(Reprinted with permission from the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, July 8, 2022)
CHEYENNE—Lew Lepore wanted to grow the sport of golf in Wyoming and help the state’s golf community more closely resemble what he grew up with in Pennsylvania.
That desire helped him become a pioneer on several fronts and a true titan of the sport in the Cowboy State.
The Wyoming State Open was one of his trailblazing pride and joys. What started as an amateur event between as many as 20 players looking to satisfy their competitive itch became the first professional tournament in Wyoming history.
It is now an event that attracts young pros hoping the $10,000 top prize gives them momentum as they embark on their careers, veteran pros looking to test their mettle against the new blood and a host of amateurs who annually factor the tournament into their vacation plans.
The 66th Wyoming Open—which is sponsored by Tyrrell Auto Centers—tees off today at Airport Golf Course. The 54-hole event concludes Sunday.
This will be the first Wyoming Open contested without Lepore in attendance.
He died May 7 at the age of 91. There will be displays in the Airport Golf Course’s dining room showcasing what Lepore accomplished during nearly 60 years guiding the sport in Cheyenne.
A public celebration of Lepore’s life will be held at 6 p.m. Saturday at the course.
“It’s not going to be anything big, but we’re going to get together to have some of his favorite food and celebrate a life well-lived,” said Wyoming Open Director Mike Lepore, who is Lew’s son. “This was his pride and joy. … We’re going to do what Dad wanted us to do. We’re going to come together, have a golf tournament and hopefully see some good golf without a whole bunch of rain.”
How it began
Lepore’s commitment to golf started in West Pittston, Pennsylvania, where he held a number of jobs at the local country club. In 2005, he told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle he and some of his fellow caddies would sneak onto the course and play a few holes at night.
He briefly attended the University of Texas-El Paso on a football scholarship, but eventually returned home when he realized college football wasn’t for him. Lepore enlisted in the Air Force in 1950, and was stationed at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne until he was discharged.
He played in the 1953 Air Force World Wide Golf Championship in Pensacola, Florida. He also won his first of two Wyoming State Amateur titles that same year.
After he was discharged from the Air Force in 1954, Lepore moved on to the University of Wyoming, where he played golf for the Cowboys while he worked on his education degree. He taught in Laramie County School District 1 for 29 years.
Lepore started Cheyenne High’s golf program.
“Back then, we took kids all over the area, like to Greeley (Colorado), Fort Collins (Colorado) and into Nebraska to play nine-hole matches and then get them back home in time to go to school the next day,” Lepore told the WTE in 2005.
Lepore was inspired to contact all the other school districts in Wyoming to get the ball rolling on high school golf. The response was, at best, tepid, as most schools cited lack of interest or lack of facilities as reasons for not adding the sport.
“Towns like Casper, Laramie and Sheridan supported it and we eventually got it sanctioned (by the Wyoming High School Activities Association),” Lepore said.
Mickey Powers played for Lepore on some of Cheyenne High’s first teams. The pair became friends after Powers’ high school days, and played countless rounds together over the years. Powers describes Lepore as a role model with a matter-of-fact approach. It was a role he came to fill in many people’s lives.
“He was the ultimate competitor, just tough-as-nails, and that’s the way he was in life and the way he taught young people,” Powers said. “There was no (nonsense) with Lew. If you were on the wrong side of him, you knew it in about one second.
“He had a tremendous impact on a number of people, and not just as golfers. He helped raise them and helped make them good people. He’d grab them by the shirt collar, straighten them out and then get out on the (practice) range with them. … There’s no telling where some of us would have ended up if it hadn’t been for him.”
Like his mentor, Powers went on to win two Wyoming State Amateur titles, claiming the crown in 1968 and ’69.
Lepore also coached at Cheyenne East, leading the Thunderbirds to a pair of team championships.
Lepore made sure to get young golfers hooked on the game early, starting a junior program shortly after he took over as the city’s head professional. The program went away for several years, but has been going strong since being resurrected in the early 2000s.
Shortly before that, he oversaw the design and financing of the clubhouse and pro shop at Kingham Prairie View Golf Course, which is a nine-hole municipal track on Windmill Road just north of East High. Getting that building erected was a point of pride for Lepore, his son said.
“People didn’t think he ever gave a (care) about Prairie View, but he liked that place and he took great pride when we built that club house,” said Mike Lepore, who succeeded his father as Cheyenne’s head golf pro. “Both of the city courses were his babies.”
Lew Lepore was inducted into the Wyoming Sports Hall of Fame in 2007, and the Wyoming State Golf Association Hall of Fame in 2007. The Wyoming Coaches Association’s high school player of the year award bears his name.
Despite all he accomplished, nothing held such a prominent place in his heart as the Wyoming Open. It was a labor of love as he tracked entries and scores with a pencil and paper, drummed up sponsors and then spent a month or more hand-assembling a book listing the sponsors before taking it to a print shop for publication.
“It was such a struggle in the early years that (former sports columnist) Larry Birleffi wrote that he’d be surprised if they had one the following year,” Mike Lepore said. “It was very interesting to go back and read that newspaper clipping we found. It reminded me of all the work my dad did to keep this tournament going, and how much he cared about it.”
Lew Lepore wanted the Wyoming Open to be the best it could possibly be, but he didn’t want it to become too big. He knew the landlocked 6,114-yard, par-70 course was going to help in that mission.
“This will never be—and I don’t care what they do to it—a championship golf course,” Lepore said in 2005. “It’s too short, for one thing. But I don’t want (the tournament) to become too big.
“A lot of guys spend their vacations up here. They like playing here, and they like how they are treated by the people. I don’t want that to change.”
Jeremiah Johnke is the WyoSports editor. He can be reached at [email protected] or 307-633-3137. Follow him on Twitter at @jjoh.