Roger Dunn dies at 81; golfer founded chain of discount stores

Roger Dunn, a onetime professional golfer who introduced the concept of discount name-brand equipment into his sport by founding a chain of golf stores that bear his name in California and Hawaii, has died. He was 81.

Dunn, who spent his later years teaching golf in Studio City, died Aug. 28 at Kindred Hospital in West Covina, said his daughter, Cheryl Alderson. He had been in and out of hospitals with a heart condition since May.


"He certainly changed golf retail," said John Kopacz, vice president of store operations for Worldwide Golf Enterprises Inc., which purchased Roger Dunn Golf Shops in 1993. "The way golfers could buy golf equipment at discounted prices wasn't available until he came along.

"We're proud to have his name on our stores. He was a great ambassador for golf."

Born Aug. 1, 1931, in Marshalltown, Iowa, Dunn moved to Los Angeles in the mid-1940s.

Dunn had started playing golf while working as a caddie at a country club in Marshalltown. As a 15-year-old caddie at Annandale Golf Club in Pasadena in 1946, he was sponsored by Bob Hope and Bing Crosby as the Southern California representative at the inaugural National Caddie Tournament in Columbus, Ohio.

A top junior golfer in the late '40s, Dunn competed in tournaments against future Hall of Fame golfers Gene Littler and Billy Casper.

As a student at John Muir Junior College, now John Muir High School, in Pasadena, Dunn was the Western State Conference champion — individual and team — in 1950. At USC, he was the Pacific Coast Conference Champion, again as individual and team, in 1951.

After a stint on the PGA Tour in the early '60s, Dunn began teaching golf at Studio City Golf Course in 1962. Three years later, he began operating a driving range in North Hollywood and turned the front area into a pro shop.

"The PGA mandated you had to mark up products at least 40%," Dunn told Southland Golf magazine. "I thought that was too much. So at the end of the model year, I would buy up merchandise at a deep discount, and even with a 40% markup it was still cheaper than anywhere else."

Sales the first year were $23,000; but after he started discounting, he sold $173,000 worth of golf-related merchandise, Dunn said.

In 1978, he sponsored his son Steve with golf equipment and some financing to open a Roger Dunn Golf Shop in Santa Ana. By 1986, they had 16 stores across California.

Steve bought out his father in 1988 and sold the chain to Worldwide Golf Enterprises because he wanted to concentrate on his golf-manufacturing company, The Times reported in 1993. There now are 18 Roger Dunn Golf Shops in California and Hawaii.

"Roger was such an icon in L.A.," said Kopacz, who managed the Roger Dunn shop in North Hollywood in the late '80s.

"He would still frequently go into the store in North Hollywood and talk to customers," Kopacz said. "We loved having him around. He was so passionate about golf itself."

In 1988, Dunn returned to teaching golf in Studio City at what is now Weddington Golf and Tennis, giving lessons until he was hospitalized in May.


"People were always impressed when we would mention, 'There's Roger Dunn,' " said general manager George McCallister. "They'd go to see him because it is the Roger Dunn; he had the name recognition."

As a golf instructor, "He had an enthusiasm about teaching that you rarely see," McCallister said. "He really cared about his students."

In addition to his daughter Cheryl, Dunn is survived by his other children, Steve, Tim and Tracy; his brother, Ray; six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

A celebration of Dunn's life will be held at 1 p.m. Sept. 30 at Weddington Golf and Tennis, 4141 Whitsett Ave., Studio City.