The Texas Golf Association is saddened to announce that Robert Jess Claiborne, a longtime TGA Board Member, passed away on Aug. 1 in Alto, New Mexico. He was 73.

Claiborne was an integral part of the Texas golf landscape, both as a player and volunteer, for more than 50 years.

A Texas native, Claiborne was born in Haskell and soon after moved to Lamesa, where his father established the family’s grocery store business. Claiborne developed a passion for the game of golf at an early age. Over the years, he blossomed into one of the state’s best amateur players and was a fixture atop the leaderboards in the ultra-competitive West Texas BBQ circuit tournaments.

Claiborne attended Texas Christian University from 1965-69 and earned a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. He was a stalwart on the Men’s Golf Team all four years and won the Southwest Conference individual title in 1968.

While he was at TCU, Claiborne had the good fortune of developing a friendship with the iconic Ben Hogan. Claiborne regularly shagged balls for the nine-time major champion and no doubt gleaned some knowledge about the golf swing from Mr. Hogan. Later in life, Claiborne often regaled his friends with stories about spending time with the steely-eyed man known as “The Hawk.”

After graduation, Claiborne had a go at professional golf for several years – including a stint as an assistant at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth – before returning to the grocery business.

During the past 45 years, Claiborne grew and expanded the family business to various locations and labels, including Piggly Wiggly, Claiborne’s Thriftway, Seminole Thriftway and Super Mercado in Midland and San Angelo.

After regaining his amateur status, Claiborne also grew and expanded his trophy collection. Among his many victories, his biggest wins were with partner Bill Holstead of Wichita Falls. They proved to be a formidable best-ball team, winning three straight Texas Four-Ball Championships from 1979-81.

“Above all, Jess had no enemies,” said longtime friend and TGA Director Mickey Jones. “He was liked by everyone, always had a smile on his face and owned most every golf club known to man. I will certainly miss him.”

Claiborne’s lifelong passion for golf led him to one of his proudest accomplishments – the creation of Escondido Golf & Lake Club in Horseshoe Bay. As a Founding Member, Claiborne was instrumental in bringing the vision of a world-class facility to realization. His tireless efforts helped Escondido and the Tom Fazio-designed course become one of the most award-winning clubs in Texas. For Claiborne, it was his “heaven on earth.”

Claiborne is survived by his wife Carolyn, children Jessica and Robert and four grandchildren.

The TGA extend its deepest sympathies to his family and friends.