Senior Amateur Stalwart Lutz Scales Back

Ed. Note: This story on Chip Lutz originally was published on Nov. 29, 2019. Lutz won the inaugural Society of Seniors National Super Senior Championship this week.

MOHNTON, PENNSYLVANIA | In the world of senior amateur golf, few people have assembled as impressive a playing résumé over the past decade as Chip Lutz. A native of the Reading, Pa., area, he has captured three British Senior Amateur Championships during that period as well as a pair of Canadian Men’s Senior Championships and the U.S. Senior Amateur.

Lutz has also been low amateur at both the U.S. Senior Open and the Senior Open Championship and has taken his share of titles on the cocktail party circuit, among them the senior divisions of the George L. Coleman Invitational, the Crump Cup and the George C. Thomas Invitational. Those were big victories that came in both stroke and match play on some of the toughest courses in the game – and against formidable foes. They were also a big reason why Lutz was inducted in 2015 into the National Senior Amateur Hall of Fame.

Remarkably, Lutz remains competitive even as he approaches his 66th birthday, which is in January. In addition to prevailing in the senior division of last year’s C. B. Macdonald Invitation Tournament at the National Golf Links of America, he also tied for seventh in the British Senior Amateur. So, it comes as something of a surprise to hear Lutz talk about taking it down a notch in 2020 and beyond.

Lutz acknowledges that making the move is not easy. But as he backs off, he can take solace in how much he has accomplished with his sticks.

“I see myself playing fewer events and also some different events,” Lutz says. “Ones that are a little less serious and a little more fun. Like member-guests and better-ball tournaments. I still like to compete. But I am not sure I want to work as hard on my game anymore. It’s a challenge both mentally and physically to prepare for the tournament schedule I have kept the past decade or so, which sometimes entailed my playing in as many as 18 events a year. And the travel takes more of a toll these days.”

Lutz acknowledges that making the move is not easy. But as he backs off, he can take solace in how much he has accomplished with his sticks.

Chip Lutz (right) got an early start in golf. Here he is with his brother, Wedge, and father, Buddy, in an old clipping.

In many ways, Lutz’s success in golf is no great surprise when you consider how steeped he is in the game. He first picked up a club when he was 2 years old, and the one who introduced him to the game was his father, whose given name was John Elmer but who went by Buddy.

“Dad ran a funeral home in Mount Penn and was a very good amateur player,” says Lutz. “We were members of the Reading Country Club, and he took lessons as a youngster from Byron Nelson, who was the head pro at Reading from 1937, the year Nelson won his first Masters, to 1939. My father grew up playing at Reading, and he became good enough to win 12 club championships there as well as the Sunnehanna Invitational (a precursor to the Sunnehanna Amateur that exists today) in 1947 and 1949. He also made it to the semis in 1948 but lost in that round to Arnold Palmer. Dad hit the ball a long way and had a big draw. He even turned pro for a bit but quickly learned that there was not enough money in golf in those days. So, he went back to the funeral home, which my great-grandfather had started, as he also applied for reinstatement as an amateur.”

Once his reinstatement came through, Buddy Lutz teed it again in amateur events. He also demonstrated his passion for the game by bestowing golf-related nicknames on his three sons, each of whom had been christened John when he was born. The oldest came to be called Wedge, the middle boy Chip and the youngest Putter. As for the lone Lutz daughter, Courtney, she was mercifully spared any such golf-connected cognomen.

Chip Lutz took to the game pretty quickly and recalls spending most of the summers of his youth at Reading Country Club. “I caddied,” he says. “And I played and practiced as much as I could. I was 13 when I broke 80 for the first time, and I played competitive golf as a junior, but mostly on a local basis. Like a lot of kids back then, I played a lot of sports. Football and basketball. Baseball, too.”

Chip Lutz, High School golf team
Chip Lutz, left, and his brother Wedge, right, played high school golf together. Photo: Courtesy of Chip Lutz

Lutz won the Reading City Golf Championship three times while in high school and did well at districts and states. “I caddied at the club and worked part-time at the funeral home,” he says. “And when it came to going to college, I only applied to one school, the University of Florida. I wanted to go south. I wanted to go someplace that was warmer and where I could play golf year-round. I never visited the school but heard they had a pretty good golf program.”

In fact, it was one of the best in the country and during Lutz’s time in Gainesville the team included future PGA Tour winners Gary Koch and Andy Bean and eventual amateur golf standouts Fred Ridley and Steve Smyers. “I made it as a walk-on as a freshman but never played,” Lutz recalls. “I made the team again as a sophomore. But I still wasn’t getting a chance to play and had come to realize that I was never going to be good enough to turn pro. So, I quit the team. And at the same time, I more or less quit golf for a few years.”

But Lutz did not quit the university, and he went on to graduate from Florida in 1976 with a dual major in banking and finance and also real estate.

Lutz entered some tournaments after leaving Florida, and in the summer of 1977 won the Philadelphia Amateur. But then work and family started to get in the way of his playing. He married in 1979, and then after toiling for a spell with his father at the funeral home, Lutz switched to insurance. A year later, he started attending law school at night. Then, he and his wife, Bonnie, became parents, with their first child, Jordan, arriving in 1983 and the second, Jenna, in 1985.

Chip Lutz family
Chip Lutz (second from left), poses at the Senior Open Championship with his son, Jordan (left); wife, Bonnie; daughter Jenna; and son-in-law, Curt. Photo: Courtesy of Chip Lutz

“My focus changed a lot in those years,” says Lutz, who eventually found his professional calling as a title insurance attorney. “And suddenly, golf just was not that important. Once again, I stopped playing.”

For five years, from 1993 to 1998, his clubs gathered dust in his garage. But as both his children and his business grew, Lutz began competing again. “Only this time, I wanted to see how I could perform on the state and national levels,” he says.

He did well in those realms and qualified for several U.S. Mid-Amateurs. But it was as a senior amateur that his competitive career really took off – and when he began amassing the record that took him to the National Senior Amateur Hall of Fame.

So, how will Lutz fill his days now that his competitive career winds down? He plans to keep wintering in the Jupiter, Fla., area, where he and Bonnie have a home, and playing with his mates at the Turtle Creek Club.

Summers will find him back home in Berks County, Pa., where his brother Putter now runs the family funeral home – and where Chip still has a strong connection (even though he has Florida license plates on his SUV). While he will tee it every now and then at Reading Country Club and make the occasional trip to Pine Valley, where he has been a member since 1981, he will likely get in most of his rounds at the LedgeRock Golf Club, which he helped found in 2006. Located just outside Reading on rolling land that once was home to a pair of tree nurseries, it boasts a very well-regarded Rees Jones layout as well as splendid stone clubhouse that affords sweeping views of the property.

Those are not bad places to be spending the next phase of your golf life.

Chip Lutz takes a break from the 2018 Senior Open Championship at St. Andrews to pose on the Swilcan Bridge. Photo: Courtesy of Chip Lutz

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