A Life Remembered: Legendary golf course builder dies at 88

A Life Remembered: Legendary golf course builder dies at 88

CHAMPAIGN — The golfing world has lost a legend — not so much for his own game but for the challenges he presented the best players in the world as a builder of spectacular courses near and far.

Brent Wadsworth started his career soon after graduating from the University of Illinois' landscape architecture department, which has benefited for decades from his generosity, as has the Illini golf program.

"Brent and Jean (Wadsworth) have been tremendous supporters of the department of landscape architecture and the College of Fine and Applied Arts for several decades," said William Sullivan, a professor and head of the department for which the Wadsworths established an endowment in 1988, and in 2005 added the Wadsworth Business of Landscape Architecture Scholarship.

"He was a very unassuming fellow, generous and thoughtful, and much more interested in learning what was going on and how people were doing than attracting any attention to himself," Sullivan said.

Mr. Wadsworth, 88, who grew up in Joliet, died this week at his home in Aurora.

His company, Wadsworth Golf Construction Co., built or renovated more than 900 golf courses in nearly every state, many of which host PGA Tour events.

Mr. Wadsworth's list includes renovations of Augusta National Golf Club, Pinehurst Four and Seven, The Greenbriar and Torrey Pines.

In Illinois, he built Prairie Bluff in Romeoville, Heritage Bluffs in Channahon, Wedgewood in Joliet and Orchard Valley in Aurora. He also built, owned and operated Fox Bend in Oswego.

And locally, he built the Lincolnshire course, renovated the Champaign Country Club course and designed the Stone Creek course.

"He was well known in the golf world," said longtime friend, J. Michael O'Byrne of Champaign. "As a contractor, he was one of the best in the country."

O'Byrne was a founding member of the Lincolnshire Fields Country Club in Champaign, which Mr. Wadsworth's company built in the 1960s. It was his attention to detail and design that set Mr. Wadsworth apart in the golf course construction industry, according to O'Byrne.

"He was a wonderful person, generous to the University of Illinois, generous to the golf community, and somebody I loved," O'Byrne said.

Champaign native Tom Shapland and his brothers, Bob and Jon, all went to work for Mr. Wadsworth shoveling sand during their summers in college at the UI.

"A hell of a good guy with a great sense of humor," Bob Shapland said.

After college, both Tom and Jon Shapland went to work full-time for Mr. Wadsworth.

Tom spent 36 years with Wadsworth Golf, retiring as president, while his brother spent 40 years there, most of them as president of the southeast division.

"He was so talented," Tom Shapland said, adding that a drawing by Mr. Wadsworth still hangs in one of the UI buildings. "He had spectacular drawing talent."

After college, Mr. Wadsworth went to work for the prominent golf course architectural firm Robert Bruce Harris, then joined the Air Force for two years. He got his pilot's license. In 1955, he established a golf course design firm, and then in 1958, the Wadsworth Golf Construction Co.

"He put more emphasis on quality than making a dollar," Tom Shapland said, explaining that Mr. Wadsworth's reputation grew because of his attention to detail and understanding of the nuances and shapes of golf course construction.

Rather than subcontracting parts of the work, Mr. Wadsworth brought everything in-house.

"We did everything, from clearing land to the seeding. It was just part of his desire to control the quality of everything," Shapland said. "He was a hands-on guy."

Mr. Wadsworth believed in providing those less fortunate with an opportunity to enjoy the game, establishing the Wadsworth Golf Charities Foundation in 1997, with help from his wife and children.

Shapland said that as part of that mission, Mr. Wadsworth helped fund the construction of more than 20 three- and six-hole courses across the country. He was also a major supporter of the UI golf program, including the Lauritsen/Wohlers Outdoor Practice Facility.

Inducted into the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame in 1991, the Illinois PGA posted on its Facebook page that Mr. Wadsworth "was literally the building force behind the finest golf courses in America ... responsible for the construction of eight of the nation's top 15 courses as selected by Golf Digest in 1990."

As a player, Mr. Wadsworth's crowning moment was shooting a hole-in-one at Innisbrook Copperhead No. 4, on the course he built.

"He was an avid golfer, and a very good competitor. He wanted to win. No one enjoyed winning your dollar like he enjoyed your dollar," Shapland said, laughing. "Our golf games were never high stakes, and he would heckle you the whole time. He was a lively competitor."