IRH - The Golf Courses

This section is to honor the works of Russ Lancaster who started the “I Remember Hamlet” web site years ago. Without his pioneering the web at that time we might not have gathered all these memories of our Hamlet, NC. We thank you Russ for what you started in 1996, may you Rest in Peace. Russ was kind enough to let me download his web site before he took it down. Thank you Russ.

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IRH - The Golf Courses

Post by David » Thu August 10, 2017, 6:56 am

The Golf Courses
and a vision of death
1950's - 1980's
by: Russ Lancaster
There are many ways to write about the golf courses in Richmond County. My way is far from the best because it deals more with personal memories than with the courses themselves.
I was first introduced to Richmond Pines Country Club somewhere around 1950. My dad was an avid golfer and sometimes he would be stuck with either leaving me home alone or taking me with him. Those days I went with him were always good and filled with something new to be learned or tried.
I was either too young or not strong enough to caddy for him but he would allow me to keep score for him and his foursome. He taught me several golf courtesies on my first round with him. Those were the things that all golfers should know. I was taught not to laugh or comment on a bad shot, not to ask for a score but wait to be told what to put down on the scorecard for each golfer. I was taught how and when to hold the flag stick, how not to walk across a putter’s line. I was taught not to mention any of the scores at the clubhouse unless given the ok by one of the group. I was taught that though golf was a fiercely competitive game, it was also a gentleman’s game.
Some of the other things I learned on my own. I learned about club selection for certain shots, how to read distances and lines, how to judge wind direction by throwing a few grass clippings into the air, how to line up a putt to allow for breaks, and which clubs to use for various distances. I was taught that rules were there to be followed with each golfer responsible for his own knowledge of those rules. I also learned a lot about how these men were able to compete against each other yet root for each other to shoot their best score.
During my first year of accompanying my dad on the course, I would usually walk the first nine holes with him and his group keeping score. When they began the second nine I would stay behind and use the playground equipment. I was still young enough not to look out of place and there were slides, swings, see-saws and other things I could enjoy. This area looked out upon the last hole they would play so I could keep an eye out for the familiar profile and gait my dad had.
There was also a dog that had free reign of the course but usually hung out near the club house, playground and first and last holes. He was a big boxer bull, strong but friendly. He and I became good friends. We would often find a stray towel used for drying golf balls and have some good tug of war games. Once he found and killed a snake and brought it to me. His idea was to play tug of war with the snake. I was more interested in examining it and then getting rid of it. I never knew that dog’s name but had hours of fun with him.
There were no electric or gas powered golf carts back then, not even a pull along club carrier. Golfers either carried their own bags of clubs or hired one of the many caddies that were allowed to hang out around the club house.
I watched the caddies and hung out with them from time to time myself. There were no set fees for payment but I discovered that they knew which golfers had the heaviest bags, which were the best players and most importantly, which golfers tipped the best. These young men could pick up some good spending money by carrying a golfer’s bag for a few hours.
Within a year or so, I began caddying for my dad. Those clubs and that bag were extremely heavy for my young body but I stuck it out. I even learned his preferences for club selection for every possible shot he would encounter. I thought at the time I was just out earning a little cash (he would tip me well) but I learned much more than that. I learned the basic rules of golf and soon began to play a hole or two with him and his friends when we were out of sight of the club house. It was a new game and a new experience for me.
As I progressed into my later teen years, golf disappeared from my life. If you have read many of my memories you know that other jobs and girls as well as baseball took my time away from golf. I never attempted to play again until I was nearly 30 years old.
I did have a time when I was a 17 year old kid in basic training in San Antonio, Texas in the Air Force when I made the worst golfing mistake of my life. I had been told while in basic training it might not be a good idea to volunteer for anything. I should have listened better.
One hot summer July morning in 1959, our TI (Training Instructor) came into the barracks and wanted to know if there were any golfers in our flight. My new friend from California, Johnny Mihu, asked me in a whisper if I knew how to play golf. I answered affirmatively. So, Johnny and I raised our hands. That was a big mistake.
For the next two weeks, he and I dug ditches on the Officer’s golf course in our "spare" time. The sun in Texas gets very hot in the summer but not half as hot as I was under my collar for being duped into this extra duty. That turned out to be the best golf lesson I ever learned… don’t volunteer!
I never thought much about golf after that until I was nearly 30. I was working for the railroad as a Clerk at the Hamlet yard office. I had been there a couple of years when a new Clerk was hired. His name was Jimmy Saunders and I was given the job of training him on my job. He and I hit it off immediately and he became my best friend for the next 15 years or so. One of us brought up the subject of golf one day and off we went to Richmond Pines to play. We both had to rent clubs from the pro, Les Monroe. He only charged us $1 a day for club rental, another $1 for a pull along cart to carry the clubs and another fee to play golf all day long.
We soon found out that we were not very good golfers. Oh, we could talk a good game, put playing was a different story. But, we had fun. We became even better friends pulling for one another to make a great shot from a difficult lie. We were in good physical shape and once played 54 holes in one day walking 45 of them and using a cart for the last 9.
We often found ourselves paired with other men and began to perfect our games lowering our average scores from the high 90’s down to the low 80’s. The game was still fun but with our new-found skills it became highly competitive and more serious. Weather permitting, we could always be found on the golf course on our rest days.
