Hall of Fame honours Dengel for decades of work with juniors

Chatham Sports Hall of Fame inductee John Dengel has been the head pro at Maple City Country Club for more than 40 years.

Maple City Country Club head pro and manager John Dengel is a 2019 inductee into the Chatham Sports Hall of Fame. Mark Malone/Chatham Daily News/Postmedia Network

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When John Dengel was learning to golf, young players were treated like second-class citizens at many courses.

As the head pro and manager at Maple City Country Club, he’s been much more supportive of his junior members.

The course is reserved Friday mornings in July and August for the youngsters.

He estimates 40 have gone on to play at college and university. A handful also became pros.

“They’re teaching wherever they go, so they’re building the game,” he said. “…That’s great to see.”

Dengel’s impact on generations of young golfers is a big reason he’s been inducted in the builder category with the Chatham Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019.

“It’s definitely a shared award with the juniors at Maple City and something that I’ll cherish forever,” said Dengel, 66, who’s in his 41st season at the club.

He’s also grateful for the numerous volunteers and assistant pros who have helped the program over the years, and for the pros under whom he’s worked.

Maple City already had a junior program when he arrived in 1979, but he wanted to make it even better. At its peak, well over 100 kids took part each week.

“When I bring them across to the range, I’m like the Pied Piper with 60 kids following me,” Dengel said.

They’re in three-, five-, nine- and 18-hole programs, depending on their age and ability.

“We try to make it a lot of fun,” Dengel said. “They go out and play. Then when they come back in, they’re watching The Price is Right and having hotdogs and hamburgs and having putting contests each week. We call them big-time putting contests and give out goofy-coloured golf balls and milkshakes to make it fun for the kids. …

“They come here because they want to come, not because they have to come. If you keep it fun like that (and) keep their interest sparked, that’s what carries them on to the next level when they start getting in tournaments and they start really working on their games and perfecting their skills.”

Club members have always been supportive, he said.

“That’s how you grow the game,” said Dengel, the Ontario PGA’s teacher of the year in 1999. “That’s why we have a full membership. We’ve got all different families out here, not just singles playing golf. People bring their whole family out here for the experience. That’s really kept the club viable.”

Growing up in Windsor, he was a hockey player with a good shot, a baseball player with a good bat, and a football player with a good arm.

“But, man, I had no speed,” Dengel said. “I had to catch a game where the ball was sitting still, and it was golf. Because I could really hit the ball and make the ball work the way I wanted to.”

He was a member at Beach Grove Golf & Country Club, where juniors weren’t allowed on the course until 4 p.m., so he usually played at Hydeaway Golf Club.

He tried to be a pro player. He competed on mini tours in Florida and teed off in 15 tournaments during a six-month stay in South Africa.

Six-time major champion Lee Trevino once gave Dengel and two other Canadians a one-hour bunker lesson in Johannesburg.

“To this day, I still teach that bunker shot that he showed me,” Dengel said.

He eventually saw the odds of playing professionally weren’t good.

“When I knew I couldn’t do that, I turned my career to being a golf professional where I would promote the game, grow the game of golf, teach golf and manage business at the golf club,” he said. “I turned from a playing professional to a golf professional.

“Instead of a professional golfer, I became a golf professional,” he said, laughing.

After a few stints elsewhere as an assistant pro, he was hired as Maple City’s head pro. He was only 25 years old.

“They took a chance on me,” Dengel said.

His wife, Christine Dengel, retired two years ago, but she still teaches at the club. She was an assistant pro at Maple City for several years before working for Callaway Golf Canada in sales and for Golf Canada in membership.

Their children played at post-secondary school – daughter Hilary at Northwood University and son Jonathan at St. Clair College.

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