John Edmond Jr. dies at 67; popular golf teacher at Rancho Park in West L.A.

John Edmond Jr., a popular longtime instructor at the storied Rancho Park Golf Course in West Los Angeles whose threatened job loss in 2003 sparked a flood of protest, died Monday at a West Hills hospice. He was 67.

The cause was complications of lymphoma, said his daughter, Victoria Edmond-Davis.

Edmond, who trained hundreds of players during his 37 years as a teaching pro at the city-owned course, was known for his ability to instill confidence and improve his students' games with hands-on instruction, uncomplicated advice and a buoyant outlook about life as well as about golf.

"He had a huge following, from rank beginners to people who were fairly good at the game," said Cathy Tennican, past president of the Rancho Park Women's Golf Club. "He was one of the kindest, most optimistic and positive human beings I've ever met."

When Rancho Park's management changed six years ago, the new operator wanted all instructors to be members of the Professional Golfers Assn., but Edmond and several other veteran teachers balked at the requirement and were threatened with dismissal. After an article about their situation appeared in The Times’ Sunday magazine, the city was deluged by protest calls -- more than 1,000 by one account -- mostly from past and current students of Edmond. Rancho's management relented and Edmond taught for six more years.

"John was the catalyst for that. His students raised the ruckus," said Derrick Allen, another Rancho Park teaching pro, who knew Edmond for 25 years.

Edmond was born Oct. 1, 1942, in Springfield, Ill., and spent his early childhood in Mounds, Ill. When he was 10, he and his family moved to Los Angeles. Although his father, a scratch golfer, introduced him to the game when he was a toddler, Edmond preferred to play basketball at Los Angeles High School. At Los Angeles City College, he majored in math and competed in both basketball and golf.

In 1962 he began teaching at the Griffith Park golf course under an agreement between the Department of Recreation and Parks and the NAACP, becoming the first African American pro to work at a city course. He taught for two years at Griffith Park before he was drafted into the Army.

When he completed his military duty in 1966, he returned to Los Angeles, got married and started a family. He could not find a job teaching golf so he became a soils analyst for the city and later a surveyor.

But golf remained his passion and, in 1972, he found he could resist its pull no more. He bought a van and left Los Angeles to test his skills in tournaments around the country -- in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Indiana, Georgia, Louisiana. He lived in the van, where he cooked his meals on a two-burner stove, and took showers at golf courses and trailer parks.

His three months on the road taught him enduring life lessons. "Most of the places I went, people were so nice it was unreal," he told The Times' Edward J. Boyer in 2003. Golfers invited him to dine at their private clubs. In Syracuse, N.Y., a driving range operator asked him to play an exhibition with top players in the area. "It was pretty incredible considering I was the only black person in sight," he recalled.

Golf, he later said, "is like life. It's about being comfortable with who you are. The more comfortable you are with who you are, the better your chances of success."

Although he gained a new outlook on himself, he did not play well enough to make the PGA Tour. He was broke and his marriage, strained by his golf odyssey, fell apart. But he had "recaptured" his game and began spending hours after work every day playing on Rancho Park's par-3 course. Soon he was hired to teach there. As word spread of his golfing prowess -- including a legendary drive on Rancho's uphill 372-yard fifth hole -- he began to attract students, particularly from nearby Brentwood and Hillcrest country clubs.

"He was a fabulous, jovial, wonderful man and a great golf teacher," said former student Linda Bail, a two-time champion of Hillcrest's annual tournament. "His approach was very simple. He put his hands on top of yours and put the club back where he wanted it. It was like the olden days of teachers, who instead of telling you so many things they would show you."

He often called his students at home to offer encouragement or congratulations on their progress. They, in turn, invited him to their houses for dinner, for birthday parties and their children's weddings.

"When you became John's student, you became his friend," observed Allen, who taught for many years in the stall next to Edmond's. "His students were family."

In addition to his daughter, Edmond is survived by a sister, Cassandra Curtis, and a half-sister, Lois Gray, both of Los Angeles, and a granddaughter, Alexandra Davis, of McLean, Va.

A graveside service will be held Friday at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills. His daughter plans to create a memorial fund in his name to pay for renovations of the Rancho Park driving range.

elaine.woo@latimes.com

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