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Golf Is in Their Blood

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Father-son combo running Ladera enjoys a special bond

For nearly two decades, they’ve been business partners. They see each other daily and discuss nearly every business decision.

And yes, that can lead to tension from time to time. Especially considering the partners are father and son.

“It’s a classic father-son relationship. When you work together all day, sometimes you want to kill each other,” Wright Zimmerly, head pro at Ladera Golf Course, says with a laugh. “But at the end of the day, you really reflect on the valuable time you are able to spend with your dad.


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“You know, I’m never right, and he’s never wrong. But I’m going to get to look back and think of all the times I was with him. That’s pretty big-time.”

Wright’s dad, Sam Zimmerly, is the director of golf at Ladera. The two took over the pro shop on the West Side course in 1994.

Sam, a former University of New Mexico standout golfer, is 69. Wright, who went through the PGA Golf Management program at New Mexico State but left in 1992 before graduating to work in the business, is 42.

They have spent countless quality hours together at Ladera – and on golf courses in general.

As director of golf, Sam is in charge of the books and inventory, and deals with more internal parts of the shop. As head pro, Wright is in charge of daily sales and the counter, and deals more with the public and gives lessons.

“When you really think about it, Wright’s actually worked for me since he was about 8 years old,” Sam says.

Wright and younger brother, Chad, would strap on discarded canvas newspaper delivery bags and help their dad, then the director of golf at Los Alamos Golf Course, handpick golf balls on the driving range.

Wright said he just enjoyed being around the course. He played numerous sports growing up, including varsity basketball at Los Alamos High. But Wright always knew which sport was No. 1 for him.


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“I always loved golf because I was around it all the time,” says Wright, who graduated from Los Alamos in 1988. “It’s always been a part of my life.”

Sam and his wife of 46 years, Francine, also have a daughter, Lisa Barresi. But Wright is the only one who followed his father’s footsteps to the golf industry.

As a golf pro – quite different from a pro golfer, one who plays for a living – Wright doesn’t hit the links much. But he is an exceptional player, who had a scholarship offer from former Lobos coach Dwaine Knight coming out of high school.

Wright plays occasional matches at Ladera against close friends Kent Jones, Brian Kortan, D.J. Brigman and Notah Begay III – all of whom have been or are on the PGA Tour.

Wright has caddied for all of them on the PGA Tour and for Dorothy Delasin on the LPGA Tour. He is also a volunteer assistant coach for the Lobos men’s team, and his wife of 18 years, Kari, was recently hired as the assistant’s women’s coach at UNM. Kari Zimmerly, née Hunter, was a standout player at New Mexico. The couple has two daughters Kaitlin, 17, and Kourtney, 14. Both Wright and Kari have worked for well-known golf instructor Hank Haney.

“I don’t get to play the sport a lot, being a golf professional,” Wright says. “So any chance I get to be around good players, get to see what they’re doing, it’s good nonverbal training.”

Wright has spent his entire life around a really good player. Sam, a native of Socorro, was a standout golfer at UNM in the early- to mid-1960s. He played on the Lobos’ Skyline Conference title team in 1962 and on Western Athletic Conference championship teams in 1963 and 1965.

The Lobos also won the WAC title in 1964, but Sam took a semester off from school that year and didn’t play golf.

“Part of the reason was because of what happened the year before,” Zimmerly says with a laugh, talking about when he finished runner-up to teammate Guy Wimberly for individual WAC honors. “I took a horrendous 8 on the ninth hole, and I was still mad about it.”

Wimberly, director of golf at Sierra del Rio Golf Club in Elephant Butte and a member of the National PGA Hall of Fame, says he remembers that tournament well.

“There was definitely some competition between us,” Wimberly says of the Lobos. “But that was only on the golf course. When we left the course, we were brothers. All five of us. Pure and simple.”

So close, in fact, that all three of Sam’s children have ex-Lobos as godparents; Wimberly, Joe McDermott and Bob Meiering. Wimberly was best man in Sam and Francine’s wedding and is Wright’s godfather.

After college, Sam chose the golf business over playing professionally. He was on the staff that opened the UNM Championship Golf Course (then UNM South) in 1966 before becoming the head pro – and chief candy salesman – at Los Alamos Golf Course in 1968.

“We carried some convenience things, like candy bars, cigars and cigarettes, behind the counter in those days,” Sam said. “When Wright was a kid and his friends asked him what his dad did, he told them, ‘He sells chocolate bars.’ ”

Sam, who also purchased sporting goods stores in Los Alamos and Santa Fe, was head pro for 10 years at LAGC before becoming director of golf there. He was at the course 25 years.

Sam later worked at the former Paradise Hills Golf Course (now Desert Greens) in 1993-94. At the same time, Wright was working at Arroyo del Oso. When the head pro spot at Ladera opened up in 1994, the Zimmerlys headed over.

“It was a great opportunity for us,” Sam says. “The biggest thing we have going for us is the trust factor. That’s so important when you turn over your business to someone to manage and operate. Having it be my family, my son, is wonderful.

“Of course, sometimes it makes it tougher to have that working relationship. Sometimes, we get in each other’s hair. But it’s very seldom been a negative. As I get older, I just let the young man and his ideas go. Most of the time now, I find myself saying, ‘All right, let’s go with that.’ Actually, his ideas are probably better than mine, anyway.”
— This article appeared on page C4 of the Albuquerque Journal