TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — As Kris Hannah chased his professional golf dreams two decades ago, the former Leon High and Florida State golfer often found himself sitting in Ernie Lanford’s office at Seminole Legacy Golf Club.
While their discussions focused on golf, Lanford was also a constant source of encouragement and support for Hannah.
Those life lessons still apply today.
“He was always there for me,” Hannah, 44, said. “If he knew you were trying to do something positive with your life, he’d give you the shirt off his back. Advice, resources. Whatever you needed.
“He knew my whole family and was definitely a staple in my life all these years.”
Lanford — the former director of golf and men’s coach at FSU and Dedman College of Hospitality faculty member — died Sunday in Las Vegas. Lanford, who had been under hospice care and in poor health in recent years, was 85.
“He was a lovely person who lived for Florida State,” said son Michael Lanford, 44, who lives in Las Vegas and moved his parents from Tallahassee two years ago.
Lanford’s career filled with athletic and academic successes
Lanford, a 1960 graduate of FSU and Shellman, Georgia, native (northwest of Albany), initially made his mark with the Seminoles in baseball. Lanford, the winning pitcher of his high school state title team, played three seasons (1958-60) at shortstop and was an assistant coach (1966-68) prior to beginning his career in golf.
Lanford, who also earned a master’s degree in physical education from Michigan State and a Doctorate of Education in kinesiology from Brigham Young, returned to FSU in 1991 as its director of golf and men’s head golf coach.
During his nine-year tenure, he guided the Seminoles to five NCAA appearances.
“For me, Coach’s legacy goes well beyond golf,” said FSU men’s golf coach Trey Jones, whose eighth-ranked team won won the two-day Seminole Intercollegiate by 38 shots Tuesday.
“When I think of Coach, I think of how much he loved Florida State and how much he gave to Florida State over the years as a whole. Coaching was a very small part of what he did. I often leaned on him and he was always very gracious with his time. Coach just wanted the best for every (FSU) sport. And if you asked anyone in his program (Dedman), everyone thought the world of Coach.”
Former FSU baseball coach Mike Martin recalls sharing many rounds of golf with Lanford, a lifetime member of the PGA.
“We called him ‘EZ Ernie,’ ” Martin said and laughed. “Golly, we had so much fun. I can still picture him on the course. He could move it (golf ball/shot selection), baby.”
In the summer of 2000, Lanford resigned as FSU’s director of golf and men’s coach to become the Coordinator of Internships for the FSU Dedman School of Hospitality’s professional golf management program. FSU, at that time, had been recently certified by the PGA to offer a curriculum in professional golf management.
As a member of the Dedman faculty, Lanford also served as its director of player development and taught as an associate in hospitality. He earned the FSU University Teaching Excellence Award in 2006 and 2007.
“He taught me more about golf and life and how to be a gentleman,” said close friend Bill Woodyard, senior lecturer of legal studies and real estate in FSU’s College of Business. “I adored the guy. He ran that program for so many, many years. He would give everything of himself to (students).
“People like Ernie don’t come around often.”
Lanford, who also authored a golf column for The Tallahassee Democrat, retired from Dedman in 2018.
Even after Hannah − once ranked No. 1 on the Florida Junior Golf Tour as a youth and played four years at FSU (1998-2001) − stopped touring professionally in 2009, he often confided in Lanford.
That friendship continued over the years.
“We shared so many stories, so many experiences,” said Hannah, who works in telemarketing and is the teaching Pro at Jake Gaither Golf Course. “He was such a huge part of my life.”
Lanford and wife Sandra were married 55 years and had a son (Michael).