My dad, an excellent athlete and golfer, began to golf with us. He would bring along a friend and our foursomes became even more competitive. My dad treated my friend as much of a son as he did me. This golfing relationship brought my dad and I together closer than ever and we were to play every week the rest of his life until I moved to Jacksonville in 1988.
A new golf course, Loch Haven, opened sometime in the 1970’s. It wasn’t as long, neat or plush as Richmond Pines but it soon became our favorite course to play. It was cheap and after playing a few rounds we learned the lay of the land well enough to bring our average scores down into the 70’s.
My foursome now usually consisted of myself, Jimmy Saunders, Gerald Lewis and Bobby Norton. We were co-workers and enjoyed both work and golf together. We were a close group. My dad had his regulars that would join us at Loch Haven: Jack Howie, a man known only as Pee Wee, Lech Williamson, W.L. Haltiwanger and others. We would all get together, choose teams and have great times. Yes, here I was with my friends playing golf with those who had been my teachers and girl friends’ fathers when I was back in high school. Time had encircled us and we were all as if the same age. In fact, we became ageless on the rolling hills of Loch Haven…. We were simply friends and golfers.
I had the pleasure of playing golf with our old retired High School principal, Mr. Haltiwanger on the day he was able to shoot a score equal to his age. It was a special time for both of us, him for being able to do it and me for being able to witness it.
The pleasures of playing golf were many and Loch Haven held the best and worst memories for me. Those many days of playing golf with my dad and my friends were some of the best memories of my life. Seeing the pride in my dad’s eyes when I would make a birdie, an occasional eagle or pull off an improbable shot are visions and memories I will never forget. I still rummage around and find old score cards reminding me of our competitiveness as father and son as well as our nearly perfect relationship with one another.
But, I also remember the agonizing of watching his health deteriorate on those same twisting, rolling hills of Loch Haven. He was diagnosed with oral cancer in the late 1980’s. I could see the worry in his face as he realized the battle he faced. I refused to accept the inevitable and could not understand that he was facing a battle he could not win. Each radiation treatment or operation left him weaker yet he could still beat me on the golf course. Golf was better therapy for him than any the doctors ever gave him.
For those of you who played golf seriously or often enough, you know the feeling you get when out there with your friends, family or both. Nothing is allowed to enter your mind except golf itself. How will I make the next shot or putt? How far under or over par am I through the 7 th hole? Did you see my dad nearly ace that last par 3? Work and troubles are left behind. It is therapy for both body and soul.
But then there is that worst memory of my golfing days. It came in late 1987 when I saw death face to face for the first time. My dad and I were having one of those great days on the course at Loch Haven when I glanced over and saw the fear he was facing of the cancer that was slowly and painfully taking him from me. He was glancing back toward the lake we had just cleared on the short par 3 third hole. He had left his expression unguarded and I saw him in a way that was to frighten me and make me understand the finality of his last battle. I called his name and as he turned toward me I looked into his eyes and saw the frightful look of death. Not that he was afraid, he fought a valiant battle to the end… it was I that was frightened.
I can’t describe via written words the sight of death in his eyes but it was there for me to see. It was looking out at me and making me understand that it would soon win the battle for my dad’s body. I saw it as clearly as anything I have ever seen. I will never forget the sight of death and know that one day I will see it in my own mirror as I shave or wash my face. It exists and I know its look.
My family was not one to hug one another though I don’t know why. But that moment, that day, on the third hole at Loch Haven golf course in the fall of 1987, I walked over and hugged my dad. I didn’t say a single word nor did he. We both understood the gesture and we both knew without a doubt what I had seen. I finished the round with him that afternoon but my game was off. My eyes kept misting over and I could not get the vision I had seen out of my thoughts.
I drove my dad home that afternoon, carried his clubs into his house and tried to leave when my mom stopped me. She could tell I was upset and wanted to know why. I told her what I had seen and that I now understood what was to come. I got my second hug that day and the knowledge that she had seen weeks before me that same ugly specter of death himself.
We continued to play golf together until March of 1988 when I was faced with a decision that would affect the rest of my life. I was being told to transfer to Jacksonville to keep a good job but did not want to leave my dad knowing his time was rapidly coming to an end. He and I talked for hours and he was the wise one and convinced me I should make the move to Florida which I did in May 1988.
Every weekend for the next 9 months, I made that long trip up I-95 and Highway 38 to Hamlet to spend time with my dad. I put thousands of miles on my car for those precious few days I would have with him. I watched him play golf his last time in November 1988 and shoot a superb round. I said my final coherent good byes to him at Christmas and then came home in January 1989 two days before he finally lost his long battle to cancer. He was at peace with God, family and himself as he breathed his last breath and even though I know he is probably now playing golf on the greatest course ever, I miss him terribly. Each morning as I shave, it is his reflection I see in the mirror for I look almost exactly like him. Thankfully, I have yet to see in my own reflection the dreaded look I once saw in his eyes.
I remember those golf courses of Richmond County and all I ever learned there and how my dad became my best friend. I can still walk the hills of Loch Haven step by step, shot by shot by closing my eyes. I remember seeing pride in my dad’s eyes and though I would like to forget, I remember seeing death there too.
But most of all….. I remember Hamlet

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Re: IRH - The Golf Courses

Post by sigmore » Thu August 10, 2017, 4:56 pm

Well, that story made my eyes sweat a little. I know that look.

freddie hassler
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Re: IRH - The Golf Courses

Post by freddie hassler » Sun August 13, 2017, 1:01 am

I can remember when Bo aka Hobo Frye would hitchhike from Longwood Park down Wiregrass Rd to Caddy at the Golf course on US1

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