The Arkansas golf community lost one of its greatest teachers when George McKeown passed away at his home on Friday.
McKeown, 76, of Pine Bluff, was the head golf professional at Pine Bluff Country Club from 1963 through 1999.
Even after his retirement McKeown served as the Golf Professional Emeritus of PBCC, during which time he met the club’s current Professional Golf Association pro Reggie Grant.
“Based on what I’ve learned from both George and our membership, George is someone every PGA professional would consider a success, in every aspect of our profession,” Grant said.
According to a 2011 story by Jim Harris published on inarkansas.com, McKeown taught White Hall resident Wes McNulty “everything I know about golf.”
“Not only was he the consummate golf professional, but he was also a great friend and mentor and not just when it came to golf,” McNulty said Monday. “He cared about me and I cared about him deeply.”
According to McNulty, McKeown’s guidance was part of the reason he gave up baseball at the age of 18 to focus on golf.
“We were out on the golf course one day talking about baseball and golf,” McNulty said. “George said, ‘With golf you don’t have to worry about a team or umpire, you can practice all by yourself and you have nobody but yourself to blame for your failures.’
“That wasn’t the only reason, but that definitely was the deciding point.”
The way McKeown taught him to play is something McNulty doesn’t see much of anymore.
“George had no teaching method,” McNulty said. “He taught to the strengths of the individual players. …
“I learned how to play out on the course. Now, most teachers just teach off a driving range. George took me out on the course and that’s really the only way to learn golf.”
Like many of McKeown’s pupils, McNulty’s relationship with his teacher went far beyond the golf course.
“We quail hunted, dove hunted and fished together,” McNulty said. “He took my sons hunting and I took his sons and grandsons hunting, too.
“We really had a good relationship outside of golf, and that’s because we were fond of the same things.”
This past weekend, McNulty, Stan Payne, Brent Winston and George’s oldest son Gordy all played golf together.
“We went out and told George stories,” McNulty said. “… He had this unique way of addressing the golf ball. It was almost like dance steps.
“We used to make fun of him for it and so we mimicked that, and we were just doing a lot of things that George used to do.”
Because of his influence on players like McNulty, Payne and Winston, McKeown will probably be best remembered as a teacher of the game, but his playing résumé speaks for itself.
In his career, McKeown won both Arkansas PGA Chapter and South Central Section PGA tournaments. In 1977, he won every tournament he entered.
McKeown was once paired with Jack Nicklaus in the Los Angeles Open. In 1975, he played on the first Arkansas Cup team.
McKeown played in the 1990 and 1992 Senior PGA championships, as well as the ’92 U.S. Senior Open. He also won two ASGA Father and Son championships — one each with his sons Gordy and Michael.
He became a member of the PGA of America in 2000, was inducted into the Arkansas State Golf Association Hall of Fame in 2002 and enshrined in the PGA South Central Hall of Fame in 2008.
On Aug. 3, McKeown and his family attended a ceremony at PBCC’s No. 13 tee box to honor the man who called the course home for so many years.
McKeown’s friend Adam Robinson helped organize his dedication ceremony.
“George was a remarkable man,” Robinson said on Monday. “He was a great player, a great teacher and I was lucky enough to call him a friend.
“He was a great family man. … His family was in the forefront (of his mind) all the time, because all the time he spent working was to benefit them.”
According to Robinson, during his time with PBCC, McKeown had golf pro offers from several other clubs.
“He had opportunities to go,” Robinson said. “But he loved this place.
“He made it his home.”
Robinson doesn’t think the Arkansas golf community will ever see another George McKeown.
“In my opinion, we will never see another teacher like George,” Robinson said. “He didn’t try to change you; he just tried to make you better.
“He had an incredible teaching and communication gift that won’t be duplicated in Arkansas golf history.”
McKeown’s survivors include his wife, Josephine “Jo” Pedroza McKeown, whom he married June 16, 1963 in Hot Springs; sons, George William “Gordy” McKeown, Jr. (Lisa) of San Antonio, Michael Wyatt McKeown (Shelby) of Conway; daughter, Juliana “Julie” Enderlin (Paul) of Little Rock; brother, Jim Gilmore of McKinney, Texas; sisters, Sharon Bice of Sylmar, Calif., Jean Pierce of Dallas, Nancy Kay of Lavon, Texas, Carolyn Williams of Goliad, Texas; and eight grandchildren, Meagan McKeown, Kelsey McKeown, Jason McKeown, Hannah McKeown, Jessica Enderlin, Paul Jay Enderlin, Joseph Enderlin, and William McKeown.
Services are at 2 p.m. Tuesday at St. Joseph Catholic Church. Committal services are at 1 p.m. Wednesday at Arkansas State Veteran’s Cemetery in North Little Rock. Memorials are requested to Neighbor to Neighbor, 1419 Pine Street, Pine Bluff, AR 71601. Online register: http://www.ralphrobinsonandson.com/obituaries/George-Mckeown/