Des Moines | Inducted 1995 | Category: Amateur Golfer

Sarg Fontanini made Iowa golf history in 1957 when he became the first amateur golfer from this state to play in the Masters.

He stepped onto Augusta’s hallowed grounds 27 years after he began his golfing career as a caddy, earning 50 cents a round at the Wakonda Club at the age of 13. He got to the Masters on the strength of his run to the quarterfinals of the 1956 U.S. Amateur at Knollwood Country Club in Lake Forest, Ill. His sixth match, against Walker Cup captain Bill Campbell, was a 1-up thriller in 19 holes. Sarg’s run ended in the quarterfinals to Joe Campbell, the Purdue golf coach, 2 and 1.

Assigned the final starting time in the 1957 Masters, Fontanini had to finish in the dark and shot an opening 85. He followed with an 82 in the rain and missed the cut, but left Augusta with a lifetime of memories. That included an eagle on the famed par-5 13th hole.

Long off the tee but occasionally wild, Fontanini was known for his Houdini-like ability to escape trouble on the golf course. The Des Moines Register’s Bert McGrane once called Sarg “the finest recovery shotmaker in Iowa.”

Sarg’s mastery of the game included five Des Moines City titles. He also won the Northwest Amateur in 1956 and has a pair of Sani Invitational titles to his name (1958, 1961). He won numerous one-day, 27-hole amateur tournaments that were once so popular in the state.

Sarg, a food broker by trade before he retired in 1981, won tournaments over six decades. He was 65 when he first shot his age, a 63 at Willow Creek when he birdied five of the first six holes and turned in 30. By the time he reached his late 70s, Sarg was shooting his age nearly every time he teed it up.

His family migrated to Iowa from Italy when Sarg was a year old. He served his country in the Army during World War II in Europe and the Aleutian Islands.

Sargio M. Fontanini was 96 when he passed away on December 11, 2011.

Career Highlights

  • 1956 quarterfinalist in U.S. Amateur
  • 1956 Northwest Amateur Champion
  • 1958, 1961 Herman Sani Champion
  • Qualified for the 1957 Masters, shot 85-83 to miss the cut
  • 5-time Des Moines City Champion
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