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On Sept. 12, 2002, I wrote my first golf column for The Brunswick Beacon. Counting back in time, that’s more than 535 columns.
It all began when a group from Brick Landing was attempting to buy the golf course. Because I had been a freelance writer for most of my life, the committee asked me to help with public relations (press releases, letters and advertisements).
In the process I met Morrie Thomas, who was the advertising director of the Beacon at that time. He complimented me on my writing, asked to see some clips of my work and soon I was a part-timer at the Beacon. As a regular contributor to the newspaper, I met Ben Carlson, the managing editor.
One day, Ben called me into his office and said, “We’re thinking of starting a golf column. Tell me about your golf experience.”
“I play, but I’m not a champion,” I said. “However, my husband has won several championships, and all four of my adult children all play the game. My oldest daughter, Karen, won the New Jersey Junior Girls Championship and another daughter, Kim, was the women’s club champion at our course in New Jersey several times. I’ve been tournament chairwoman and overall chairwoman two clubs, and I’ve run charity events and guest day. I also ran the junior golf program at our former club for seven years,” I hesitated. “I know how to write newspaper and magazine articles, but I’m not sure I know how to be a columnist.”
Ben grinned at me.
“Let’s try it and see how it goes. Just be yourself and forget about the ‘who, what, where, when and how’ of newspaper writing. Express your opinion, care about golf and the people who play the game. There’s enough golf stuff going on in Brunswick County. I’m sure you’ll find something to write about.”
And so it began. My very first column was called “Why I love this dumb game.”
In the past 10 years, I’ve covered many topics related to golf: rules, interclubs, tournaments, personalities in the business, inventions, lessons, equipment, golf course superintendents and golf pros. Because I belong to the Carolinas Golf Reporters Association, I’ve been invited to openings of new or renovated courses and various awards ceremonies. I get press passes to cover the annual Carolinas Golf Course Superintendents meeting and the annual Carolinas PGA meeting, both held at the convention center in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Because of my golf writing, I was asked to be a founding member of the board of directors of The First Tee of Brunswick County, where I met more terrific people like Rusty and Carol Petrea, the founders of our local chapter. I served for seven years and during that time I wrote a public relations handbook for The First Tee used by all 200 chapters.
It’s been a great ride and I’ve loved every minute of it. Who wouldn’t?
I’ve met Arnold Palmer, Peggy Kirk Bell, Amy Alcott, Curtis Strange, Tom Watson, Dennis Walters, Nick Bradley, Martin Sludds, Zack Byrd and Mike Golic (of the “Mike and Mike” show on ESPN). I’ve gotten to know most of our local pros and managers and golf course superintendents.
One of my sons-in-law is a PGA pro. His father and two brothers are golf course superintendents. At our previous club, my husband was chairman of the green committee when it renovated the golf course under the supervision of Geoffrey Cornish. We became friends with the superintendent at that time.
In 2002, I wrote a column about why golf course aerate their greens, punching holes and cutting slits in perfectly nice turf.
Through that column and the feedback it engendered, I discovered golfers enjoy learning about golf course maintenance. Through the years I have written several award-winning columns about that topic. “A Day in the Life of a Golf Course Superintendent” featured Joe Jamison, the superintendent at Crow Creek. The next winner was “Golf Courses Can Get Heat Stroke Too” and it highlighted Billy Lewis, who was the superintendent at Carolina National at that time. He went on to become president of the Carolinas Golf Course Superintendents Association and is now working in Pinehurst.
My last winner was “The Most Beautiful Office in the World,” which talked about John Pridgen, the superintendent at Thistle Club and how much he loved his work.
Writing Golf Gab has been a huge learning experience. I’ve interviewed golf course architects and rules officials and teaching pros. I’ve learned how golf clubs are custom made and why the United States Golf Association approved the use of range finders and GPS systems.
The newest controversy is the recent ruling by the USGA that forbids the use of putters that are anchored to the body, like the longer putters that are pressed up against the belly or chest during the putting stroke. I’ll cover that in a few weeks.
One of the most fun things is the evolution of The Brunswick Beacon Tournament of Champions, now 10 years old, in which all the men’s and women’s club champions play off in a big end-of-the-season event. Every year, the TOC gets bigger and better. We’ve already set the 2013 TOC Nov. 16-17 at Crow Creek. There will be a column about that shortly.
For the TOC, I interview all the champions. It’s fun learning where they were born and raised, when they started playing golf, take lessons and how much they practice. Many of these champs have become friends with me and with each other as they meet on the field of battle each year.
Some columns don’t lend themselves well to pictures. Then my dear friend John Saporito steps in and creates a cartoon to illustrate my point. Most of my humorous columns are much better because of his artwork.
I truly feel that Golf Gab is not my column, but your column, dear readers. The Beacon has subscribers in nearly every state in the union, so I get emails from places like Seattle and Albany, N.Y., and Atlanta. Each month, local readers call or email me to make suggestions of topics I might want to cover.
I’ll never run out of ideas, thanks to that idea bank, and I’m grateful to everyone who calls or emails with a suggestion.
It’s been an honor and a pleasure being the golf columnist for the Beacon for the past 10 years. I hope to continue doing what I love best far into the future.
One caveat: If either of my two unpublished novels makes it to the top of the New York Times Best Seller List and gets optioned for a movie, I may have to go to Hollywood to help with the script writing.
I’ll let you know when that happens.
Golf Gab groaner
Joe got home late from the golf course one Saturday and his wife was hugely annoyed.
“Honey, please understand,” Joe protested. “I had a bad day. On the 13 hole, my friend Larry had a heart attack and died just as he was lining up his putt.”
“That’s awful,” said the wife.
“Yeah, it sure was. After that, it was hit the ball, drag Larry, hit the ball, drag Larry for the rest of the round.”
Elsa Bonstein is a golf columnist for The Beacon. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her at facebook.com/elsa.bonstein.