Dwight Gahm, founder of Valhalla Golf Club, dies at 96

Jack Nicklaus and Dwight Gahm
Montana Pritchard/The PGA of America
Valhalla founder Dwight Gahm and Jack Nicklaus posed before the statue of their likenesses at Valhalla Golf Club during the 2008 Ryder Cup.
PGA.com

Series: PGA

Published: Tuesday, March 08, 2016 | 5:38 p.m.
 
Dwight Gahm, the man who founded the Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky, 30 years ago, and grew it into one of the United States' most prominent golf clubs, died Monday at age 96.
 
Gahm (pronounced "game") hired Jack Nicklaus to design the golf course, and sold the facility to the PGA of America in 2000. Over its three decades, Valhalla has hosted three PGA Championships, two Senior PGA Championships and the 2008 Ryder Cup.
 
"Dwight Gahm was a pioneer, a great business leader and a friend to the PGA of America. His bold vision, which brought major championships to Kentucky and a world-class facility to the region, transformed Valhalla Golf Club into an international golf destination," PGA of America CEO Pete Bevacqua said in a statement. "His dream greatly influenced the modern history of the PGA’s most prestigious championships, and his impact on the game will continue for years to come. We will greatly miss him."
 
He won't be forgotten at Valhalla, though – a statue of him with Nicklaus stands between the clubhouse and the 18th green.
 
"The game of golf and the tight-knit community of Louisville lost a great friend with the passing of my longtime friend Dwight Gahm," said Nicklaus in a statement. "Dwight's vision for creating a championship layout in Louisville resulted in one of the finest courses in the country. In realizing Dwight's dream for Valhalla, the PGA of America has been able to raise millions of dollars for charities in Louisville and around the country. Dwight also helped introduce countless spectators to golf and our design – leaving a permanent mark on the sport and an indelible imprint on my career and life."
 
The combination of Gahm's vision and Nicklaus' design has produced some of the most memorable moments in recent golf history: Tiger Woods needed a three-hole playoff to fend off Bob May in the 2000 PGA Championship, while Rory McIlroy barely outraced darkness and Phil Mickelson to win the 2014 PGA Championship. And Valhalla, of course, was the site of the United States' last victory in the Ryder Cup, as Captain Paul Azinger used his now-famous "pod" system to defeat the Europeans by five points.
 
Gahm's dream with Valhalla was to create a traditional "golf-only" facility with a world-class championship course began in 1981, when he and his three sons commissioned Nicklaus to build the course on 486 acres of rolling Kentucky terrain. The course opened in 1986, and was named one of the top three new private golf courses in the United States in 1987, the first year it was eligible. It remains the No. 1-ranked course in Kentucky and one of "America's 100 Greatest Courses," according to Golf Digest.
 
With the facility open, the family set out on its next quest – to bring major championship golf to Louisville. In 1992, the PGA of America awarded the 1996 PGA Championship to Valhalla, and in 1993 Gahm and the PGA of America reached an innovative agreement in which the PGA would purchase 25 percent of the club. 
 
After the success of the 1996 PGA Championship, the PGA assumed 50 percent ownership in the club and announced that Valhalla would host the 2000 PGA Championship. After that event, the PGA bought the remaining interest in Valhalla.
 
"If you ever ask him, he'll just say, 'Oh, it's dumb luck. We just got lucky,'" Valhalla's PGA General Manager Keith Reese told The Louisville Courier-Journal. "That was his response to everything about that, and that's part of the humble nature. But it is amazing. When they started building the club here, they were thinking big. They wanted to build a championship venue, and there are few people in this world who get to see that dream come true."
 
Gahm and his family have long owned and operated Kompact Kitchen, a cabinet-making business based in southern Indiana. A native of Portsmouth, Ohio, he moved to Louisville in 1934 and in 1941 graduated from the University of Indiana, where he played football for the Hoosiers.
 
According to Gahm's wishes, there will be no funeral or visitation. His ashes will be displayed at the family business.