Fathers, Sons and Golf

A tradition like no other at CCNC

By Lee Pace

The world of golf is chock-full of great father-son stories. Fourteen of the first 30 Open Championships beginning in 1860 were won by fathers and sons from two families — the Willie Parkses (Sr. and Jr.) and the Tom Morrises (Old and Young). Arnold Palmer learned to play from his father, Deacon, the greenkeeper and pro at Latrobe Country Club, and they played golf together on junkets to Pinehurst. Jack Nicklaus nervously ambled around Pinehurst No. 2 in 1985, watching his son Jack II win the same North and South Amateur title the elder Nicklaus had won 26 years earlier.

This summer will mark the 50th rendition of the Sandhills’ oldest tradition invoking dads and their boys. The Country Club of North Carolina’s National Father-Son Invitational was conceived by noted amateur golfer Dale Morey, and the first one was held on the Dogwood Course at CCNC in 1970.

“We think with the quality of golf courses and the tradition we have, the Father-Son is one of the special tournaments in all of amateur golf,” says CCNC Director of Golf Jeff Dotson. “We’ve had teams come from across the country, and it truly is a national event.”

CCNC opened in 1963 on land just to the southeast of Pinehurst Resort and Country Club, and was conceived as Moore County’s first true private golf club and one viewed as a weekend and leisure escape for businessmen and avid golfers from across the state and beyond. Willard Byrd and Ellis Maples designed what would be known as the Dogwood Course. The first nine holes of the Cardinal Course followed in 1970, with nine more added in 1981.

Donald and Jeffery Hall won the inaugural event and were followed in 1971 by Tom and Tom Kite Jr. — the latter at the time a 21-year-old University of Texas golfer. Another future PGA Tour standout, Scott Hoch, won the Father-Son as well, teaming with dad Arthur in 1977 and ’79 when Scott was still playing at Wake Forest.

The tournament is generally held in July — the 25th through the 28th this year — and utilizes both the Dogwood and Cardinal Courses. Both courses have been updated in recent years with modern turf and drainage, with the Dogwood Course getting a complete overhaul in 2015-16 from architect Kris Spence.

The format is to play the Dogwood Course for the first round, the Cardinal for round two, and then Dogwood again for the final round. The first two rounds are better ball and the final 18 is aggregate — both scores counting. So each team posts four scores over three days. If one player is the dominant player, he can carry the team for the first two rounds. But there’s nowhere to hide on the final day.

Ronnie and Hunter Grove have the most titles with five — collecting them in 1990-92, ’98 and 2000. A Senior Division was started in 2000 and a Super Senior Division in 2014, and Tim and Chris Miller have the distinction of being the only team to win in two divisions; they were overall champions in 2007-08 and then graduated to the Senior Division, where they won three straight from 2012-14.

Dick Schwob has been a CCNC member since 1999 and has cherished the times he and son Leighton have teed it up in the Father-Son.

“There is nothing like having three days one-on-one with your son playing the game you love on courses you love,” says Schwob. “We both played sports as kids growing up and have that competitive drive, and this is an outlet for competition and having fun with your son.”

Leighton works for the USGA as director of operations for the U.S. Open, so his summers are busy with travel, but he makes every effort to clear out that weekend for the Father-Son.

“The Father-Son at CCNC is as fun an event as you can have,” the younger Schwob says. “The field consists of a bunch of like-minded fathers and sons from all over the country who love the game of golf. We have met many great people over the years and look forward to seeing them each year.

“But the most important part of this event and what separates it from so many others is the time I get alone with my father out on the golf course. Life can be hectic these days between the Open and the growing family, but getting to spend quality time with my dad playing a sport we both love and are passionate about is as good as it gets.”

Rick Jones Jr. of Youngtown, Ohio, is the only golfer who has won as a son and a father. He was the son playing with Rick Sr. to win in 1980, ’85 and ’86. He was the father playing with son Connor two years ago, in 2017. That 1986 win was notable because in the final round on the Dogwood Course, Rick Jr. aced the par-3 16th, Rick Sr. birdied 17 and both Joneses birdied 18 — that’s 5-under in three holes to come from behind and win.

“It’s the best week of the year,” Rick Jones Jr. says. “It always has been, always will be. CCNC is my favorite place to play golf. I’ve never been anywhere so quiet.”

Bob Dyer and his son Kenny started playing in 1985 and were regulars for more than a decade. Bob is 87 now and says they aged out several years ago, but his affection for the annual trip sparked him and his wife to buy a house in Pinehurst and join the club.

“I finally got here in 2005,” Dyer says. “As soon as I walked into the property in 1985, I said, ‘Wow, this would be a good place to live.’ We had such a good time over the years. It was a wonderful experience.”

One of the interesting dynamics of fathers and sons teaming is melding the experience and strategic thinking of the more mature father with the “what, me worry?” attitude of the younger golfer. And then there is the evolution of age — as the fathers lose their athleticism and distance and their sons become the team leaders.

“You don’t realize how much pressure the dads are playing under,” Jones says. “I had no idea when I was young. When you’re young, you’re just playing and having fun. But the dads are grinding. They tend to choke a bit. You’re grinding so hard for your son. I learned that when Connor and I started playing.”

Kelly Miller, whose family owns the Pine Needles and Mid Pines resorts in nearby Southern Pines, has long been a competitor at the top level of national amateur golf. He’s a member at CCNC and has competed with son Blair often in the Father-Son, the Millers collecting the championship in 2002.

“I guess you’ll always be a father to some degree, but there’s a stage where you want to become a friend as well,” he says. “The Father-Son is a place to do that. You enjoy the time you spend with your son. That part is great. It’s an interesting dynamic as you grow older and your games change. You go from your son depending on you (when he’s younger) and all of a sudden you’re depending on him. It goes full circle.”

The Father-Son Invitational participation history for the Keim family of Erie, Pennsylvania, dates to the late 1970s and includes five golfers over three generations. Jim Keim, a top-ranked amateur golfer in Ohio and later on national levels as a senior golfer, brought his son Michael to the tournament in 1978 when Michael was 16. Another son, Chris, was four years younger, and over the years Keim played with both sons in the event. Michael has two sons, Aaron (now 34) and Alex (32), and both of them have competed either with their father or grandfather.

It would be difficult to top the experience of playing at CCNC with your dad, your brother and your sons,” Michael says. “The golf courses are spectacular and challenging in every way, and the fact that the staff and the board managed to keep this thing going all these years I think is no small miracle in itself. My dad was very single-minded in his passion for golf over his entire life, and this tournament was perfect to enjoy the game with his sons and grandsons.”  PS

For information on the CCNC National Father-Son Invitational, contact Director of Golf Jeff Dotson at (910) 692-1502.

Lee Pace has written about the Pinehurst area golf scene for more than 30 years. Write him at leepace7@gmail.com.

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