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Pro Profiles: Gene Weldon, Thistle Golf Club

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

Editor’s note: This week Golf Gab begins a periodic series that will profile the professionals at Brunswick County courses.

Gene Weldon is a jovial guy who gets the job done. He is the director of golf at Thistle Golf Course. His position requires a multitude of skills, both technical and interpersonal.

A golf director must interface with the golf course superintendent regularly to make sure the course is in the best condition possible. He is responsible for restaurant operations and the merchandise in the pro shop. He must keep members happy, bring in outside play and manage charity events at the facility.

Gene came to Thistle Golf Club in 2005 with a world of credentials and experience in golf course operations. Last week, we sat in the large Tudor-style restaurant and chatted about his life journey and the twists and turns that brought him to Brunswick County.

Gene grew up in Hartsville, S.C.

“Everyone in my family played tennis, and my brother went to college on a tennis scholarship. I learned to play tennis as a kid and played on the varsity tennis team as a freshman. However, I discovered that tennis was not the sport for me. I had a terrible temper in tennis, and kept breaking rackets. Something about the game didn’t mesh with my personality. I got into golf and that suited me so much better,” he laughed. “I have never broken a golf club in my life.”

Tennis was a fall sport, so Gene tried out for the golf team in the spring and made it. He played four years of varsity golf then went to Aiken College.

“Uncle Sam was calling, and my grades were not wonderful, so I decided to enlist rather than get drafted. I served for four years with a 13-month stint in Vietnam on an aircraft carrier.”

Toward the end of his four-year commitment, Gene was stationed at the Naval Air Station in Albany, Ga., when his unit was called up for another assignment overseas.

“I only had four months of active duty left and I knew I was not going to re-up. My executive officer, Billy Smith, knew I was a golfer, so he gave me temporary assigned duty at the base golf course. That was the beginning of my golf career.”

In 1971, he found a job at the Beachwood Golf Course in North Myrtle Beach, S.C., working in the pro shop.

“I put in for apprentice pay from the Navy and they came through. I wanted to learn the golf business instead of attending college and they were fine with that. I worked for two years at Beachwood, learned the business side of golf and have not looked back since.”

In 1973, Gene went to Arcadian Shores Golf Course, also in North Myrtle Beach, S.C., and worked on the maintenance crew for a year.

“I wanted to learn that aspect of the golf business and in retrospect, I’m really glad I did because today, I understand the intricacies and difficulties of golf course maintenance. John Pridgeon, the superintendent here at Thistle, really knows what he’s doing. It’s helpful that I can understand in some measure what he does to keep this course in beautiful condition year round.”

During his tenure at Arcadian Shores, Gene worked with Mack Briggs, the father of John Briggs, the PGA pro at Lockwood Folly.

“I learned a whole lot from John. He was a mentor to me and helped me to become a Class-A PGA professional in 1977.”

Another learning experience at Arcadian Shores happened when Waterway Hills was built as a sister course.

“It was called Arcadian Skyway and Rees Jones was the architect. I got to know him and that gave me another great learning experience in golf course construction and design.”

A few years later, when Gator Hole (another Jones design) was under construction, Gene was hired as the head pro before the course was even finished.

“When Gator Hole opened in 1980, I was the pro and when it closed on Thanksgiving Day in 1999, I was still the pro. I continued on there until 2000, finishing up the operations and tying up loose ends. I think I’m the only pro who worked for 20 years on a course from the day it opened until the day it closed.”

After Gator Hole closed to make room for a shopping mall, box stores and housing, Gene went to the Surf Club.

“I was given my first-ever club membership by Phil Tilghman who had owned Gator Hole. I joined the men’s association there and took some time off from the business end of golf. Two months into my membership at the Surf Club, I became membership director. I stayed there for four-and-a-half years and took it private while I was there.”

From Surf Club, Gene went to Sandpiper Bay for two years and then to Thistle in 2005.

Throughout his career in the world of golf, Gene has been active in community service.

Because his father died of a sudden heart attack at the age of 57, Gene has served on the Horry County Heart Association’s Board of Directors, as president and as South Carolina State Golf Chair.

“My father was in a doctor’s waiting room with my mother when he keeled over from a heart attack and died. Today, that probably would not happen because of the advances in treating the disease, both before and after a heart attack. I wanted to help so others would not have that experience.”

Gene has been committed to kids in sports, coaching his sons in Little League for 20 years and being active in the North Myrtle Beach Recreation Department.

In the 1980s Gene worked with Carolyn Cudone to bring Junior Golf Programs to Myrtle Beach, S.C. (Carolyn Cudone, who passed away on March 1 of this year, was a remarkable amateur golfer who won the United States Golf Association Senior Championship a record five times from 1968-1972. She was a resident of Myrtle Beach, S.C., and a member of the Dunes Club.)

The love of the game has now brought Gene to the board of directors of The First Tee of Brunswick County.

“We held The First Tee Walmart Invitational here at Thistle last September and in the process, I got to know some of the board members and lead coaches of The First Tee. Rusty Petrea, the founder, captured me and sold me on the concept of the organization. I knew it was important for kids to learn the etiquette of the game and how to play, but The First Tee is so much more with its core values and life skills. Serving on the board of directors is another way of that I can give back to the community.”

“Thistle Golf Club is hosting the second Walmart Invitational on September 22 and I’m really looking forward to it. Golf has been good to me and I want to pass that opportunity on to others.”

Golf Gab Groaner: Famous Golf Quotes

“Golf is based on honesty. Where else would you admit to a 7 on a par-3?”—Jimmy Demaret

“Golf is a game where guts and blind devotion will always net you absolutely nothing but an ulcer.”—Tommy Bolt

“Golf is a game that needlessly prolongs the lives of some of our most useless citizens.”—Bob Hope

“Is golf really a sport, in all honesty? I thought in a sport you had to run at some point.”—John McEnroe

Elsa Bonstein is a golf columnist for the Beacon. Reach her at elanbon@atmc.net.