By Ron Balicki, GolfWeek
I’ve pretty much always thought a tournament is a tournament is a tournament. To me, however, what places one tournament above another – particularly in the amateur game – are the people who organize and operate these events.
They are greatly involved and take a tremendous amount of pride in what they do and how all the pieces fit together to run a successful, competitive tournament. They give the event its backbone.
For what seems like forever, Tom Denn has been one of those special people when it comes to the Porter Cup, one of the country’s leading amateur tournaments, held each July at Niagara Falls Country Club in Lewiston, N.Y.
His health declining for more than a year, Denn, 79, died of heart failure in his sleep Jan. 21. But be assured, his legacy will endure within Porter Cup circles, starting with his son, Steve, who is entering his 13th year as the event’s tournament director.
“He certainly made his mark on so many people,” Steve Denn said. “When I started looking back at his life, it’s truly amazing all the things he accomplished. For me, I don’t know where I’d be right now if it wasn’t for him. He was a proud man and loved people. He really loved all the players who came here and competed in Porter Cup, especially the mid-amateurs. He treated all of them with respect and as if they were a part of his family. He truly was a very special person.”
I, for one, will vouch 100 percent on that.
Over the years, I’ve attended numerous Porter Cups, my first being in 1997. One of the first people I met that year was Tom Denn. At that time, he was the de facto “Voice of Porter Cup,” as he served as master of ceremonies at the long-drive contest and introduced – and welcomed – every player on the first tee.
Born in Syracuse, N.Y., Denn lived most of his adult live in the Niagara Falls area, where he was a banker and for the past 30 years an investment manager in his own Denn Financial Services company. He was involved with Niagara Falls CC and the Porter Cup for some 40 years, as a past club president and chairman of the executive committee and for the longest time the man in charge of starters on the first tee during Porter Cup.
“Tom Denn on the first tee at Porter Cup will probably be what most people will remember him for,” his son said. “He really loved doing that.”
Over the years, my friendship with Tom continued to grow. Though I loved covering Porter Cup, getting to see some of the best amateurs in the world and enjoying the great hospitality that surrounds the event, I really loved spending time with Tom.
I could listen to his stories for hours on end. He was a master storyteller. And they weren’t always about golf or Porter Cup. He’d tell me about local, state and national politics, about new and old happenings in the area, and about almost anything and anyone.
I always looked forward to having lunch with him and riding around the course in a golf cart during the tournament. A few years ago, he lost his central vision, but certainly not his enthusiasm for the tournament.
He could barely see, but he still was in his cart zipping from tees to fairways to greens. Riding shotgun with him, I can’t tell you how many times I secretly wished golf carts had seatbelts. Disney World’s Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride attraction had nothing on Tom Denn.
“The last year and a half was very difficult for him as his health continued to decline,” Steve Denn said. “But he had 78 good years on this planet, and I consider that a blessing.”
Denn also is survived by his wife, Nan, and daughter Sharon Larkins of St. Paul, Minn.
The Porter Cup will go on. In fact, Steve Denn said a tribute to his father can be expected at the 55th edition of the Porter Cup this summer.
“We’ll definitely do something to honor him,” Denn said. “I’m not sure right now what that will be.”
So rest in peace, my good friend Tom Denn, and know you will always be missed and loved by all those whose lives you touched over so many wonderful years.