cliff Wagoner
Cliff Wagoner, CGCS Retired, was a staple at Del Rio Country Club in Modesto, Calif., where he was the superintendent from 1954 to 1985. Photo courtesy of The Modesto Bee

A look at the handiwork of Cliff Wagoner, CGCS Retired, was eye candy for Mel Anderson.

“In my opinion, he had the most manicured golf course and greatest greens I’d ever seen,” Anderson, a retired superintendent, says of Wagoner, who oversaw Del Rio Country Club in Modesto, Calif., for more than three decades.

Wagoner, who served as GCSAA president in 1973, passed away Tuesday at age 97. Wagoner was a driving force behind the development of the association’s certification program for superintendents. In fact, he was among the first class of superintendents to earn Certified Golf Course Superintendent (CGCS) status when the program began in 1971.

“It is a tremendous loss to the industry, and he will be missed,” says GCSAA President Darren J. Davis, CGCS. “All past presidents have been dedicated to the mission of our association, and as the current president, it is an honor to follow those who have preceded me to advance our profession, such as Cliff.”

When GCSAA relocated its headquarters to Lawrence, Kan., from Chicago in 1974, Wagoner was instrumental in supporting the move. In the meantime, he forged a career at Del Rio CC, where he helped transform and construct the property from a turkey farm into what is now a 27-hole facility. Wagoner, a 63-year GCSAA member, was the club’s superintendent from 1954 to 1985.

In August 2014, GCM was on hand when Wagoner was honored for his career at Del Rio CC as part of an event by the Northern California, Central California and Sierra Nevada chapters of GCSAA. He received a prolonged standing ovation from those in attendance, which he followed up with self-deprecation.

“I won’t be able to get to sleep now after realizing how good I really am,” said Wagoner, who was honored with GCSAA’s Distinguished Service Award in 1985. “This is nice, but I didn’t do it all. I have had some very good people who I have worked with. They made it possible.”

Current Del Rio CC superintendent David Bermudez says he has deeply missed the opportunities to have Wagoner sitting beside him as he drives the course. Health issues in recent years prohibited it, and Wagoner never got to see the club’s recently completed 13,500-square-foot maintenance facility, which is more than double the size of what existed during Wagoner’s era.

“We’re all going to miss him. He was a pioneer who made all of our jobs a lot easier through the years,” Bermudez says.

Wagoner was known for driving himself and his wife, Myrtle, to the Golf Industry Show in his 1930 Ford Model A Sport Coupe (in 1971, they combined the show in Denver with a skiing trip). He may be best known, though, for his focus on the advancement and promotion of golf course superintendents, and the CGCS program was a vehicle for making that happen. Since its inception, 4,514 individuals have achieved CGCS status. As of today, 1,233 are active, and there are 454 Retired CGCS members.

“It’s easy for people to join an association,” Wagoner once said. “But we wanted to have something more, to encourage people in our association to become better educated, and all the things that come with it. At first, we got booed over it. We just convinced them (members) it was something we should do.”

Howard Richman is GCM’s associate editor.