While most college students were buried in books filled with square roots and experiments, Walter Hopper could be found studying the game of golf.
That was just over 40 years ago and Hopper is more active than he’s ever been in the golf world.
He got his first taste of golf from his grandfather, Fred Lookout. He said he saw how much his grandfather loved the game and it slowly grew on him.
“He bought me a set a clubs and took me out and played. I didn’t really take a real strong interest because I went to school in Hominy and football was the big sport,” Hopper said. “When I got to college I started taking classes, getting more involved in trying to learn the game more, trying to learn more about the fundamentals; trying to learn more about the rules and so that’s when I can really say I got into it.”
Decades later Hopper’s strong interest has led him to numerous Professional Golf Association positions and many awards including his most recent; Honorary Member in the South Central PGA.
Hopper graduated from Hominy in 1966, he served in the United States Air Force and is a Vietnam veteran from 1966-1970.
He attended Northeastern State University, Oklahoma State University where he graduated in 1973, and continued with his graduate degree and earned his masters degree in Manpower Development and Training/Economics in 1975.
His first job was the director of Indian Education for the Oklahoma City Public Schools.
But golf was always where his heart was.
“Every time I went to bed, every time I got up in the morning, I was always studying the rules of golf,” Hopper said. “And looking at things trying to figure things out, or on the road traveling, doing something of this nature, golf was pretty much my life for a long time.”
He remembers playing some in the Air Force but got his big break in 1977 when a friend of his offered him a job as the assistant pro at Mohawk Golf Course in Tulsa.
Then he moved up the system as the Pryor Golf Course Golf Pro and Golf Course Manager. In Pryor he ran the PGA Junior Tour from 1983-1996.
In 1996 he was hired as the Junior Golf director of the PGA Sectional Office in Tulsa. There he was also the PGA Tournament director, he held both positions for 14 years.
It’s all that work and more that made it fitting for Hopper to receive the award as an Honorary Member in the South Central PGA.
Cimarron Grubb, President of the South Central Section PGA General Manger at Belmar Golf Club in Norman, said he was pleased to award Hopper with the award, for a number of reasons.
“The amount of time he spent unselfishly, he just poured his heart and soul in it, all the kids loved him. He’s mentored many junior golfers, some who have gone on to PGA tour players, professionals, business men and women, he did it just because he loves the game and the people too,” Grubb said. “He made an impact on people. He’s a good friend, a strong family man and we as a section, we were proud to have Walter as an employee for so long.”
Hopper ran the Pryor Golf Course with his wife Marilyn Hopper. She ran the pro shop and he ran the golf course and gave lessons. He also got his three sons involved.
His sons, Acey Hopper, Travis Hopper and Adrian Hopper all grew up in the game of golf. They all earned golf scholarships and went to college playing golf. Every year he and his sons take a trip to Las Vegas to play a couple rounds of golf, just to keep their interest going.
Hopper is fully involved in golf these days but he’d like to spread his interests out elsewhere.
He currently holds the role of Chairman of the Osage Tribal Election Board. He said his interest in the board came after he realized he wanted to do more for his people.
“I want to get back involved in the tribe because for so many years I was out doing golf and wasn’t able to do that, and I kind of want to see other parts of the world now, and like I said I wanted to provide the tribe the best I could in being the election supervisor and take it to the top . . . ” he said.
Over the years Walter has paved the way for other Native Americans in the business side of golf. He’s won some big awards like the Governor’s Award, the National Jim Thorpe Award and an induction into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame for his work in promoting junior golf.
He’s also had a tournament named after him – the Walter Hopper Tour Championship Tournament.
Even after decades of involvement on all levels in the golf world Hopper still can’t believe how much he’s achieved.
“It just surprises me sometimes that after doing that, growing up in Hominy, Hominy gave me a good start in life, gave me a good outlook . . . I think it surprised me sometimes that I got into the game of golf,” he said. “I feel very privileged and very lucky to be a Native American and to be in a field where you don’t find many Native Americans.”
But to Hopper, he will always be the little boy watching his grandfather play golf.