In 1981, the businessman began to pursue his goal to build a world-class facility that would bring major championships to the Louisville, Ky. region. The club has hosted three PGA Championships, two Senior PGAs and the 2008 Ryder Cup on its Jack Nicklaus-designed course. Valhalla was sold in 2000 to the PGA of America.
Dwight Gahm, who founded Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky., in 1986 and directed its growth to become one of the United States’ most prominent golf clubs, died on March 7 at age 96.
Gahm (pronounced “game”) hired Jack Nicklaus to design the golf course, and sold the facility to the PGA of America in 2000. Over its three decades, Valhalla has hosted three PGA Championships, two Senior PGA Championships and the 2008 Ryder Cup.
C&RB featured Valhalla GC as the cover story of its September 2014 issue: http://clubandresortbusiness.com/2014/09/30/new-dawn-valhalla-gc/
“Dwight Gahm was a pioneer, a great business leader and a friend to the PGA of America,” Pete Bevacqua, CEO of the PGA of America, said in a statement. “His bold vision, which brought major championships to Kentucky and a world-class facility to the region, transformed Valhalla Golf Club into an international golf destination.
“His dream greatly influenced the modern history of the PGA’s most prestigious championships, and his impact on the game will continue for years to come. We will greatly miss him,” Bevacqua added.
A statue of Gahm with Nicklaus stands between the clubhouse at Valhalla GC and its 18th green.
“The game of golf and the tight-knit community of Louisville lost a great friend with the passing of my longtime friend Dwight Gahm,” Nicklaus said in a statement. “Dwight’s vision for creating a championship layout in Louisville resulted in one of the finest courses in the country.
“In realizing Dwight’s dream for Valhalla, the PGA of America has been able to raise millions of dollars for charities in Louisville and around the country,” Nicklaus added. “Dwight also helped to introduce countless spectators to golf and our design, leaving a permanent mark on the sport and an indelible imprint on my career and life.”
The combination of Gahm’s vision and Nicklaus’ design produced some of the most memorable moments in recent golf history: Tiger Woods needed a three-hole playoff to fend off Bob May in the 2000 PGA Championship, while Rory McIlroy barely outraced darkness and Phil Mickelson to win the 2014 PGA Championship. Valhalla was also the site of the United States’ last victory in the Ryder Cup, when Captain Paul Azinger used his “pod” system to defeat the Europeans by five points.
Gahm and his family have long owned and operated Kompact Kitchen, a cabinet-making business based in southern Indiana. A native of Portsmouth, Ohio, he moved to Louisville in 1934 and in 1941 graduated from the University of Indiana, where he played football for the Hoosiers.
His dream for Valhalla was to create a traditional “golf-only” facility with a world-class championship course. Pursuit of that dream began in 1981, when he and his three sons commissioned Nicklaus to build the course on 486 acres of rolling Kentucky terrain.
After the course opened in 1986, it was named one of the top three new private golf courses in the United States in 1987, the first year it was eligible. It remains the No. 1-ranked course in Kentucky and one of “America’s 100 Greatest Courses,” according to Golf Digest.
With the facility open, the family set out on its next quest—to bring major championship golf to Louisville. In 1992, the PGA of America awarded the 1996 PGA Championship to Valhalla, and in 1993 Gahm and the PGA of America reached an innovative agreement, through which the PGA would purchase 25 percent of the club.
After the success of the 1996 PGA Championship, the PGA assumed 50 percent ownership in the club and announced that Valhalla would host the 2000 PGA Championship. After that event, the PGA bought the remaining interest in Valhalla.
“If you ever asked him, he’d just say, ‘Oh, it’s dumb luck. We just got lucky,'” Valhalla’s General Manager, Keith Reese, PGA told The Louisville Courier-Journal. “That was his response to everything about that, and that was part of [his] humble nature.
“But it is amazing,” Reese adds. “When they started building the club here, they were thinking big. They wanted to build a championship venue, and there are few people in this world who get to see that dream come true.”
According to Gahm’s wishes, there will be no funeral or visitation. His ashes will be displayed at the family business.