Most golf fans in Wisconsin can tick off the names of the great players the state has produced: Andy North, Steve Stricker, Jerry Kelly, Sherri Steinhauer and many more.
Less well known but no less important are the Wisconsinites who contributed to the game in other ways, behind the scenes and often anonymously.
At the head of that list was Dr. David Upjohn Cookson of Madison.
“As I look back at my period of time, 60 years or so, I can’t think of anybody who’s done more for the game in its entirety,” said Gene Haas, executive director of the Wisconsin State Golf Association from 1977 to 2000. “All in all, at the big level of amateur golf in the United States, nobody has contributed more than Dave Cookson.
“If I had to pick anyone to be Mr. Golf in Wisconsin, I’d have to pick him. I couldn’t pick anyone else.”
Cookson died peacefully Aug. 7, surrounded by family members. He was 86.
A good player in his youth and an avid golfer his entire life, he leaves behind an incredible legacy of volunteerism, philanthropy and an unsurpassed passion for the game.
Among his many contributions, Cookson served as president of the WSGA from 1977 to 1978 and on many United States Golf Association committees; was a vice president of the Western Golf Association; was liaison to the Evans Scholars House on the University of Wisconsin campus; chaired for many years the Wisconsin Golf Hall of Fame selection committee; served as a rules official for nearly 90 USGA championships, including 25 U.S. Opens; and was president of Maple Bluff Country Club.
Cookson served on the WGA board of governors from 1977 to 1998 and received the President’s Distinguished Service Award from the WSGA in 1993. In 2006, he was elected to the Wisconsin Golf Hall of Fame – over his mild protestation, because he chaired the selection committee.
In 2015, he was awarded the prestigious Joe Dey Award from the USGA for lifetime service as a volunteer. It is one of the highest honors in amateur golf.
“Dr. Cookson has been the most prominent and meaningful volunteer figure in the state of Wisconsin,” said then-WSGA president Jim Reinhart. “He has been instrumental in virtually every significant golf initiative in the state and involved in every aspect of amateur golf as an administrator and mentor. I cannot think of a more deserving person to receive this award.”
Cookson was born in Orange, N.J., but spent most of his childhood in Kalamazoo, Mich. He attended the University of Michigan before entering Harvard Medical School at age 19. He met Christine Morrison at the Medical School Dining Hall and they soon married.
They moved to Madison in 1957 for Cookson’s residency in internal medicine at the UW and made the city their home. Admired for his skill as a diagnostician, Cookson treated thousands of patients during his career.
Still, he managed to play 36 holes almost every Thursday and Saturday at Maple Bluff with regular playing partners Jack Kelly – Jerry’s father – and Warren Dailey, who died in 2018 and 2012, respectively.
A skilled golfer, Cookson finished as high as 10th in the Wisconsin State Amateur and was the first-round leader in the inaugural Ray Fischer 72-Hole Amateur Championship.
But it was off the course where he made his mark as one of the nation’s foremost rules officials and a volunteer and contributor at every level of the game. Quietly and without fanfare, Haas said, Cookson was a major benefactor of the Evans Scholars Program administered by the WGA, which has helped more than 10,600 caddies graduate from college since its inception in 1930.
Cookson is survived by his wife of 65 years, Christine, and their four children: David (Lynn) Cookson, Daniel (Holly) Cookson, Sondra (Eugene) McLinn and Matthew (Gail) Cookson. He also is survived by his brother, Lawrence, and many beloved grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be sent to the Evans Scholars Foundation, Agrace Foundation and the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. A celebration of Cookson’s life will be announced and held at a later date.