Growing up in a pair of boxcars on North Broadway, Auggie Navarro never envisioned himself making a living whacking a little white ball around manicured fairways and greens.
But when his dad got a maintenance job at the original Crestview Country Club course, Auggie started caddying there. Thus began the Navarro family’s three-generation association with Wichita’s golf scene, a connection that’s produced champions, teaching pros and, since 2013, a scholarship program for high school golfers.
Navarro competed against greats such as Arnold Palmer and Lee Trevino during his career.
“I was a good golfer and golf gave me everything I have,” Auggie said before his death in 2012. “What more can a guy ask for?”
Auggie’s father, Antonio “Tony” Navarro, was a Mexican immigrant and trackman for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad, which gave some of its workers boxcars to live in. The boxcars stood on North Broadway, across from where Savute’s Italian Ristorante now sits. Tony, his wife, Angela, and their 10 children lived in two of them.
Tony later took a job at Crestview, then located at what became Wichita State University’s Braeburn Golf Course. Asked if he had any children who could caddy for the club’s golfers, Tony replied, “Boy, do I have kids.”
Auggie and five brothers lugged members’ clubs around Crestview for 90 cents a day. The boys walked or hitchhiked four miles to the course at 21st and Oliver.
A member named Godfrey Hartwell often asked Auggie to be his caddy. Hartwell also allowed Auggie to use his clubs to hit balls on the course, breaking the club’s rules against caddies playing there. When Auggie was 17, Hartwell lent the teen his clubs to play and win his first event, a local caddy tournament that earned him a spot in a national caddy tournament in Ohio.
“That’s how he fell in love with the game,” said Auggie’s son, Rick Navarro.
Auggie went on to play golf at Wichita North High School, where he met his wife, Donna. Their children say Donna’s mother, proud of her Dutch heritage, tried to dissuade her daughter from dating Auggie.
Auggie won state and local events as an amateur during the 1950s. After working at area manufacturing plants, he was hired as an assistant pro at MacDonald Golf Course, working with head pro Tex Consolver for four years. In 1962, Auggie took over as head golf pro at Sim Golf Course, a job he kept until his retirement.
He became a member of the South Central Section PGA, winning tournaments in Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas during the 1960s. In 1982, he tied a U.S. record low golf score by shooting 14 below par 57 at Sim. The next year, he began playing Senior PGA tour events, cracking the top 100 money winners.
Midway through a 1988 senior pro tournament in Florida that included Arnold Palmer and other well-known players, Auggie was on top of the leaderboard. The next day, a local Miami newspaper carried a story with the headline, “Who the heck is Auggie Navarro?’”
In the article, Auggie tried to explain: “I guess you wouldn’t call me a household name. I’ve been a golf pro at Sim Park, a municipal course in Wichita for 20 years. I run the pro shop and the concessions, handle the carts and have a junior program there. I guess you’d say it’s day and night difference from Palmer and guys like that.”
Keeping golf in the family
Auggie’s brothers also continued to play golf, sometimes joined by their father, Tony. Auggie’s brother, Frank, became a go-to golf club repairer in the state.
Auggie, Donna and their three children lived a block from Sim Golf Course. Donna helped run the pro shop and concession stand, and the kids all learned the game.
“I played it from sunup to sundown,” said Gary Navarro, who played at Wichita North, winning his first state championship in 1966. He earned All-American honors in 1973 while playing for WSU.
Rick, too, played golf at both North and WSU.
“One of the reasons we excelled at golf was because Dad had us playing with the gang when we were in junior high,” Rick said. “The gang” was a group of about 30 men who would tee off at 10:30 in the morning at Sim.
Both Gary and Rick went on to work as golf pros at local golf courses — Rick at Crestview and Tallgrass Country Club, Gary at Wichita Country Club. First Gary and then Rick helped Charles Koch with his golf game, which eventually led to both leaving their golf careers to work in the oil industry. Rick, Gary and their sister, Deborah, now work for MV Purchasing, which markets petroleum products.
A third generation has kept the family legacy going. Rick’s son, Chase, was ranked fifth in the state while in high school at Kapaun Mt. Carmel. In October, Gary’s daughter, Elea, helped her Kapaun girls golf team win a state championship on the same Salina golf course where Gary won his first state championship. Elea will be a senior this year at Kapaun. Rick also is helping coach his 12-year-old daughter, Kaydance.
Auggie helped start the Wichita Junior Golf Program, which introduces the game to area youth ages 9 to 17. The only cost to participants is a $25 enrollment fee; instruction, golf course fees and equipment are provided.
His children continue to support that effort and also started a college scholarship program in Auggie’s name, raising about $455,00 through an annual golf tournament held the last nine years. Four $1,000 scholarships were awarded in 2013. Since then, 31 scholarships worth $10,000 each have been given to golfers who played in high school or a recognized junior golf program in Kansas.
This year, the tournament became a pro-am event in which 32 golfers competed for a spot in the Wichita Open, part of the PGA’s developmental tour.
Article By Amy Geiszler-Jones