Why Jack Burke Jr., 98, finally sold Champions Golf Club

Sixty-four years since co-founding the famed Houston club, Burke sells to his son, citing youth as key to the club’s continued success

Champions Golf Club
Champions Golf Club is one of only two clubs in the United States to host a men's and women's U.S. Open, a Ryder Cup and a Tour Championship.

HOUSTON — Two-time major champion Jack Burke Jr., 98, spoke on Wednesday about what led him to sell the famed Champions Golf Club, site of numerous major golf events, to his son Mike, ending his 64-year ownership of the club he founded with fellow Masters champion Jimmy Demaret in 1957.

“It never feels great to leave something you’ve been involved with for so long, but I’m almost 100 years old and I don’t have much further to go,” Burke said in an exclusive interview with The First Call.

According to Burke, he sold the 36-hole club for $12 million to his son as a way to keep it in the family. And, as part of the agreement that took effect on Oct. 1, Champions will pay Burke an annual salary for the rest of his life as the chairman of the board of directors.

Among the changes at the club, which is one of only two in the country — along with Pinehurst Resort’s No. 2 course — to have hosted both a men’s and women’s U.S. Open, a Ryder Cup and a Tour Championship, is that Mike’s son and Jack’s grandson, Dean, will be the new club president and public face of the organization. Dean Burke will succeed Robin Burke, a former Curtis Cup captain and Jack Burke’s wife, as club president.

Russell Roten has been named as general manager, while Chris Ortmeier will remain as course superintendent.

Since hosting the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open, won by Korea’s A. Long Kim, plenty has happened at Champions.

During a February 2021 cold snap, pipes burst at the club, causing an estimated $20-$30 million dollars of damage, according to Burke. While insured, the clubhouse is still not opened and may not be ready until early 2022.

Also, one of the LPGA’s major championships, the ANA Inspiration, is leaving Palm Springs and moving to Houston in 2023 with Houston-based Chevron Oil Co. While a host venue has not been announced, Champions Golf Club has been mentioned as a possibility.

“We didn’t have a lot of people lined up who wanted to buy the club, and I wanted to keep it in the family,” Jack Burke said. “We’ve got to have young people on the board and young people in the club. We don’t have many young people here.

“It’s just something I had to do in the interest of amateur golf and the interest of our members. You have got to move on.”       

Burke did have some parting advice for the new owner, though.

“I told them, no tennis courts and no dance halls,” he said. “I thought it was the right time to sell, but I’m going to be here until the day I die.”