Sunday, April 09, 2006
What does a kid do if he needs to earn money to go to the public swimming pool? If that kid’s name is Gene Hamm, he starts as a golf caddy for a local Country Club in Raleigh, North Carolina. He earned enough money for his swimming, and went on to become the American Athletic Association’s Springboard Diving Champion. At 83 years young, he still weighs no more than 155 pounds and stretches to a full five feet, six inches tall. He feels his size was what helped him do so well on the three meter springboard.
Gene Hamm will never be a giant, and his diving career may not be as celebrated as the Olympic diver, Greg Louganis; but Hamm has made a name for himself as a giant among golf course architects. As a golfer as well as an architect, Hamm knows golf courses. His name may not be as fashionable as some more popular player-architects, but his courses are admired by everyone who plays on them.
In 1946, Hamm worked as an assistant pro at the Pinehurst Golf Course just south of Raleigh, where he learned what was involved in keeping a golf course perfectly playable. He worked with Robert Trent Jones and learned the fundamentals before he started creating his own designs. Hamm has created over 70 challenging golf courses along the east coast, from Delaware through North Carolina, past Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head, down to Florida.
His favorite course to play on and the one he feels was the best he has created was Pinewild, in Pinehurst, NC. “It was the best course I built.”
Pinewild is still a world-class course, despite the fact that it was built more than ten years ago. Considered a traditional masterpiece, Hamm’s Pinewild “has pines all over it. There are no holes that are wide open. Yes, it’s the best course I ever built.”
Hamm will be the first to admit that names like Nicholas, Palmer, and Fazio might be more readily recognized, but he feels that no one has built more or better golf courses than he has. The lifetime member of the PBA still plays golf two to three times a week, and has won the North Carolina open. In 1960, he qualified to play in the National Open, but because of his seven day a week work schedule, and a non-flexible boss, he had to quit his job as head pro in order to play.
After that, Al Smith gave him a job and soon, he’d found his place among the great golf course architects. “In 1960”, his wife, LuAnn reports, “He jumped off a bulldozer at Pawley’s Island long enough to win a tournament in 6 shots!” It’s evident that his wife of 60 years is not only his best friend, but his best cheerleader, too. She boasted about his being inducted into the PGA Hall of Fame in 1998 for his golf course design, and again in 2001 as an Architect.
“Everything I ever did in golf was fun,” said Hamm who retired and moved to the Lake Washington area in 1992. “Over the course of my career, I got four holes in one. Do you know how hard it is to get a single hole in one? Some professionals never do. It’s pure luck to get a hole in one!”
Brevard County will soon be saying farewell to one of golf’s most prolific architects, as the North Carolina snowbird stated that when he and his wife return home this summer, they will most likely remain closer to their sons, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
“We miss North Carolina and the pines. All our friends are up there. It’s time to go back. It’s been fun down here, but it’s time to go home.”