DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Gary Freeman, a pioneer in black college golf as the architect of the men’s and women’s teams at Bethune-Cookman University, died April 19 at his home, the school announced.
No cause of death was listed. Freeman was 78.
Bethune-Cookman won 12 PGA Minority Collegiate Golf Championships — eight women’s and four men’s — under Freeman, who started the program at the historically black school in Daytona Beach in 1998 and coached the Wildcats through last season.
Loritz Clark, who succeeded Freeman last season as head coach, praised his predecessor as “a mentor to me, and more.”
“He was someone I looked up to because he was one of only a few African-American PGA professionals at the time,” Clark said. “He was an inspiration for me to get my PGA membership. I used him as a sounding board and a tremendous resource during my first season.”
Emanuel Petrich recalled Freeman’s having made an immediate impression on his recruiting visit.
”When I came down here for my visit, we had dinner and he told me he was saving a scholarship for me,” said Petrich, a freshman from Grand Blanc, Mich. “My thought was `Why would you save it for me? There are plenty of good golfers out there.’
“He told me that he knew I was dedicated and that I would work hard and I would make him and the team proud,” Petrich said. “That’s what I’m trying to do now every time I play. I will always remember that dinner. I’m sad that I won’t be able to see him one more time.”
Athletic director Lynn Thompson called Freeman “a godsend” to the school.
“His 12 years were great ones that left the strongest of foundations for our efforts to continue a winning golf program,” Thompson said. “The B-CU athletics family offers its prayers and support to his family.”
Freeman, a former club pro and 15-year member of the PGA of America, was a 1955 graduate of Morgan State.
Freeman is survived by Jean, his wife of 56 years, four, four grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
The family asks that any memorial be made in Freeman’s name to the B-CU golf program (386-481-2247).