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Co-Founder of LPGA & Popular Owner of Michigan Golf Destination Pass Away
Bettye Danoff, one of the 13 founders of the Ladies Professional Golf Association, and Ron Otto, the man who helped put Michigan's Garland Resort on the national map, have died.
In a statement, the LPGA revealed that Mrs. Danoff passed away in Texas on Thursday at age 88. Known by her fellow pros as "Mighty Mite" because of her diminutive size - the 5' 2" dynamo weighed less than 100 pounds. Mrs. Danoff was the first player to bring her children, three daughters - Kaye, Janie and Debbie, to tournaments and became the LPGA's first playing grandmother.
"Bettye really did make a difference, in the world of golf - and all of us are living proof," LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan said in a statement on the association's website. "Because of her courage, and the vision/belief of many others that followed our Founders, we all get to participate in a fantastic business and game."
The Dallas native began playing golf at age 6 after her parents opened a driving range and nine-hole course. She won four straight Dallas Women's Golf Association Championships from 1945 to '48. In 1947, Mrs. Danoff defeated Babe Zaharias in the Texas Women's Open, ending Babe's 17-tournament winning streak.
After turning pro in 1949, Mrs. Danoff would often bring along her daughters for competitions. There was no childcare for LPGA players on the road at that time. "I remember traveling for five consecutive tournaments with her while she played," said Debbie Bell, Mrs. Danoff's youngest daughter.
"She was often frustrated because she had to find friends and people to help watch us while she competed."
According to the LPGA's statement (http://www.lpga.com/content_1.aspx?mid=4&pid=31516), in 1961 Mrs. Danoff's husband, Dr. Clyde Walter Danoff, died suddenly. After that and through the mid-1970s she played only in tournaments in Texas and Oklahoma and taught golf.
In 1962, Mrs. Danoff made her first hole-in-one at a tournament in Austin, and her award was a case of beer.
Ron Otto passed away in Florida after a short battle with cancer. Mr. Otto took Garland Lodge & Resort in Lewiston, Mich., from a small getaway spot to a burgeoning, four-star destination that now contains four 18-hole golf courses along with the largest log building east of the Mississippi River; a hotel; golf cottages and villas; restaurants; various recreational amenities; and home sites.
Mr. Otto's father, German-born Herman Otto, began the family-owned Garland with nine holes in 1951 as a getaway spot for family, friends and employees of his Detroit-based company, Garland Manufacturing. Ron Otto took over the reins from his father in 1986. In a 2001 story in Michigan Golfer (http://www.webgolfer.com/aug01/his_garl.html), young Otto remembers when his father started building the nine-hole course. "It was a family project. I wasn't old enough to drive yet, but I was going around to area farms with an old truck gathering stone for walls on the property.
"When we first came up to look at the property a bunch of equipment was busy in the middle of this big field. My mother asked what was going on, to which my father replied, 'They are building a golf course.'
"My mother's response was, 'Who would be crazy enough to build a golf course way up here?' My father said, 'Me.' "
The original nine-hole course was built on a portion of the family's 440 acres; it opened to the public in the early '60s. Another nine holes were added in 1973. Through the subsequent acquisition of land, the resort now encompasses nearly 3,500 acres and offers four regulation-length 18-hole courses, all designed by Ron Otto.
Mr. Otto assumed management of the resort in 1986. "I had just sold my other business and we were in the process of redoing our golf course layout and opening Swampfire, which was our new 18-hole course at the time," he told Michigan Golfer. "It was going to be a hobby. I got carried away, and look what we've got today.
"My father thought I was crazy to develop the resort. I had a successful garage door business at the time, and he couldn't see the vision I could for Garland."
Mr. Otto wanted to add a fifth course at Garland and even discussed the idea with Herb Kohler, who owns the American Club (Whistling Straits, Black Wolf Run, etc.) in Wisconsin. Unfortunately, the economy soured and Mr. Otto was forced to sell his beloved Garland in 2009.
"Ron Otto was a very unique man and unlike anyone I have ever known," said Jim McIntyre of Loon River Productions, a Traverse City, Mich., public-relations firm that worked with Mr. Otto. "Truly a visionary . . . Ron's ability to surround himself with great people was one of his greatest attributes. I am grateful to have known him and to have been a part of it."
In 2007, Mr. Otto received the Matthews Lifetime Achievement Award from the Michigan Golf Course Owners Association.
Mr. Otto was in his early 70s at the time of his passing. Memorial arrangements are pending.