I love golf. Over my long career as a bonafide hacker and wannabe golfer, I’ve seen and met a lot of great players over the years, both professional and amateur. Gene Torres, a native Trinidadian, was one of those pros that I considered to be not only a great golfer, but also a good friend. In my humble opinion, he is one of the best golfers ever born and there is a small movement of people who knew him that believes he should be in the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame.
The consummate pro, he competed in championship tournaments with some of the big Professional Golf Association (PGA) boys back when the opportunity arose, and in so many of the sub-tournaments in the Southwest and Mexico that he couldn’t keep an accurate count.
Gene had the skills necessary to compete in the PGA perennially had he chosen that route, but his motives and his heart were elsewhere. He once confided in me that his family was much more important than golf, so that is what he did. His mission was his family, and he was not to be deterred. Many of the sub-professional tournaments he participated in, many in which he dominated, were always near his home.
Gene was born in Trinidad in 1957 to John B. Torres and Emma (LaCrue). At the age of 12, he found employment as a caddy at the Trinidad Municipal Golf Course. His sole purpose was to earn money to provide much needed cash for the sustenance of his parents and siblings. In the ensuing year, the young fellow developed a fascination for the sport.
The congenial adolescent caddy was given stray golf clubs by several course members. Soon thereafter, with his mongrel set of unwanted sticks in his battered golf bag, he tried out for the Trinidad High golf team and quickly emerged as one of their best players. At 15, Gene qualified for the National Jaycees tournament held at Ann Arbor, Michigan where he finished 36 in a field of 230. That same year, he won the championship of the Trinidad Match Play Tournament.
The following year (1955) he again won the National Jaycees tourney, this time in Columbus, Georgia, placing 60 in a field of 230 at the University of New Mexico Golf Course in Albuquerque. That same year, Gene also won another amateur tourney with a course record 16 under par for 52 holes in the Trinidad Invitational Match Play tourney. In 1956 he again qualified for the National Jaycees in Colorado, finishing 10th with another aspiring junior golfer by the name of Jack Niklaus.
During his senior year at Trinidad High, the rising aspirant attained his goal of winning the state title held at the Greeley Country Club by five strokes at a time when school sports in Colorado had only one classification. It was significant because the victory established Gene as the best golfer in the state. It was a good year for the affable youngster.
Now enrolled at Adams State College, he won the Club Championship in Trinidad, and also at the Alamosa Municipal Golf Course during his freshman year. In what would have been his sophomore year, Gene made the decision to serve; he enlisted in the United States Navy, checking out three-fourths of the world in his four-year tenure on the USS Shangri-La CVA-38.
Returning home to Trinidad, Gene found the love of his life, Mary Delores ‘Dodie’ Mestas. They were married in 1961. It was a dream come true for the evolving golfer. During the next two years he dominated Colorado and Northern New Mexico amateur golf with new bride trudging along. The following year, he received a call from Thomas C. Donnelly, the president of Highlands University, to take charge of their golf program. In March 1962, the aspiring golfer moved Dodie and his growing family to Las Vegas, New Mexico, where he settled in. During the next 42 years he served as an instructor of Physical Education and manager of the golf course.
In 1964, Gene turned pro. Over his abbreviated lifetime, he won more than 80 professional golf tournaments. Gene’s philosophy in life was to “Do the best you can in whatever you do in life. If you strive for doing the best you can, you will gain the respect and admiration of those you are around.”
And that he did.
His greatest professional accomplishment in life, one he was most coveted, was gaining the respect of all his pro peers who frequently sought him out for key thoughts and fundamentals of golf. But his most prideful achievement was his allegiance to his family; his wife of 44 years, Dodie, sons Glen and Gene Jr., and daughters Michele, Janeen, and Trisha. When he passed at the age of 68, he had 14 grandchildren and four great grandchildren. Gene was engaging, with a personality as large as the Astrodome. He was humble, caring, engaging, and as honest as the day is long.
Gene Torres, laden with unbridled integrity, was a man amongst men.
Bernie Mares is one of the many who revered and respected Gene and believes he should be in the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame. Mares met him as a young man at the Trinidad Muny many moons ago.
Recently Mares wrote a letter to Eric Monson, editor of The Chronicle-News. “I’m a Trinidad native and have been playing golf most of my lifetime,” wrote Mares. “I started at the Trinidad Golf Course as a caddie during my early years and there I met Gene Torres who was approximately eight years older than me. Gene was a phenom and was beating everyone he was matched against. He won the Colorado State Championship for Trinidad High School. Later, as a PGA pro, he won the Colorado Open. He won over 80 professional golf tournaments and participated in multiple PGA championships as well as two U.S. Opens. In 1955, Gene played in the National J.C.’s championship and had a top ten finish along with Jack Niklaus. He won the New Mexico championship five times, along with numerous other wins, including several Colorado opens.”
The Highlands University Golf Course was appropriately named after him in March 2005. Three months later, June 5, ravaged with stomach cancer, he passed. It was indeed an honor bestowed upon one of the greatest personalities and athletes I’ve ever encountered. I couldn’t agree more with Bernie Mares. Gene Torres, a true Trinidadian, surely belongs in the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame.