If Roger Dunn had a choice, the man whose name is perhaps most synonymous with golf retail in Southern California would have had his fame and success as a tour pro. Now, in the “last chapter of life,” Dunn wants to be remembered as a great golf teacher, not just a golf retailer.
Dunn has taught golf since 1962 (PHOTO: Eddie Meeks).
At 79 years old, he is still teaching the game. He’s also back at the Studio City driving range where he first began giving lessons nearly 50 years ago. What a ride it’s been from his playing days, when he swore he’d never sell golf equipment, to his sense of awe in discussing the new Roger Dunn superstore in Santa Ana, which he calls “the finest golf store in the world.”
Golf came naturally for the boy from Iowa who fashioned a swing “chopping wood and cutting weeds.” His family moved to California when he was 11 and his reputation as a junior golfer grew. Playing in tournaments up and down the coast, he regularly beat future Hall of Fame golfers Billy Casper and Gene Littler, “even though both were a year older.”
During high school at John Muir in Pasadena, he went two years before losing a match. He went on to USC with the dream of playing professionally. Although he remembers “beating Jack Nicklaus by two shots the first time Jack played in the L.A. Open,” Dunn’s playing career was cut short by “three young mouths to feed” at the age of 24.
In 1962, Dunn started teaching at the driving range and par-3 course now known as Weddington Golf and Tennis in Studio City. Five years later, with his reputation growing, he received an offer from a nearby golf facility in North Hollywood to assume ownership of the pro shop and operate the driving range. It was there that Roger Dunn changed the golf retail business.
“Basically, the PGA mandated you had to mark up products at least 40 percent. I thought that was too much. So at the end of the model year I would buy up merchandise at a deep discount, and even with a 40 percent mark-up it was still cheaper than anywhere else,” Dunn said. “My first year, we did $23,000 in retail sales. The second year, when I started discounting, we did $173,000.”
People in the golf business admired his trailblazing.
“Roger had the foresight to find a way around the suggested retail price,” said Al Morris, president of Worldwide Golf, which bought the Roger Dunn chain in 1993. “But it was Steve Dunn who was way ahead of his time as a merchandiser.”
With his dad’s financial backing, Steve opened the first Roger Dunn Golf Shop in Santa Ana. Then it was Covina, then North Hollywood, then more stores. Steve Dunn wanted to sell franchises. All of a sudden, the operation was much bigger than Roger ever wanted, and son bought out father in 1988.
“We built our reputation on customer service,” Roger Dunn said. “We grew because we met peoples’ needs at a price they could afford.”
These days, Roger is as passionate as he’s ever been about teaching.
“Recently, I’ve discovered things I believe will revolutionize teaching and I pray I live long enough to get it out of my head and on to paper because golf is a great game when you play it well.”
Eric Tracy is also known as The Mulligan Man. He consults and performs at charity golf tournaments. Send him an e-mail.