By Ken MacLeod
Dale McNamara gets much well deserved recognition for her legendary coaching career as women’s golf coach at the University of Tulsa, but perhaps not enough for her long but often thankless role on the Tulsa Park Board.
As she and daughter Melissa Luellen received the prestigious Iba Award from the Rotary Club of Tulsa Monday, she recalled being asked by prominent Tulsa oilman and philanthropist Walt Helmerich III to join the board shortly after her coaching career ended.
“Walt said, ‘you’ve been given a lot, now it’s time for you to give back,’ ” McNamara said. “You didn’t say no to Walt Helmerich.”
McNamara has often been a voice of reason and sanity on the Park Board as administration after administration has looked at the Parks and Recreation Department as an easy target for budget cuts without a corresponding reduction in responsibilities. She helped prevent silliness such as a creationist exhibit at the Tulsa Zoo, which is supposed to be a bastion of learning of the history and timeline of species development. She has also been an advocate for the city golf courses, which have desperately needed one.
There seems to be an evaluation process ongoing currently at city hall about whether having quality conditions at the golf courses at Page Belcher and Mohawk Park is an important factor not only for the quality of life of Tulsa citizens but as an recruiting tool for business and individuals considering Tulsa as a home. The Senior PGA Championship and PGA Championship will both be coming to Tulsa in the next decade or so and McNamara pointed out that it would be embarrassing for the city to have its public courses in deplorable conditions while visited by thousands from outside the area.
Conditions at Page Belcher have been on an upswing, but the course is still in need of an infusion of capital to restore it to conditions where the ball can be played down in a tournament setting. A tree trimming program followed by an effort to restore turf grass on many areas bordering the fairways and encroaching into the fairways would be a top priority. Ponds, bunkers and cart paths are also top of mind.
“The courses are important,” she said in an interview before the awards ceremony. “It’s an indication of how a city progresses and the quality of life. They need encouragement from the top. You can’t just turn the courses over (to a management company) and then ignore them. If the top isn’t excited about them, then who will be?”
Being honored with Melissa was one of the highlights of her 82 years, McNamara said.
“It’s history, a one-timer to be honored like this,” she said. “I knew Coach Iba and the greatness of the men who started this award, like coach Eddie Sutton and Bill Connors. And then to look at the list of recipients and be among them, you just gulp.”
Perhaps coincidentally, the University of Tulsa waited almost a month since hiring Annie Young to make the announcement official on the day of the Iba Awards. McNamara introduced Young to the audience and said beforehand that she hopes Young is the one to restore the greatness to the TU program, which has struggled with only moderate success since Luellen left for Arizona State in 2002.
“The past is the past, let’s look to the future,” McNamara said. “I knew Annie as a player at Oklahoma State and I just met her and had lunch a few weeks ago. She’s delightful and I think she’ll do a great job.”