Remembering Gene Cook (1934-2023)

Gene Cook, widely considered the greatest male golfer in Montana history and a Great Falls sports icon for decades, died February 7 at a Missoula assisted-living facility at the age of 88.

Cook is survived by his wife of 69 years, Elaine, as well as three daughters, Kim (Bill) Madison of Lakeside, Montana; Kerri (Mark) Anderson of Glen, Montana; and Kelly (Pat) Costello of Missoula. He is also survived by a sister, Audrey (Fran) Ely of Bismarck, North Dakota.

Cook also leaves behind a foster son, Glenn (Sue) Schmasow of Aurora, Colorado, plus nine grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

He was preceded in death by his parents, Bill and Maxine Cook, as well as a brother Bill and a sister Mary Ann.

There will be no funeral services per the wishes of family. A celebration of Gene’s life may be held in Great Falls later.

Gene was born in 1934 in Bismarck, North Dakota, where he was well-known by his nickname Rusty. He starred in many sports as a youth and won state championships as a high school senior in golf, tennis, and track. He played both golf and basketball at Bismarck Junior College, where he met his wife, and later at the University of North Dakota, where he earned his degree.

Gene’s first job in Montana was as a teacher, coach, and athletic director at East Junior High in the late 1950s. He remained at East for 25 years, becoming a successful coach in football, basketball, and track.

But it was in the sport of golf that Gene gained the most notoriety and fame.

He won six Montana State Amateur championships, two Montana State Mid-Amateur Championships, and seven Montana State Senior Championships in a career that continued into his 80s. He won many other titles in Montana, including more than a dozen club championships at Meadow Lark Country Club, where he won his first title at age 25 in 1959 and his last at age 62 in 1996.

He was a charter member of the Montana State Golf Association Hall of Fame, and for many years players at the State Mid-Amateur have competed for the Gene Cook Cup.

Several battles with cancer finally ended his golf career a few years ago.

Gene also was widely respected for his work as a football and basketball official, both at the high school and college level. He was inducted into the Montana Officials Association Hall of Fame after he retired. The last chapter of Gene’s sports career was as a volunteer basketball coach for female youth teams. In his 60s, he founded a program called Cook’s Girls that trained many young females who went on to successful careers in high school and college. He often commented that it was the most rewarding work he did in a life filled with big accomplishments.

The Montana State Golf Association mourns the loss of one of the game’s luminaries in the Treasure State and celebrates his impact in golf and beyond awarding the Gene Cook Cup annually at the Montana Mid-Amateur Championship. The MSGA extends its condolences to Mr. Cook’s family. Gene will be missed.

MSGA Board Member and Sportswriter, George Geise, authored an excellent piece on Gene Cook in the November 2022 MSGA Newsletter, which can be found here.