Friday, September 16, 2022 11:48 PM
The story of the sport of golf in Warsaw cannot be told without Don Dicken.
During Dicken’s remarkable career, he was designated a master professional by the PGA, earned Golf Professional of the Year in 1993, as well as Teacher and Merchandiser of the Year by the PGA. He was also named to the Richmond Golf Hall of Fame. His lowest competitive score was a 64 and he totaled 12 holes-in-ones over the course of his career.
For 35 years, Dicken was the only golf professional Rozella Ford Golf Course ever knew. With no official record of anyone else, it is believed by many that Dicken was the first golf professional in Warsaw’s history.
Dicken, a US Army veteran who served his country as a private first class during the Korean Conflict, came to Warsaw in 1960 looking to take over his own course after serving as an assistant professional at Point O’ Woods Country Club in Michigan. From 1961 to 1995, Dicken would play a huge part in helping turn Rozella Ford into one of the finest courses in northern Indiana.
When Dicken arrived at Rozella Ford, he used a wheeled trailer no bigger than an outhouse as his first pro shop. As the course would eventually grow, so did Dicken’s shop, as well as his tutelage.
“There are golf professionals and there are professional golfers,” Dicken said in an interview after winning the 1993 Golf Professional of the Year award. “I would much rather be there when you break 90 or 100 for the first time and help you with your game than to go out and shoot a great round myself.”
Dicken not only introduced newer players to the game of golf, he also helped it be played at the highest level possible. When Joe Harris, a member of the Indiana Golf Coaches Hall of Fame, became the golf coach at Warsaw Community High School in 1965, he asked Dicken to work with the team as the swing coach, as Dicken had already been working with the players for some time. Without hesitation, Dicken agreed. In the first year of the partnership, the team went 13-0 and finished third in the state. Over the course of 24 years, the WCHS golf team went 349-95 under Harris and Dicken. The teams won 13 Northern Lakes Conference championships and made nine state finals appearances.
“As I did many years ago as the boy’s golf coach and still do, I credit Don Dicken for helping with the success of the Warsaw golf program,” Harris said in an old Times-Union Letter to the Editor. “Don truly is and has been a strong contributor to our community and we should all be very thankful for him.”
Along with Harris, Dicken also assisted Bob Turner in coaching the Warsaw golf team. Turner also gave Dicken credit for the success of his teams and is also a member of the Indiana Golf Coaches Hall of Fame. The school currently honors Dicken with a tournament for the boys’ team dedicated in his honor, the Don Dicken Classic. Dicken also had the WCHS boys’ and girls’ senior golf award named after him.
Dicken also instructed students at Tippecanoe Valley High School and Grace College, and was instrumental in starting Warsaw’s girls golf team.
Outside of his assistance coaching teams, Dicken spent almost every day of the week, sometimes all seven, teaching lessons to young golfers in the area.
Among Dicken’s most famous pupils are Jerry Nelson and Denny Hepler, now members of the Indiana Golf Hall of Fame. One of Dicken’s former assistants, Todd Firestone, eventually went on to become the president of the Indiana PGA. But for Dicken, it wasn’t just about teaching the best. Dicken would teach anyone who wanted to pick up a golf club and adjust his coaching to better suit the player.
“He would teach 60 kids at a time, and he’d only charge them five dollars,” Dicken’s wife of 61 years, Sondra, said. “He had such an impact on the community and so many people give him credit. Even after he retired he’d still be out there on the lesson tee helping people at no cost.”
Along with Sondra, the Dicken’s children Mike, Donna and Steve all assisted Don on the course at his pro shop.
Dicken was the 89th professional out of thousands of members to enter the master’s program. Beginning his education at the first PGA school in Dunedin, Fla. in 1957, Dicken would eventually reach master status in 1991 after his thesis on the “Y” of golf and how the golf swing is constructed from its initial point.
Dicken passed away on September 9. 2021 at the age of 87.
Next weekend, the sixth annual Don Dicken Appreciation Tournament will be held at Rozella Ford Golf Course. The course’s owner, Jeff Johnson, grew up with Dicken and bought the course in 2013 to make sure it remains one of the best in the region. He holds the tournament every year to honor his friend.
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