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Will Nicholson, Former USGA President, Dies at 87 May 30, 2016 | FAR HILLS, N.J. By David Shefter, USGA

Nicholson, a Denver native, served as USGA president in 1980-81. 

Will Nicholson Jr., who served as president of the USGA from 1980-81 and was a titan of the game in his home state of Colorado, died on May 28 at the age of 87.

“Will was the consummate volunteer,” said USGA president Diana Murphy. “He was a gentle gentleman and, at the same time, a firm enforcer of the Rules of Golf. He led the USGA with distinction and mentored generations of presidents, including myself.”

A Denver native, Nicholson was the son of that city’s former mayor Will Nicholson Sr., who served from 1955-59. He never entered the political arena, and instead embarked on a successful banking career that included serving as chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Still, he made the time to give back to the game he loved through service at the state and national levels.

In 1973, Nicholson Jr. joined the Colorado Golf Association’s board of governors. He was part of the board that helped make the CGA/Colorado Women’s Golf Association-owned CommonGround Golf Course become a reality. The course served as the companion stroke-play venue for the 2012 U.S. Amateur Championship at Cherry Hills Country Club in Cherry Hills Village, Colo.

Nicholson’s 11-year tenure on the USGA Executive Committee culminated with his election as president in 1980. He is one of three Colorado residents to serve as USGA president, joining Frank Woodward (1915-16) and Judy Bell (1996-97). Prior to being named president, Nicholson found a variety of ways to contribute his talents to the USGA. He chaired the Rules of Golf Committee for two years (1978-79) and also served on a number of other committees, including Green Section, Membership, Bob Jones Award, Finance, Implements and Ball and Public Information.

Nicholson (center), who turned 86 at the 2015 USGA Annual Meeting, was treated to a surprise rendition of "Happy Birthday" by the audience. (USGA/Chris Keane)

Shortly after his presidency, Nicholson captained the 1984 USA World Amateur Team to a second-place finish behind Japan at Royal Hong Kong Golf Club.

In 1981, Nicholson was invited to join Augusta National Golf Club, where he began a 17-year role on the Rules Committee. In 1992, he was tabbed to chair the Competitions Committee for the Masters, a position he held for 15 years. Nicholson was in charge of setting up the golf course.

Veteran Colorado sportswriter Kaye Kessler once asked Nicholson what was more stressful, being the USGA president or chairing the Competitions Committee at Augusta?

“Comparable in a way,” he said in the 2013 article. “USGA duties last all year; at Augusta it’s nine very intense days from early morning and deep into the evening.”

Nicholson retired from the Competitions Committee after the 2006 Masters, giving way to another former USGA president, Fred Ridley.

Not that Nicholson ever truly stepped away from the game he loved.

“His devotion to the game and the USGA continued throughout his life,” said Murphy. “I last saw him in April during Masters week, when he was asking questions and discussing various initiatives, as involved and inquisitive as ever.”

In 2012, Nicholson was named chairman of the Colorado Golf Association’s new Colorado Golf Foundation. The Nicholson Award has been given to honorees who have demonstrated a lifetime commitment and dedication to the game. The recipients have included Arnold Palmer, Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Ben Crenshaw and Bell.

“Over my 60 years around the game of golf, both as an amateur and professional, I firmly believe Will is one of maybe five people who have given the most to the sport while not actually playing,” said fellow Coloradoan Dow Finsterwald, the 1958 PGA Championship winner and former director of golf at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Nicholson also played prominent roles in tournaments staged in Colorado, including the PGA Tour’s International, which was contested at Castle Pines Golf Club from 1986-2006. He was the general chairman of the 1982 Curtis Cup Match at his home club, Denver Country Club. He’s a longtime member of the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame, along with his father.

“I learned early on in my life [that] if you have something you enjoy and are successful at, one of the obligations is to give back,” said Nicholson.

“Our thoughts go out to [Nicholson’s wife] Shirley and the entire family,” added Murphy. “They will always be part of our USGA family.”