07/07/2020 | News release | Distributed by Public on 07/07/2020 16:00
That the golf dreams of Jim Dent and son Joseph intersect at 'The Patch' is arguably the most flavorful part of the story. 'The Patch' is what they call Augusta Municipal Golf Course in Augusta, Georgia, which is approached via an entrance that only recently was re-named Jim Dent Way.
It is a fitting tribute to a native son who called Augusta home for most of his life and has contributed mightily to benefiting people of color - in that town and throughout the country. While Jim Dent never won on the PGA TOUR like other trail-blazers Pete Brown and Charlie Sifford did, he established a presence for parts of five decades and inspired generations.
'As a man of color, I thank Mr. Dent for what he did,' Ira Miller, general manager of Augusta Municipal GC told the Augusta Chronicle. 'He paved the way so I could be in this position. Blacks are now in the game; not as many as I would like to see on the PGA, but it will someday. He paved the way for us all.'
Remarkably, while growing up in Augusta, Dent couldn't play 'The Patch,' as it was segregated. Dent played his golf on caddie days at Augusta National and next door at Augusta Country Club (when he successfully snuck on, that is). But 'The Patch' became a haven for minority golfers in 1964 and remains even more so today.
Though Jim Dent by 1964 was on his endless car travels from coast to coast to chase the golf dream, his ties to his hometown are forever. One of his four children by a previous marriage, James Dent, is the head professional at Augusta Municipal and now Joseph Dent searches for the secret to this game as a caddie at Augusta National and on the range at Augusta Municipal.
You can almost see the curl of a beautiful smile on Jim Dent's face.
'I tell Joseph that it's a lot of work and even though he isn't getting paid to practice, every golf ball he's hitting today is like putting money in the bank,' the father said.
He has told his son other things, too. Like what Julius Boros once told him about soft hands or the simple advice Sam Snead had about guarding against 'missing a short iron,' or the tips Gene Littler delivered one sultry morning at Inverrary Country Club.
Beautiful memories start to percolate, and Jim Dent laughs softly. 'I got to hang around with a lot of great friends and learn from them. If you can't learn from the best, you can't learn.'
As he has grown and matured, Joseph Dent has embraced his father's teachings and been nurtured by his parents' love and wisdom.
'I've known Joseph (and brother Joshua) since Jim and his wife (Willye) adopted them 20 years ago. They are first-class kids and you know mom and dad raised them well,' said Gary Koch, who can be identified several ways. A former collegiate standout at the University of Florida (national champs in 1973) who won six times on the PGA TOUR, he's been a longtime member of NBC's heralded golf team.
But it's his role as Chairman of the Board of Directors at the Tampa Bay Chapter of The First Tee that brings enormous satisfaction. He can speak to the strong support groups, the summer camps, the fact that 80,000 children were introduced to the game of golf at some level last year, many of them being children or color or from low-income families.
Beyond that, Koch has had his own foundation that has been awarding two $10,000 college scholarships to chapter graduates the past six years. 'These are not based on how good you are at golf, but how well you're doing in school,' said Koch. 'We want them to make sure they stay in the game.'
Koch subscribes to the First Tee mantra, about teaching core values, about providing opportunities and improving access so that children of color and low-incoming families can be a part of golf's future. In so many ways, Koch identifies with a philosophy that has been at the Dent family's goodness.
'I'm just paying it forward,' Jim Dent once said when he refused to accept lavish praise for providing the funds to buy Brown a home in Augusta or for adopting three children with Willye when he had reached an age when retirement was on the horizon.
(The couple adopted a newborn girl, Victoria, 24 years ago, then adopted twins Joseph and Joshua four years later. Joshua, who attends Livingstone College in North Carolina, also loves to play golf.)
'My aunt took me in,' Dent explained to Bamberger in that SI story. 'All we're doing is the same - paying it forward.'
Having benefited from his father's gentle soul and hard-earned wisdom, Joseph plays golf with a passion. But so, too, does he play with a profound appreciation for opportunities that his father helped forge.
'I have read so many stories about him and while I can only imagine what it was like for him, I know he had to roll with the punches,' Joseph said.
'That's why I admire him and why he inspires me. He had a belief in himself. He let his clubs do the talking.'
Joseph will do similarly. His father's dream, after all, is his dream now.