Catching up with Gene Elliott
isn’t easy. The West Des Moines, Iowa resident has been busy lately, busy playing some outstanding golf.
Two weeks ago, the 59-year old Elliott traveled to Ganton Golf Club in England, where the legendary Harry Vardon was once the golf professional, and departed at week’s end as the R&A Senior Amateur champion
. With his wife Dalena on his bag, he recorded a one-stroke victory.
Elliott ranks the win as among the most rewarding of his career. “Someone asked me where it ranks in my career and I said it’s up there with all my best wins” he said. “To win a R&A championship across the pond is a huge thrill. I’m still pinching myself. And to have my wife on the bag with me makes it even more special.”
As this story was being prepared, Elliott was getting ready to tee it up in the Senior British Open at Sunningdale. He received an exemption into the field by earning low amateur honors in 2019
at Royal Lytham and St. Annes, the last time the championship was contested.
Since turning 55, Elliott has enjoyed considerable success in the United Kingdom. He tied for second at the R&A Senior Amateur in 2017 and placed third the next year before losing a playoff to fellow American Craig Davis
He also competed in the Senior British Open at St. Andrews in 2018, missing the cut by one shot.
Elliott has done badly outside the UK either; as of this writing he is the top-ranked player in the Golfweek/Amateurgolf.com Senior Ranking
Elliott has a long record of competitive success; he won the Porter Cup in 1998 and his resume includes three Iowa Amateur titles and six Iowa Mid-Amateur crowns (including the last two at age 58
). He’s also been named the Iowa State Golf Association’s Players of the Year four times.
But the approach of his 55th birthday provided him with additional incentive.
“At 54, a lot of my friends were seniors that had played senior golf for quite a while,” he said. “I thought that would be fun to play senior golf and do well, go play in Great Britain and do well in the U.S. stuff.
“So I got a trainer; I had always exercised most of my life but nothing too serious. So, I started working with a trainer when I was 54. I’m religious in the morning about getting up and stretching.
“My trainer moved away and I hooked up with a TPI-Titleist trainer in Des Moines and he’s given me things to strengthen for golf; I do it almost every single day. I said ‘If I want to compete and be good at this, I’ve got to put the time in.’”
Elliott noted he’s reached a point in his business career where he has more time for golf.
“My kids are grown,” he said. “I’ve got my business where I’ve got great people that I work with. In today’s world, you can do so much with your phone and I-Pad and all that.”
Elliott has been a serious golfer for some 45 years now. He took up the game in earnest when he was in his early teens and family was living in Bettendorf, Ia. in the Quad Cities area; he appealed to his father to join Crow Valley Country Club so he could join his friends on the golf course. Not long after, the club hired a new golf professional, Butch Harmon, who spent several years at the club before going on to have considerable success elsewhere.
While Elliott didn’t take regular lessons from Harmon, the pair teamed up for pro-junior events.
“We won the Iowa Section Pro Junior a couple of times,” Elliott said. “We went into Chicago, we won the Chicago District Pro-Junior. He could play and he seemed to know everybody in the game. We were just kind of in awe of him, he wasn’t like he is now. He was just a guy that was a good player.”
Elliott started focusing more on golf when he reached high school and realized he could be part of the varsity golf team as a freshman as opposed to playing freshman football. Golf has been central to his life ever since.
Elliott considers himself a competitive person, both as the owner of his own business, and on the golf course.
“With Elliott Equipment Company, I’m competitive,” he said. “That’s kind of how we’ve grown over the last 20 years or so and gained more territory and more locations.
“I guess ever since I was a kid I've enjoyed competing at something. It didn’t matter what it was. I played a lot of basketball when I was younger and really enjoyed that, and Little League, and some football.”
Elliott has expanded his tournament schedule in recent years.
“When I was younger, more mid-amateur, my kids were younger,” he said. “I wasn’t on the road playing as much I am now. Now, senior golf is kind of a sweet spot where your kids are grown, they’re on their own, with their own jobs and, their own careers and things.
“My wife enjoys traveling; she likes going to golf tournaments. She’ll caddie for me. I’m probably working harder at it now then definitely when I was a mid-amateur but I got to be 54.
It’s hard to compete against kids in their 20s and 30s when you’re 45 and 50 years old. I’ve done well in some mid-ams and some things; it’s just tougher. These kids are younger and stronger and better every year, they just keep coming.”
Elliott notes the landscape of amateur golf has changed significantly over the course of his career.
“When I first started playing mid-amateur golf, the mid-ams were the better players,” he said. “If you were in your late 20s, 30s, even early 40s, you were the better player. The college kids were not as good. You had a few Phil Mickelsons and Justin Leonards and (players) like that. But I would say the mid-amateurs were superior.
“With all the academy golf and the college golf getting so much better; it’s totally flip-flopped. The college kids are all better. And there’s hardly a mid-amateur that can compete with them. There’s a few, but not too many.”
Elliott admits he doesn’t play a lot of social golf. “I like playing tournaments,” he said. “I like competing and testing myself against the best at whatever level it is.”
But Elliott continues to find considerable satisfaction in the game. He enjoys the camaraderie with his fellow players, particularly in his home state.
is a dear friend,” he said. “I think we're just so competitive. We both like to compete and he’s kind of part of why I kept going in the amateur game. I’ve had some success, he’s had a lot of success, and I just think we just kind of feed off each other. I’m happy when does well and I think he’s happy when I do well. And the fact that we play these great tournaments is just a lot of fun.”
Apart from the relationships he enjoys with his peers. Elliott savors the opportunities he has to visit some of golf’s most celebrated venues.
“We’re fortunate to play some of the greatest places in the United States and in the world, actually,” he said. “Whether it’s the Crump Cup
at Pine Valley or the Coleman
at Seminole, whether it’s the Mid-Am or the Senior Am with the USGA, just wonderful venues and wonderful golf tournaments and I guess I’m just not ready to hang up playing at some of those great places.”
At 59, Elliott isn’t sure how much longer he’ll be able to maintain his current level of excellence. But whenever he does step away from competitive golf, he’ll have lasting memories to take with him, among them his visit to St. Andrews in 2018.
“To make it to the Old Course
at St. Andrews and play a Senior Open Championship was just an absolute thrill,” he recalls. “I was in an eight-for-four playoff to get there and got in so that was something to play there.
“I told myself at my first practice round on Tuesday, ‘Okay, just another golf tournament.’ I know it’s St. Andrews, I’m telling myself all this, ‘No big deal, just another golf tournament, let’s just go play golf.’
“And I hit it off the first tee and I’m walking down the first fairway and I look over at 18 green and Old Tom Morris’s golf shop and I started crying. I was like ‘Oh boy this isn’t Iowa anymore.’”