There are a lot of great people in the world of golf. Dave Kaplan was in the top 10 percent of really wonderful guys.
Kaplan died in his sleep in April at age 71 and the world is worse because of his passing.
Kaplan ran the PGA Tour event in Atlanta for 26 years, taking over when the tournament was based at the Atlanta Country Club and staying until its run ended at TPC Sugarloaf. He watched the tournament transition from the Georgia-Pacific Atlanta Golf Classic – the company couldn’t sell enough toilet tissue and paper towels justify the expenditure required – to the BellSouth Atlanta Classic to the AT&T Classic.
Kaplan was an excellent tournament director. Because of the personal connections he made with players over the years, he always produced a quality field. Phil Mickelson won it three times. David Duval won in once when he was one of the world’s best. Tiger Woods won his only appearance. Zach Johnson won his first Tour event there in 2004 and shocked the world three years later when he won the Masters.
Johnson won again 2007, beating Ryuji Imada in a playoff, but Imada – who played at the University of Georgia – beat Kenny Perry in a playoff in 2008 at the final tournament.
Kaplan had to battle the PGA TOUR for date changes and suffered through more than one bad weather experience. One year it rained so much that a playoff was required after the tournament was shortened to 54 holes. Another time it began to snow during the first round, prompting Kaplan to type a letter to then-PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem that began, “Dear Tim, I’m looking at the first tee and it’s snowing …”
By the time they got it right the tournament was held the week before the Masters. Mickelson loved it. The course setup allowed him to get ready for Augusta. In 2005 he won a bizarre five-hole playoff and repeated in 2006, picking up the momentum that led to his second victory at Augusta.
Kaplan knew how to treat the media, too. The press tent was easy to access and he made sure the press received convenient parking. (Shuttles? For the media? Egad!) He had real professionals on hand – real pros like John Marshall – to assist the guys from the PGA TOUR. And the food was the best on the PGA Tour and each week including a meal with ribeye steaks.
Kaplan was a graduate of the University of Florida. He began his career as sports information director at Georgia Tech from 1972-74 and was the public relations manager at Six Flags over Georgia for five years before turning to golf. He joined the Atlanta Classic Foundation as tournament director in 1983.
Through his charm, affability and relationship-building skills – as well as good business sense — Kaplan was able to sustain the TOUR event in Atlanta through multiple sponsorship changes – from Georgia Pacific to Bell South to AT&T – and a change in venue from the Atlanta Country Club to TPC Sugarloaf. The tournament finally ended after the 2008 tournament when AT&T withdrew is financial support and a new title sponsor could not be located.
“The community impact was the highlight for him,” said Kaplan’s son Chandler, the PGA TOUR’s director of tournament business affairs. “He felt so fortunate to work with wonderful volunteers, staff, business community and TOUR players who made the substantial charitable contributions possible.”
Kaplan spent 2009 as the director of football operations at Georgia State for his longtime friend Bill Curry, who was beginning the program from scratch. Since then he has been the senior marketing consultant for the LogoMan Marketing Group.
Kaplan had been living in Cashiers, N.C., with wife Marcia at the time of his death.