Dave Thomas, Ryder Cup player and course designer, dies at 79

Dave Thomas and George O'Grady
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Dave Thomas received his silver lifetime membership card earlier this year from European Tour Chief Executive George O'Grady, who said the honor should have been bestowed "a long time ago."
By John Holmes

Series: Golf Buzz

Published: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 | 9:18 p.m.

Dave Thomas, a four-time Ryder Cup player who went on to design more than 100 golf courses, died Tuesday at the age of 79 at his home in Spain.

''Dave became a household name in the 1950s and 1960s when he helped to build the game in Britain and all over the world,'' said European Tour Chief Executive George O'Grady, who awarded Thomas with Honorary Life Membership in the European Tour earlier this year. ''He was a larger-than-life character, a truly great guy, and our condolences are with his partner Carol and Dave's sons Michael and Paul.

''Wherever the Tour has travelled, from Britain to the Continent to the Rest of the World, we have played on courses designed by Dave and both as a player and an architect he leaves a lasting legacy to the game he truly loved.''

Thomas, born and raised in Newcastle, England, turned professional in 1949 at the age of 15, about the time he watched Sam Snead and several other golf greats in the Ryder Cup at Ganton Golf Club. Ten years later, Thomas made his Ryder Cup debut at Eldorado Country Club in Palm Springs, Calif., against Snead – Thomas and partner Harry Weetman halved their foursomes match with Snead and three-time major winner Cary Middlecoff.

Thomas went on to play in three more Ryder Cups, the last in 1967 at the Champions Golf Club in Houston, Texas, where he partnered with a young Tony Jacklin in all four four-balls and foursomes. After halving his singles match with Gene Littler, Thomas went home with 2 ½ points.

In 1958, Thomas lost a 36-hole playoff to Peter Thomson at the Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, and in 1966 at Muirfield he tied for second with Doug Sanders one stroke behind Jack Nicklaus. He also represented Wales 11 times in the World Cup of Golf between 1957 and 1970 and captured more than 20 European Tour titles including the 1955 Belgian Open, 1958 Dutch Open, 1959 French Open and 1963 PGA Match Play.

Arthritis ended his playing career prematurely, and Thomas immersed himself in course design. He teamed with Peter Alliss to design the Brabazon Course at The Belfry near Birmingham, England, which hosted the Ryder Cup in 1985, 1989, 1993 and 2002. Thomas also designed such layouts as De Vere Slaley Hall in Northumberland, England; St. Leon Rot in Germany, which has hosted European tour events and will host the 2015 Solheim Cup; the Roxburgh in Scotland; San Roque in Spain; Cannes Mougins; La Baule and Terre Blanche in France; and courses in Africa, China, Japan, South America and Taiwan. 

Thomas also was Captain of the Professional Golfers' Association during its centenary year in 2001 and five years later he was made an honorary life member of the British PGA.

Thomas is survived by his partner, Carol, and two sons, Michael and Paul. His wife, Robbie, and another son, Philip, predeceased him.

The European Tour contributed to this report.