Skip to content

50 Years: The Joyful, Indelible Spirit Of Dot Gunnells

A beloved figure in the history of Carolina Athletics, the charismatic Dot Gunnells was respected, admired and loved by virtually every person whom she ever came in contact with.

The head women’s golf coach at Carolina from 1975 until her retirement in 1993, Gunnells was also the advisor to the Tar Heels’ cheerleading squad for most of that time, including the cheer group which won the national championship in 1978 on a CBS nationally televised broadcast .

Beyond just her coaching and advising, Gunnells, who passed away in 2017, is remembered for having touched an amazing number of lives.

“Dot was so loving and so kind and just an adorable human being,” says retired head women’s golf coach Jan Mann. “She loved her players and they loved her. When I came here, I made sure that Dot stayed involved in our program. She attended our practices and she was a mainstay in her presence at tournaments we played in. She loved spending time with the players even decades after her retirement and everyone involved in our program appreciated her so much.”

Born in 1928, Gunnells attended Memphis State University and eventually moved to Chapel Hill with her husband Jack, who for decades served as the director of personnel at the University before he passed away in 1996.

Carolina elevated varsity sports for women in 1971-72 and while golf was not among the original seven sports, it was added in 1973. The first two seasons had two different coaches at UNC before Gunnells began her 19-year tenure with the program.

Historically, some of the best teams ever to play at Carolina were tutored by this dynamic woman. Her 1978 team finished 10th in the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) nationals followed by a 12th-place finish in 1982.

After the NCAA took over stewardship of women’s sports on the national level in the early 1980s, Gunnells’ teams only got better, finishing 12th in 1984 and then eighth in three of her last five seasons: in 1989 and then again in both 1992 and 1993 The 1989 team was led at NCAAs by Donna Andrews, whose third-place finish ranks as the highest in Tar Heel history.

She mentored six All-Americas and led the 1992 squad to the ACC championship. Gunnells rounded out her career by not only coaching the ’93 squad to the #8 spot at NCAAs.

That same year, she was named the National Coach of the Year and inducted into the National Golf Coaches Hall of Fame–a grand way to go out into her retirement.

Although she retired that season, she never really left Carolina, continuing to live in Chapel Hill and serve as a constant presence at UNC events.

Dr. Beth Miller not only coached alongside Gunnells as UNC’s volleyball coach but also supervised the team beginning in 1985 as its sport administrator. Miller was always impressed with Gunnells’ ability to bring people together and form loving, cohesive units at so many different levels.

“People were attracted to her and they wanted to be around her. Because of that, she had long-standing relationships not just with her players, but golf coaches and administrators around the country,” Miller said. “But the relationships with her players were the most unique. If you ever asked her what a former player was doing she knew every single detail about their lives. She was amazing in her ability to connect in the most positive way. Dot taught them life lessons – commitment, resourcefulness, leadership, love, kindness, dedication, positivity, passion.”

Added friend and former sports information director lee snyder: “Her big smile, her enthusiasm and excitement – ​​they were just contagious to those around her. She was so well respected and well-liked by those in golf-coaching and the golf industry in general but her ability to be a part of people’s lives was so extensive. She was a perfect fit for a college town like Chapel Hill.”

Gunnells’ impact reached far outside of Chapel Hill, as many of her former players went on to golf-related careers, including many in coaching. Page Marsh, who played at Carolina from 1981-85 and was an All-America, has been the women’s golf coach at NC State since 2000.

“Dot recruited young women who she felt would be good ambassadors for the sport, our families, and above all the University she loved,” Marsh said. “She built a feeling of family as relationships were important to her. You saw this in how she treated everyone around her. While many are transactional, Dot inspired with her humanity, her sense of humor, her competitive nature and above all, her insistence that we be the best versions of ourselves.”

Both Marsh and Miller remembered a story of how Gunnells would be at the first tee of every tournament as their players began play. Every single tournament, every single player, the message upon leaving the tee was the same: “Have fun!”

“She reminded us each and every round that golf and life were about finding the joy,” said Marsh.

In 2017, Marsh was chosen by her fellow former players to deliver Gunnells’ eulogy on behalf of all of the Tar Heels. Marsh said it was a joyfully collaborative experience to write, but the best part was the decision to ask the group to raise their hand if they were Coach Gunnell’s favorite player.

Every single former player in the room raised their hand. That’s just the way Gunnells made her players feel.

Encapsulating her one-of-a-kind nature, that story could not be more indicative of the woman whose decades of service left an indelible mark on Chapel Hill—both on and off the golf course.

Gunnells left behind a legacy of success, but also of making lives richer and more joyful for all she came into contact with during her decades of service at the University she loved so much.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.