Bellarmine remembers Ernie Denham: 'Golf will never be the same in Louisville'

Bellarmine remembers Ernie Denham: 'Golf will never be the same in Louisville'

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Bellarmine remembers Ernie Denham: 'Golf will never be the same in Louisville'

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Coach Ernie Denham loved the city of Louisville, youth sports of all ages and levels and, of course, his professional passion — golf.

He wasn’t so fond, however, of vegetables.

“He once told me, ‘I’ve never eaten anything green in my life,’” said John Spugnardi, Bellarmine University’s assistant athletic director for communications.

Spugnardi chuckled Wednesday to remember road trips with Bellarmine’s men’s golf team, having to stop at Burger King so Denham, the Knights’ coach, could secure a Coca-Cola flavored Icee.

Unhealthy, yeah, Denham was known for that.

But he was known for so much more in a 75-year life that tragically ended in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Denham died of apparent smoke inhalation as a result of a fire in a three-story condominium in The Highlands. A spokesman for the Louisville Division of Fire said the blaze was started when a lit candle was accidentally knocked onto a comforter in a first-floor unit. Denham was found on the third floor in his residence and pronounced dead at the scene.

News of Denham’s death hit hard around Bellarmine and the Louisville golfing community. Denham was a staple. He had coached the Knights’ men’s golf program the past 17 seasons after serving previously in the same role at the University of Louisville.

“He touched thousands of thousands. He stood the test of time,” Bellarmine men’s basketball coach Scott Davenport said. “Golf will never be the same in the city of Louisville without Ernie Denham.”

Davenport, who goes back at least a couple of decades with Denham, said he awoke and heard a radio report Wednesday of a fatal apartment fire at Village Drive.

“Of course, I knew where Ernie lived, and it immediately came to my mind,” Davenport said. “Five hours later, I get a phone call.”

A 1961 Seneca High School graduate, Denham was a college golfer at U of L, where he earned a bachelor’s degree as an honors graduate in mathematics. He’d go on to earn a graduate degree in mathematics from the University of Kentucky while continuing to play in golf tournaments.

A story on the 1968 Falls Cities Golf Championship commemorated a first-round victory for Denham, who’d previously lost all five times in the event’s top flight.

“It should be pointed out that Denham is a man of good humor, quick to laugh, especially when talk turns to his record in the Falls Cities,” Dave Kindred wrote from the event.

“Later, still smiling, he said, ‘I knew if I kept playing in this thing that I’d win a match someday.’”

Denham worked in various levels of golf as a teaching professional and also as executive director of the Kentucky Golf Association.

Upon accepting the job in 1988 of coaching U of L’s men’s golf program, Denham remarked that,  “I derived a lot of enjoyment from university athletic teams over the years, and I think it’s time to put something back.”

But Denham’s passion went beyond golf, said Davenport, noting that he was a regular in the stands at things like local high school sports events.

He was the scorekeeper for Trinity High School’s basketball team.

“If there’s a good basketball game, Ernie is there,” Davenport said. “Ernie was devoted to one thing, and that was our community. And his devotion was through sports. … He’s just one of those very rare individuals who was always there willing to help. Never wanted a thing for it. Wanted to help,”

At Bellarmine, Denham was also known for being “a tireless worker,” Spugnardi said. Denham would walk golf courses into his 70s rather than taking a cart.

“It was nothing for me to be in here at midnight and bump into Ernie putting in some office hours,” said Spugnardi, who served as Bellarmine’s men’s golf coach before Denham. “It’s a real big loss. I mean, we’re hearing from alumni who played for Ernie talking about how much he meant to them, not only in their college lives but their lives in general.

“Something this shocking is going to be tough to adjust to.”

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