By Bob Denney
PGA Historian Emeritus
PGA Hall of Famer Bob Popp Sr., whose combined national and local leadership in promoting professional education elevated the Nebraska PGA Section, passed away Jan. 31, in Port St. Lucie, Florida, following complications of congestive heart failure. He was 91.
Prior to his death, Popp was the fourth longest serving PGA Member at 71 years.
Born Feb. 9, 1929, in Belleville, Illinois, Popp grew up into a golf family, and took his first job at his father Ted’s nine-hole Oak Hill Golf Course, which featured sand greens.
“Dad said they used to save old motor oil and mix it with sand on the greens,” said Bob Popp Jr., the oldest of Popp’s two sons. “That combination made for a slick putting surface.”
Popp competed on the PGA Tour for four seasons, primarily during the “West Coast Swing,” and recorded 17 lifetime holes-in-one. He captured the 1961 and ’65 Nebraska PGA Section Championship, and competed in four PGA Championships and three Senior PGA Championships (today’s KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship).
Popp held PGA Professional positions in Maysville, Kentucky and Lancaster, Ohio, before arriving at Omaha Country Club on Jan. 1, 1959, where he spent 31 years before retiring in 1990. Popp served as president of the Nebraska PGA Section (1973-75), but declined to run for national office due to it necessitating too much time away from his duties at Omaha Country Club (OCC).
Elected to PGA Membership in 1949, Popp served a rare three terms in three separate decades on the PGA Board of Directors — 1969-70; 1976-78 and 1985-87. During those years, Popp was a member of the 1967 Ryder Cup Committee; chair of the PGA Education Department; the “Second Tour” Committee (today’s Korn Ferry Tour); and the Senior Tour Committee (today’s PGA TOUR Champions).
Popp also served on the PGA Junior Golf Committee and was named the 1982 national PGA Golf Professional of the Year, the PGA’s highest annual honor.
One of the most decorated Nebraska PGA members, Popp was the Section’s 1965 Teacher of the Year; the 1978 and ‘82 Section Professional of the Year; 1981 PGA Professional Development Award recipient; and won the 1991 Section Herb Davis Award for promotion of golf in Nebraska.
Popp was inducted into the Nebraska Golf Hall of Fame in 1992, and became a PGA Hall of Fame member in 2005.
“The PGA of America is saddened by the passing of Bob Popp, one of the longest serving PGA members and a legend of the Nebraska PGA Section. Bob’s more than 70 years representing the PGA exemplified how PGA Professionals fulfill many roles. We send our thoughts and prayers to his wife, Betty, and family”, said Jim Richerson, President of the PGA of America.
Retiring to PGA Village in Port St. Lucie, Florida, Popp was a regular competitor in the PGA Winter Championships. He won the Half-Century Championship in 2003, reserved for PGA Members with 50 or more years of service.
Popp is survived by his wife, Betty, of 72 years; and sons Bob Jr. and Tony.