Co-Founder of Palm Springs Golf Classic Passes

Ernie Dunlevie, one of the founders of the Palm Springs Golf Classic, the golf tournament currently known as the Humana Challenge in partnership with the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, died Sunday night due to complications from cancer at the age of 96.

Dunlevie was the last surviving founding board member of the tournament and served as the tournament's president five times. He also served on the original board of the Eisenhower Medical Center.

Born in New York City and a World War II veteran, Dunlevie spent most of his life in California's Coachella Valley and left an indelible legacy in the area. He had a passion for golf and became one of Arnold Palmer's closest friends after that first Palm Springs Golf Classic in 1960. He played an integral role in incorporating entertainer Bob Hope with the golf tournament, as it was renamed the Bob Hope Desert Classic in 1965.

Dunlevie also was instrumental in helping to develop Bermuda Dunes Country Club (which included Bermuda Dunes Airport and a Racquet Club, now Murph's Gaslight Restaurant) and Eisenhower Medical Center. Since 1960, Desert Classic Charities, the nonprofit entity that organizes the Humana Challenge, has donated more than $52 million to Eisenhower Medical Center and numerous other organizations in the Coachella Valley.

John Foster, Humana Challenge president and chairman of the board, called Dunlevie, "A visionary entrepreneur that helped develop the Coachella Valley. He was loved by all, with the quickest of wit, and a gentleman to the end. An American hero from the `Greatest Generation,' and one of the greatest men I've had the privilege to call my dear friend."

"Mr. Dunlevie, through his vision, dedication and love of his fellow man, helped conceive and build a professional golf tournament that literally changed the cultural and economic fabric of our desert communities," Humana Challenge executive director and CEO Bob Marra said. "He is one of the all-time great local legends who will always be remembered with respect and gratitude."

"We are saddened by the passing of Ernie Dunlevie," said Bruce Broussard, president and CEO of Humana. "As a founder and past president of the tournament who participated as an active member of the board of directors for decades, his contributions to the Coachella Valley community and the PGA Tour have been enormous. We are most grateful for his dedicated work and passion on behalf of the tournament."

Noted PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem: "We were saddened to hear the news today of Ernie Dunlevie's passing. Ernie played such a dynamic role in the creation, growth and impact of what is now the Humana Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation, from the recruitment of Bob Hope to lend his name to the tournament to the critical role the event played in the development of the Eisenhower Medical Center. Ernie was a friend to the PGA Tour and many of our players throughout the years and he will be missed. We wish to express our sincere condolences to his family."

After graduating high school in 1936, Dunlevie and his mother drove cross-country to Palm Springs to visit artist friends who spent the winter painting in the desert. They never left. Prior to World War II, Dunlevie held an assortment of jobs in the Palm Springs area at different times, delivering groceries on a bicycle, working at a gas station, driving a truck during the construction of Palm Springs Airport, and working in the men's department of Bullocks Wilshire and Desmonds.

After the war, Dunlevie earned his real estate license and opened his own office on North Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs. His clients included Howard Hughes, Cary Grant, Fernando Lamas and Ava Gardner, among others, and he also befriended Clark Gable through his involvement at Bermuda Dunes.

Dunlevie is survived by his wife of 31 years, Joy, four sons and six grandchildren, among other family members.