Remembering Utah sports legend Joe Watts, whose influence was legend

Joe Watts, longtime director of the Utah Golf Association.
Joe Watts, longtime director of the Utah Golf Association. | Randy Dodson. Fairways Media

Joe Watts was an extrovert who never met a person he couldn’t talk to, didn’t want to talk to or didn’t look forward to chatting with. When you set him in a group of people, it fueled him. Then, smiles and energy just spilled out of him.

Watts, the face of Utah golf and a major sports figure in Utah for half a century, died Monday morning. Joe was 85 years old.

A former Logan High and Utah State guard, back in 1958, he made a pair of free throws in the final seconds against Pearl Pollard’s Jordan High team that ended the Beetdiggers’ 62-game winning streak and sent Logan to the state playoffs. Joe was a 120-pound guard.

After serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in New Zealand, Joe played a minor role as a backup guard for the Aggies. He also taught junior high school and worked as a sportswriter for the Logan Herald Journal — at the same time.

I knew Joe because of sportswriting. He was the sports editor at the Provo Daily Herald before Marion Dunn, whom I replaced in the late ‘80s.

Joe and I had a lot to talk about. But, then, he had much to talk about with just about anybody alive.

He was kind, considerate and genuinely interested in everyone he dealt with.

Joe accepted the job as the executive director of the Utah Golf Association in 1990 and by the time he retired from that job, he’d put his mark on golf in the state, everything from the first electronic handicap system to the establishment of the Utah-Arizona amateur Ryder Cup match held each fall. He started Utah Golf Magazine, now Fairways Magazine, and helped UGA membership grow to more than 30,000 members.

If you could count the number of young high school, college and professional athletes who were profiled, covered or in someway administered by the works of Joe Watts, it would number in the thousands.

Heading amateur golf in Utah was Joe’s dream job, according to his younger brother Steve, who retired as director of golf at Talons Cove. Joe got Steve hooked on golf when he was 12. The Watts brothers, Richard, Joe, Gary and Steve, were famous in the state for their love of the game; from Logan Country Club to Riverside and Alpine country clubs, they left their marks.

Former UGA president Mike Jorgensen remembers Joe well.

“His love for Utah golf, and especially the State Am, was truly remarkable. I learned so much about life and how to treat human beings just from his example. He is truly beloved.”

It was fun to watch Joe watch golf. He was so engaged in every shot players made. He was passionate about it, like this match or this shot was a chess movement, something upon which the world hinged.

I’ve never seen anyone so focused on so many nuances of a sport. It was like he was fixated, like Newton on the laws of motion. Only in his case, it involved a dimpled ball.

He could be enthralled with a big drive, thrilled over a chip, amazed by a hanging putt that dropped. It was like watching a cartoon character you could count on for a reaction, like Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner. He never failed to disappoint in his reactions.

Watts, a UGA Gold Club Award recipient and member of the UGA Hall of Fame, was front and center for decades in the Utah golf and sports scene.

“I met Joe when he was the sports writer for the Daily Herald, and he covered a couple of our games at Springville,” said ABC4 sports anchor Wes Ruff, also a Gold Club Award recipient.

“Being a sports fan, I read his articles for years. When he became executive director of the UGA, I was able to get to know him better, and I was always amazed by his pure love of the game of golf. Everything he did was for the betterment of the game.

Joe Watts
Former Utah Golf Association executive director Joe Watts gives the thumbs-up sign prior to the start of Utah State Amateur media day. | Randy Dodson, Fairways Media

“His unbridled joy of watching a great shot, like when he screamed ‘It’s in the hole!!!’ right next to our camera when Bruce Brockbank holed out on No. 12 at Oakridge CC in the final match of the Utah State Am against Devin Dehlin, was classic Joe Watts,” Ruff continued. “And how he signed off every email or correspondence with ‘Savor the birdies’ was the best. One of a kind, and he will be missed.”

Joe was an amazing administrator, a creative innovator. He had so many story ideas as a journalist, you’d get tired just listening to his brainstorming exercises. He was always so busy, he could never in this life address his checklist, his dreams.

Over the years I’ve known Joe, I got to know his brothers Steve and Gary. You meet one Watts brother, you know the others, so much of their personalities are similar.

With Joe, one of the most endearing memories many will always have is his perch above a golf cart on Utah State Amateur media day barking out instructions. He’d have a weighty pile of administrative duties resting on his shoulders, but he’d know the name of every reporter, amateur and board member in the field and greet them. Then, nothing was more important than getting off the tee in time and having fun.

One of my favorite quotes at one of these events was when Joe, speaking of the golf skills of Fairways Magazine art director Garrett Johnson, quipped: “He has the greatest unproductive golf swing I’ve ever seen.”

We’ve never let Johnson forget that one.

Joe Watts will always be a legend.

“There’s no doubt in my mind,” said his brother Steve. “If he can pull it off in heaven today, he’s organizing the HGA, the Heaven Golf Association.”


And he’s probably collecting dues from the members.

The family is planning a Celebration of Life event that will be scheduled later this spring.

Joe Watts
Joe Watts, executive director of the Utah Golf Association, died Monday. He was 85 years old. | Randy Dodson, Fairways Media