Golf: Conley retires; coached 2 strong decades of Elk boys golf

by Bruce Strand, Sports editor

Dave Conley, who headed six state tournament and 15 conference champion teams in a 21-year tenure, has retired as Elk River boys golf coach.

“I’ve had a lot of great players here, so it would be hard for a coach to screw them up,” Conley reflected, modestly, about his coaching record.

Conley, who retired as a health teacher several years ago and continued to coach golf, said he still loves coaching but is frustrated that prep golf in Minnesota is a spring sport in a hostile climate.

Dave Conley huddled with Chase Hahne at the 2010 state tournament. Conley had six  state tourney teams. (Photo by Bruce Strand)
Dave Conley huddled with Chase Hahne at the 2010 state tournament. Conley had six state tourney teams. (Photo by Bruce Strand)

“When I got back from Florida in late March and it was 37 degrees, that’s when I decided,” said Conley. “It was so cold this spring, we had 24 days inside, and that was the second year in a row like that.”

Conley has long advocated switching golf from a spring schedule to an August through September schedule, but can’t get enough of his fellow coaches to go along with it.

“It’s lousy for kids,” said Conley about spring golf. Along with too many days inside, he noted that meets take kids out of class for huge amounts of time, whereas starting in August would cut that significantly.

Conley had high praise for the many talented players who came through his program, including Mark Christianson, state champ in 1997, and Clayton Rask, who finished top five in the state four times (1999 to 2002).

“The kids have given me a lot more than I ever gave them,” said Conley. “That’s why I kept coming back.”

His highest team finishes at state were third place three times. The Elks last section and conference titles came in 2011. They had six straight conference titles from 2006-11.

The Elks program was so strong for a while that when Rogers broke off and started its own team, both squads racked up a string of conference titles, and in the 2010 state tournament, Rogers was second and the Elks third.

“Dave had 20-plus season with great success,” said Michael Cunningham, activities director. “He will now have a chance to continue golfing in Florida and not have to return to Minnesota until the snow is gone!”

Conley didn’t become a head coach until his late 40’s when he succeeded Guy Varty, who had to step down due to health. He had done some junior high coaching prior to that.

The Forest Lake native was a football, basketball and baseball athlete himself during his school days, and took up golf in his 20’s. He became an excellent player, with multiple club championships at Elk River, Daytona, Fox Hollow, Chisago Lakes and Forrest Hills (in his hometown). He once shot a 62 at Elk River Golf Club that was the course record for 16 years.

Conley’s wife, Debbie, also a retired teacher, is Rogers’ girls tennis coach.

Cunningham said he would post the job in the fall.