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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Stealth Golf

Stealth Golf

How the home of the Stealth fighter became the home of the fighting Muckers golf team

Story by Brian Hurlburt

When Tonopah High School golf coach Robert Otteson, a lead tech in the United States Air Force, pushed send on an email to Las Vegas Golf Hall of Fame member Eric Dutt, he had no idea what lay ahead. To this day, his head—and the heads of his team members—are still spinning.

Tonopah, Nevada, is located about three hours from Las Vegas, and is probably best known as a training area for the world-famous United States Air Force Thunderbirds squadron. Those watching closely also know that the Tonopah Test Range (or TTR as the locals call it) was where the Stealth Bomber was born. Otteson works at TTR, but if he told this writer what he did on a daily basis, well, this writer might not be around to finish this article. Suffice it so say, much of how our country is defended has blossomed from the remote Nevada town of Tonopah.

So how does the home of, arguably, the most top-secret fighter jet of this generation become the focal point of a golf journey like no other? It begins because of a good father and continues with the help of a generous member of the Las Vegas golf community…

A few years back, Denver Otteson, one of Coach Robert’s sons, decided he wanted to play golf in high school. Denver had played with his father at some of the surrounding courses in such metropolises as Round Mountain and Beatty, and had the golf bug. The only problem was that there wasn’t a course in Tonopah and pretty much no driving range. And no high school golf team, either.

But good dads find ways to get things done, and Robert approached the principal at the time, Patsy Jensen, with the idea that he wanted to start a golf team and be the coach. Jensen successfully lobbied the Nye County School District board to approve the request, but the final hurdle was finding a place to practice. Otteson convinced everyone involved that they could renovate an old dusty and dirty driving range six miles from town, and before he knew it, the Tonopah Muckers golf team was ready for play.

Two years ago the team built their own range complete with practice sand trap, and many in the community had gotten behind the program. Flash forward to earlier this year when Coach Otteson was sitting around coming up with ideas about how to bring the Muckers golf team to new heights. One day he found the email address of Dutt, the vice president of golf operations for Rio Secco Golf Club and Cascata, and sent off what would turn out to be one of the most meaningful emails of his life.

 “What Eric has been is a godsend to our program, and our team just loves him,” says Otteson, whose youngest son, Tanner, is now playing on the team. “I emailed him to ask for a donation to the program and he replied with, ‘What do you need?’ I told him in return, ‘What don't we need? We will take anything golf-related that we can get.’”

“He then asked about our situation and I told him what we were up against, trying to improve with no golf course and how our kids were playing with 20 or 30 year old clubs and incomplete sets,” says Otteson. “Shortly after that email, he donated thousands of dollars in equipment to our program. He donated clubs, clothing, shoes, practice balls, new balls, golf bags, hats and more. He has also been the driving force behind finding other people in the Las Vegas community to donate stuff to our program. And he has also allowed our kids to come down and play and practice at Rio Secco and Cascata.” 

Otteson continues, “Most of our kids in the program would have never been able to play such nice courses if it weren’t for Eric’s generosity. I know he doesn’t want any publicity about this, but he has been amazing. He told me that when he was young, people reached out to help him so he just wants to do the same thing for others. We are just so grateful for everything he has done for our program.”

Dutt grew up in Las Vegas and is one of the best amateur golfers in the history of the city. He was a standout junior player and then played college golf at Purdue. He has won multiple amateur titles at the state and local level, and was inducted into the Las Vegas Golf Hall of Fame in 2008. When the email popped into his inbox, he was inspired to act.

“I get a lot of email requests for a variety of different things, and I try to help whenever I can, but this one stood out from the others,” says Dutt, who also serves as president of the Nevada Golf Course Owners Association. “When I learned about the program, it reminded me of small town America and of Las Vegas 30 or 40 years ago. The whole community was supporting Coach Otteson and the team, and I thought, ‘how can I not help?’ It was easy to reach out to the Las Vegas golf community and ask for clubs and other donations. So many people and organizations have helped out and it has made a huge impact on the team. It’s nice to hear we have made a difference but I have also had a lot of fun getting to know the coach and the team.”

And that’s how the home of the Stealth Fighter became the home of the fighting Muckers golf team. Quite the golf journey, indeed.

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