The driving force
The late Tom Kolacny used a plan and a tractor to help build Tiara Rado Golf Course
He was a man with a plan. And a tractor. And a few good friends who believed in him.
And Grand Junction has Tiara Rado Golf Course today because Tom Kolacny was crazy enough to believe an undeveloped, mostly uninhabited area next to Colorado National Monument would be a great place to put a golf course and build homes and raise families.
And while the golf course would seem to be the obvious, logical legacy of Kolacny, people who knew him say he did something far more important and enduring.
Kolacny, who died Saturday in Mesa, Ariz., succumbing to cancer at age 78, gave the game of golf to people, especially kids.
One of Kolacny’s friends, Gary Carnine, said Kolacny basically built Tiara Rado with his own hands and a tractor. Doug Jones, the golf superintendent for the city of Grand Junction, said, “That’s pretty close to true.”
Then, Jones added, meaning what he said in the best possible way, “They didn’t really do it the right way. They pushed some dirt around and put seed on it.”
But they did enough right in 1971 and ‘72 to fashion nine holes and set the stage for another nine to be added a few years later.
Bob Swander, who was a good friend of Kolacny’s during their younger days together in Boulder, decided to come to Grand Junction and join Kolacny’s cause. First, six holes were built, and Swander arrived to help the small group of workers add on the next three holes for a full nine.
Tom Kolacny’s son, Tim, said people thought his dad was crazy, telling him, “Who in the heck is going to go all the way out there to play golf?”
Tim said his family lived in a farmhouse that became Tiara Rado’s first clubhouse, and there wasn’t much else in the area aside from apricot orchards.
Swander, too, said there wasn’t much “out there,” but instead of crazy, he called his friend visionary. This was “Field of Dreams” stuff before actor Kevin Costner heard the whispers in an Iowa cornfield. The Redlands apricot trees, evidently, were telling Swander, “If you build it, they will come.”
Tim Kolacny was a toddler at the time that Dad was making Tiara Rado happen. But he knows the story: His father and a few friends and nephews moved dirt and laid irrigation line. And Tom Kolacny had a background in architecture — he’d built homes in Boulder — and knew how to plan.
And Tim understood why Dad did it.
“It was part of his upbringing,” Tim said. “He always wanted to build things out of nothing. ... He had the opportunity and said this was sort of the big thing he wanted to do.”
So, he did it. And when he was done, he no longer was the former architecture student who had been selling insurance in Boulder before moving to Grand Junction. His life was now firmly entrenched in golf. He became the head pro at Tiara Rado. And Swander said few people know this, but Kolacny was building a golf course north of Fruita when Black Sunday and the oil shale bust of 1982 forever shelved that dream.
But one product of the boom that still materialized post-bust was Battlement Mesa Golf Course, where Kolacny went to be that course’s first head pro in the mid-1980s.
Around 1990, Kolacny headed to the warmer climate and ample golf of Arizona, but not before he had made his mark on Grand Junction in a more lasting way. Kolacny steered every kid he could toward golf.
Carnine mentioned that fact. Jones mentioned it. Swander mentioned it.
Jones called Kolacny a Pied Piper when it came to leading kids to golf, and he said it was amazing to see how easily he generated interest among them. And while golf is considered a game for people with money, Kolacny didn’t let dollars deter children’s dreams.
Tim Kolacny recalled how some kids with little or no money would end up with a summer pass in their pocket or a set of used golf clubs in their hands.
“I think the biggest thing that he took pride in was the Junior Golf program,” Tim said, adding his father was a good athlete who, when he no longer could play sports such as football, “always had golf.” And he wanted others to have golf.
Not only did Tom Kolacny get kids involved in the game, he helped a bunch of them excel at it, with some playing major college golf, and a few even played professionally. Others, such as Dick Dierker, made golf their life.
Dierker was a Mesa State College senior in need of an internship during his final quarter in 1978 when he was sent Kolacny’s way. He ended up with a 12-week internship and an addiction to golf.
Dierker said he was working on the golf course and playing the game seven days a week, and inside of 18 months his handicap went from 22 to 2. He became the assistant pro to Kolacny before heading off to continue working at other golf courses. Dierker now is the head golf pro at Spring Hill Golf Course in Aurora.
“I just fell into golf, basically because of Tom,” Dierker said. “He got me started, or I probably never would have played golf.”
Plenty of other Grand Valley residents could say something similar about a man who wanted people to share his passion for a game. And it started with a plan. And a tractor. In a place where doubters didn’t think a golf course could succeed.
And that time in the 1970s and early ‘80s in Grand Junction, Tim Kolacny said, was his father’s favorite.