Sandhills Hall of Fame

Sandhills Hall of Fame

By Lee Pace

The World Golf Hall of Fame arrives this spring for its second rendition in the Sandhills. The museum was conceived by Pinehurst management in the early 1970s, opened in 1974, floundered from an operational and financial standpoint, moved to St. Augustine, Fla., and now has morphed into a new facility as part of the USGA Golf House Pinehurst.

As its name suggests, the hall of fame encompasses the entire universe of golf. Scotsmen Old Tom and Young Tom Morris, South African Gary Player, Argentine Roberto De Vicenzo, Spaniard Seve Ballesteros and Englishman Nick Faldo are among the inductees.

There is no Sandhills Golf Hall of Fame. But what if there were? Who might comprise the inaugural class of honorees? A dozen of must-haves could be found here:

Pinehurst founder James W. Tufts was not a golfer, but he did have the sense to recognize the potential of the game in 1897 when some guests brought rudimentary clubs and balls and were hitting them around the dairy fields. Tufts built nine holes in 1898 and during the next decade Pinehurst evolved from the original vision as a wintertime resort for New Englanders of frail health into the nation’s first concentration of golf courses.

Richard S. Tufts was the grandson of James and embraced the game of golf to a level beyond anyone else in the family. He became an authority on national and international levels in agronomy, course design, the rules of golf, championship administration and club management. He held national offices with the USGA and was association president in 1956-57. That in addition to running Pinehurst for half a century.

Donald Ross came to Pinehurst in 1900 as a golf professional, clubmaker, caddie master and greenkeeper when the club had only 18 holes of golf. Noting the similarities in the Sandhills ground to his native Scotland and with an apprenticeship under Old Tom Morris at St. Andrews under his belt, Ross began designing and building golf courses in the Sandhills and beyond. He never stopped and had nearly 400 designs to his credit upon his death in 1948 — including seven in Pinehurst and Southern Pines.

Ben Hogan was winless on the PGA Tour for eight years when the North & South Open was contested on No. 2 in March 1940. He told his wife, Valerie, he’d leave the tour if he didn’t win that year. It all came together that week with Hogan jumping in front with an opening round 66, leading wire-to-wire and clipping Sam Snead by three shots. From there he won in Greensboro and Asheville and, with some newfound confidence and financial security, blasted off into a Hall of Fame career.

Before the big money purses and endorsement contracts launched by the Palmer/Nicklaus era of the 1960s and ‘70s, many talented golfers played the game for competition and camaraderie while maintaining full-time careers. Cases in point who were indelible parts of the Pinehurst landscape in the mid-1900s were Billy Joe Patton (Morganton lumber broker who won three North & South Amateurs) and Bill Campbell (Huntington insurance man who won four).

Ohio native Peggy Kirk Bell learned about the Sandhills from her fellow Rollins College teammate Ann Cosgrove, daughter of the family that owned and operated Mid Pines Inn & Golf Club. When Peggy married hometown sweetheart Warren Bell, they moved to Southern Pines and in 1953 began running Pine Needles. Later, they bought it and turned it into one of the most renowned golf instruction incubators in the country as well as a four-time U.S. Women’s Open venue.

This year Pinehurst Resort & Country Club is celebrating the 40th anniversary of ownership by the Dedman family of Dallas. Robert Dedman Sr. bought the resort out of bankruptcy in 1984, saying he wanted to “restore a fallen angel” in the golf world, and set about pouring millions of dollars into upgrading the golf courses and infrastructure. Son Robert Dedman Jr. took over upon his father’s death in 2002 and has taken the facility to new heights, ever mindful of the family’s concept of “stewardship” over simple ownership.

When Dedman Sr. took over in the mid-1980s, he set a mandate of Pinehurst returning to the forefront of American golf — as a resort and a competitive venue. The lieutenants who set about putting the plan in action were resort CEO Pat Corso and Director of Golf Don Padgett Sr. Corso was a seasoned hotel executive and Padgett a former president of the PGA of America with a network of contacts in the back channels of golf. Together they started the dominoes falling toward the 1999 U.S. Open.

And that ’99 Open? Perhaps the most famous stroke in the history of the American national championship was struck the third Sunday in June, with Payne Stewart rolling in a 20-foot putt on the final shot of the championship to edge Phil Mickelson by one shot. Three months later, Stewart was killed in a plane crash. Today, the statue in his “Payne Pose” sits beside the 18th green and is the most iconic selfie-shot in the Sandhills.

Lee Pace is a freelance golf writer who has written about Sandhills area golf for four decades and is the author of club histories about Pinehurst Resort & Country Club, Mid Pines, Pine Needles and Forest Creek.

Other Blogs