PALM HARBOR, Fla. — No sooner had I sat down to lunch with Larry Packard than he handed me a sheet of paper. At the top it read, “Six ways to be happy.”
First thought: Only six? But Packard must know what he’s talking about. For the past century he has, by all accounts, led a happy and exceedingly productive life – designing or renovating some 250 courses, according to Roger Packard,
his son and former business partner.
Packard has been retired since 1986, but the man and his work live on. He’ll be nearing his 101st birthday this week when the PGA Tour visits Innisbrook’s Copperhead Course, a Packard design that opened in 1970.
So perhaps it’s not a bad time to assess the man and his rules to live by.
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Rule No. 1: Associate with happy, friendly people.
Whenever the American Society of Golf Course Architects would gather, Packard invariably was the sharpest dresser in the room, and always with a winning smile, said Paul Fullmer, the group’s former executive secretary.
Packard’s booming voice could command a room, and he often dazzled people with his many talents. He played the banjo, piano and organ, he could sing and dance, paint, and, according to his son, “recite poems from memory that would bring a room to tears.”
Roger Packard joined his father’s design firm in 1970, and they worked together until Larry retired. Roger, who later moved his practice to Shanghai, described his father in an email: “Always the gentleman. Family came first. A great teacher and partner. A great sense of humor. Talented in so many ways. He’s very old school, which is refreshing today.”
Such opinions weren’t confined to the Packard family. As a young golf architect in Chicago, Jeff Brauer recalls having to live off the scraps while Packard was gobbling up much of the prime business in the Midwest.
“So I was really prepared not to like this guy at all,” Brauer said.
Then he met Packard when both were interviewing with a prospective client. “And I thought, ‘Holy smokes, how can you not like Larry Packard?’ ”
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Rule No. 2: Eat compatible, nutritional foods. Stay away from foods or drinks which are indigestible. Do not overeat or drink.
Larry Packard is sitting in the restaurant that bears his name, at the Florida resort where he built four courses.
This is a good day, but the sour look on Packard’s face indicates something isn’t quite right. He’s clearly not enjoying his filet.
“Where did you get this?” he asks the waiter. “Did you shoot it?”
The waiter laughs. One senses that Packard enjoys yanking his chain. Packard always has been meticulous, precise; when the food in his restaurant doesn’t meet his exacting standards, he doesn’t mind letting people know.
So Packard takes his own advice and returns the steak. But his nursing assistant grabs him a dessert for later.
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Rule No. 3: If married, BE FAITHFUL!
Nobody likes a run-around.
Larry Packard already was engaged when a co-worker at Westover Field in Massachusetts invited him to dinner to meet his daughter, Dorothy, one night in the late 1930s. According to Roger, his father quickly dumped his fiancee and pursued Dorothy.
Larry and Dorothy were married on Jan. 16, 1941, and they remained together until her death in September 1992.
Larry subsequently was paired for a round on Copperhead with a feisty woman named Ann Browning, who recently had moved south from New York. They were married on June 7, 1993. Ann died in February.
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Rule No. 4: Try to enjoy your work or find work you can enjoy. This may be the biggest secret for a happy life.
Packard never set out to build golf courses. He graduated in 1935 from UMass’ School of Landscape Architecture, and it wasn’t until 1944 that he landed in the Chicago office of Robert Bruce Harris, where he designed everything from schools to golf courses. He even helped design O’Hare airfield.
He had a light, friendly manner, but he was serious about his craft. “Perfectionist” is a word used by some, including his son, to describe him.
Packard’s work reflected not just technical skill, but at its best, artistry – a knack for dressing up a low-budget job with what Fullmer called a “flair for aesthetics.” Florida architect Bill Amick points specifically to a design trait that is evident on the Copperhead Course.
“He took that free-form style that was used in bunkers and applied it to the tees,” Amick said. “That was the first time I had seen it applied so nicely and artistically.”
Packard designed with the sensibility of a public player. He said over lunch that he intentionally made the first five holes of his courses among the easiest, to help players ease into a round and improve pace of play.
“He represented the average golfer rather than being worried about the low-handicapper,” retired architect Dick Phelps said. “Larry was doing beautiful courses for the masses.”
Packard’s signature was the double-dogleg par 5, as seen on Copperhead’s 14th hole. He found it visually and strategically interesting. But he never wanted to demoralize weak players with an abundance of hazards.
“I don’t want you to play my courses just once,” he said. Speaking slowly for emphasis, he added, “I want you to come back. . . . I want you to have fun.”
Packard probably is the person most responsible for transforming the ASGCA from a social society into a professional organization. Fullmer goes so far as to call him “the father of the modern ASGCA.”
Packard hired Fullmer to run the group and pushed for panel discussions on issues such as water conservation and the use of effluent.
Just as he led the meetings, Packard also instigated the after-hours festivities.
“He had a fun way about him,” Phelps said. “Larry was always trying to corral four or five of us to sit around and sing barber-shop songs.”
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Rule No. 5: Show your love for other people, most especially your husband or wife!
“My mom and dad had a great, loving relationship that lasted over 51 years,” Roger Packard said via email. “They went through good times and bad devoted to each other.”
Roger remembers growing up with two gifted parents who instilled in him an appreciation for life’s finer things and a desire to excel.
“By the time I got out of college, working for him was something to look forward to,” Roger wrote.
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Rule No. 6: Play golf, all ages 8-95.
Packard didn’t take up golf until his 30s, and by all accounts, the game didn’t come easily to him. But he stuck with it, playing well into his 90s, and Brauer said Packard got markedly better as he got older.
Years after their first meeting, Brauer visited Packard at Innisbrook.
“I took my son with me to play golf with Larry specifically because he’s one of those old-line guys who lives his life so elegantly that I wanted it to rub off on him,” Brauer said.
At Innisbrook, Brauer saw Packard’s life manifested in his work.
“Copperhead,” he said, “has that same easy charm and grace that Larry has in his life.”