John T. Lupton

John T. Lupton
John T. Lupton

John T. "Jack" Lupton was one of golf's greatest benefactors, but the late Honors Course chairman didn't even play the game in his youth. Lupton was a four-sport athlete at The Baylor School in Chattanooga-captain of the swim and baseball teams and a basketball and football player. Golf was a game to which he paid scant attention, ironic because he grew up across the street from historic Chattanooga Golf and Country Club.

Lupton thought the pace of golf was too slow to hold his attention. That changed when Lupton returned to Chattanooga after serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II and later began working for his family's Coca Cola bottling business in Macon, Georgia. It was there Lupton finally saw the light. He was 25 years old.

When a friend asked Lupton to play a round of golf, he was hesitant at first, but decided to give the game a try. "I told him I didn't play golf, didn't even own a set of clubs," Lupton told this writer in 1996. "I went out and was flailing away with a baseball grip. I got bitten by the bug before we got through nine holes. It was an immediate thing."

Golf quickly became Lupton's passion. When an opportunity to join Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters Tournament, was extended, Lupton jumped at it. It was there Lupton began to form a close relationship with legendary champion Bobby Jones, as well as an appreciation for the amateur game. Lupton was an active member of Augusta National and by extension the Masters, serving along with the famed Hebert brothers-Lionel and Jay, both of whom won the PGA Championship-on the tournament's hole location committee. The Honors Course credo-to pay tribute to the amateur game-was borne out of Lupton's admiration of Jones.

"To dignify Mr. Jones, I put the amateur stipulations on our philosophy," Lupton told this writer in 1991. "Our aim is to honor amateur golf and to uphold its stature in the game. To uphold it as much as one golf course can. The Augusta National has done a lot for the sport of golf. [The Honors] can maybe hang on to the good things about amateur golf, to show people that it is still a part of the game."

Lupton became a skilled golfer, and he was equally adept in business. His time in Georgia was brief. He and wife Alice returned to Chattanooga in 1951, and by 1956 he was elected to the Coca-Cola board of directors. When Lupton's father Carter passed away in 1977, he became chairman of the family business and formed the JTL Corp., which would control and manage the United States' largest bottler until such properties were sold to the Coca-Cola Company in 1986. After the sale, Lupton remained active in business, but he also became a prolific and intentionally unheralded supporter of golf. The USGA was a primary beneficiary of his generosity, which included the use of The Honors Course, for, among many other tournaments, the 1991 U.S. Amateur, and the 1994 Curtis Cup. Lupton was a member of the USGA's Executive Committee, which serves as the organization's policy-making board.

Lupton also helped elevate golf in his home state, first by allowing the Tennessee Golf Association to play its State Amateur at The Honors in 1989. "It completely transformed the hosting of our amateur championships," former TGA executive director Dick Horton said. “It was a byproduct that I didn't see coming at the time. But all of a sudden, when the state's best course says the Tennessee Amateur is good enough to play there, other courses took note of that. And almost immediately, the top courses in Tennessee wanted to host the tournament." Years later, a seven-figure donation from Lupton allowed the TGA to build Tennessee Golf House and the Little Course at Connor Lane. The facility has become the envy of state golf associations around the country. Lupton never set foot on the property until the project was completed. After his initial critique of the designs, he trusted the principal characters Horton had chosen to do their jobs. In return for his support, Lupton had just two requests. "I asked Jack one day, what's going to make you feel like you're pleased with your gift?" Horton said. “What do you want to see accomplished? No. 1 was he wanted the young people that played the course to appreciate and respect the adults that gave them that opportunity. And when they leave, they say thank you. "No. 2 was he wanted the forty-nine other state golf associations to look at Tennessee and try to copy us. There was no personal ego, there were no honors in it."

That was the way Lupton did business. Glowing press reports and accolades didn't mean a thing to him, though the pride in his face the night in 1995 he was inducted into the Tennessee Golf Hall of Fame was hard to disguise.

A few years before he passed away at 83 in 2010, Lupton made one last gift to Tennessee golf. Having served on the USGA's Executive Committee, during which he saw the need for and made a substantial donation to establish a president's fund to be used at the president's discretion, Lupton did the same thing for the TGF. Another seven-figure gift set the plan in motion.

Jack Lupton was a man of principle and passion. In the case of golf, those two traits intersected. And when Lupton felt committed to a cause, he used his wealth and considerable clout to make an impact.

-Chris Dortch