Bob Cupp was many things in life – painter, musician, woodworker, sculptor and novelist – but players of the game knew him as “Golf’s Renaissance Man,” a leading designer of golf courses around the world.
“Some of us do things and we might have a passion for them and on a scale of 1 to 10 we might do it at a 5 or 6,” said a longtime friend Billy Fuller, “but anything Bob did, he did it at a 10.”
Robert Erhard “Bob” Cupp, whose courses have hosted more than 50 national and international championships, died Aug. 19 in home hospice care in Atlanta of pancreatic cancer. He was 76.
“He loved golf, but he also recognized that golf was often seen as the bastion of – as he described them – ‘fat white male Republicans,’ ” said Pam, his wife of more than 29 years. “He felt golf was so much more than that. He was really passionate about young people having opportunities to be exposed to golf.”
Toward the end of his life, Cupp was involved in the redesign of the Bobby Jones Golf Course in Atlanta; Pam Amy-Cupp, his wife, said it will have a “Wee Links” for younger players. “He certainly built more than his fair share of courses that can only be played by the most elite among us, but he had a passion for public golf, too,” she said.
Cupp was born Dec. 27, 1939 in Lewistown, Pa. He picked up a love of golf from his father (he also played baseball), and at age 12 he was caddy-master at the Lewistown Country Club.
Cupp graduated from high school in 1957 and earned a bachelor of arts degree at the University of Miami. He joined the U.S. Army, where he earned a master’s in fine arts through an Army extension program and was commissioned to do a series of paintings depicting the history of the Army in Alaska. He was discharged in 1966 and got a job as an assistant pro at a small South Florida golf course.
There, he started sketching out some ideas. The course owner liked them and told him to go ahead and do them. It was 1968.
“I went out and got in my car and broke into a cold sweat, because I knew precisely what I wanted to do, but I had not the foggiest idea how to do it,” Cupp said in a video for his 2014 induction into the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame.
Cupp studied agronomy at Dade Community College, got an associate degree in turf management, and started a golf design business in Miami. He also stayed active in art, illustrating the classic baseball instructional book, “The Science of Hitting” by Ted Williams. The book’s co-author was a Sports Illustrated writer named John Underwood.
Underwood introduced Cupp to golf legend Jack Nicklaus. In 1971 – the year “The Science of Hitting” was published – Cupp joined Nicklaus’ newly formed design firm, Golden Bear. He was the Bear’s senior designer for more than 15 years.
“Sometimes people would ask, ‘Bob, which was your favorite golf course?’ Bob would say, ‘OK, you tell me, which is your favorite child?’ ” said Fuller, a former superintendent of the Augusta National Golf Club. He joined the newly formed Bob Cupp Inc. in Atlanta as design associate and agronomist specialist in 1986. Over 20 years, the two men worked together on nearly 100 courses.
Fuller and others can list “Cupp’s Greatest Hits.” They include Liberty National in New Jersey, Pumpkin Ridge in Oregon, Old Waverly in Mississippi, Indianwood in Michigan, Beacon Hall and Mad River in Ontario, East Sussex National in England, and Brookhaven, Hawks Ridge, Marietta, Plantation Course, Reynolds Landing and Settindown Creek, all in Georgia.
In 1992, Golf World Magazine recognized Cupp as its first Golf Architect of the Year. His son Bobby followed him into the profession.
Cupp joined the American Society of Golf Course Architects in 1990 and was its president in 2012-13. His first work of fiction, “The Edict: A Novel From the Beginnings of Golf,” was published by Random House. Cupp also co-authored the companion book and script for the PBS documentary, “Golf’s Grand Design.”
“Bob Cupp not only designed golf courses … he also designed his home, built most of the furniture in it, raised a second family, wrote a novel, painted and sculpted, worked on model railroads, played guitar and sang in the local choir,” Ron Whitten, senior editor of architecture for Golf Digest magazine, wrote in an online tribute. “A good friend for over 30 years, Bob was absolutely my favorite Renaissance Man in golf.”
Cupp is survived by his wife Pamela Amy-Cupp; children, Sengens and Foster Amy-Cupp; Robert E. Cupp Jr., Caren Cupp and Laura Cupp, and seven grandchildren. A memorial celebration is set for 10:30 a.m., Sept. 24, at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, 731 Peachtree St., NE, Atlanta.
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