NORTH MYRTLE BEACH — Hubby Bellamys favorite spot to watch the sun rise at Beachwood Golf Club is an area behind the 14th green overlooking an irrigation lake.
Hes had plenty of time to choose a preferred place for occasional meditation at daybreak.
Bellamy has been at the course at sunrise approximately 14,000 times over the past 45 years. But perhaps the final time is coming in the next couple weeks, as the sun is setting on Bellamys career as the courses superintendent.
Bellamy has been the only superintendent at Beachwood since the course opened in 1968, and hes retiring at the end of the year a few days shy of his 75th birthday.
Ive always loved what I did, Bellamy said. Most of the time I cant wait to get here. Its been a good ride for me. Its been an enjoyable 45 years.
Bellamy was hired near the completion of the courses construction, and he recalls grading some of the property and planting the grass in April 1968 for an opening three months later. The course hosted a retirement celebration Thursday afternoon.
Well all miss him. Hes a professional and good man and hes done an outstanding job, Beachwood partner Dick Elliott said. It has been rewarding for me to not worry about having to hire another greens keeper not knowing his qualifications, not knowing his commitment and not knowing if he was going to try to take the golf course to the next level. Hubby always took recommendations to the board about how to [improve] the golf course with an eye on the future.
Bellamy was a police officer with the old Ocean Drive Police Department when he was hired at Beachwood. He was ready for a change, and was also beginning a business in landscaping, well-drilling and irrigation that he managed to continue in limited hours for another 20 years or so. From Day 1 I didnt intend to make a career out of [Beachwood], Bellamy said.
Coming from a job in law enforcement, Bellamy immediately commanded respect as a boss.
Elliott recalls Bellamys first day, when he took over a crew of eight men hired to clean up and beautify the property as construction progressed. Six of those eight decided to try Bellamys will after his first day and didnt show up for work the next. Bellamy investigated and learned they were trying to test him.
When they came back the next morning he said, If you have anything here, pick it up and turn around and leave, youre released, Elliott recalled. He went out and hired a new crew, and you can believe that crew listened to Hubby Bellamy.
Lee Grant Livingston, one of the two original workers retained, has worked on Bellamys staff ever since and is semi-retired.
The legend grows
Bellamys given name is Hebert L. Bellamy, and he doesnt know how he got his nickname or its significance, but nobody would ever know me except by Hubby, he says.
He grew up on a tobacco farm off S.C. 90 in Little River, which he sold in 1988.
His father, H.E. Bellamy, was the first superintendent at the Surf Golf and Beach Club, and Bellamy did some work in his early 20s there during construction and continued to perform odd jobs there after the course opened in 1960.
I did just enough to be exposed to it and realize it was something I might consider doing, Bellamy said. It was quite a challenge to me in the beginning but something I really enjoyed.
He learned the superintendent profession hands-on and by also gleaning information from other superintendents, including Ken Hill at The Dunes Golf and Beach Club in the 60s. He also took night classes at Horry-Georgetown Technical College in the early years of the schools turf management program to increase his knowledge and keep up with new practices.
I try to think Ive kept up to date over the years, but I started out old school for sure, said Bellamy, who has benefitted from generations of improvements in maintenance equipment, chemicals and procedures since 68. It used to be a tedious, labor-intensive job. Now its a snap. Its a lot easier. Everything is a lot easier than it was when I first started.
Beachwood was among the first ten 18-hole courses to open on the Grand Strand, and was part of the initial building boom of Myrtle Beach golf as one of seven courses that opened between 1966 and 68.
The number of Strand courses reached approximately 120 in 2001 and remains near 100.
I remember people on the street saying [in 68], There aint no way all those courses will make it, Bellamy said. All of a sudden we doubled the number of golf courses we had. People were really doubtful about whether golf would even make it on the beach or not. It has become a totally different animal now.
Other courses have attempted to pry Bellamy away from Beachwood. These owners have been very supportive over the years, said Bellamy, who oversees a staff of nine that once grew to as many as 15. If I needed something, Id go to one of the owners and theyd say, Order it.
He has worked six or seven days a week nearly his entire career, and there has never been a need to tell Bellamy what time to start work and what time to leave. He arrives the majority of days at about 4:45 a.m. in the summer and 6 a.m. in the winter. Hes here sun-up to sun-down, said 24-year Beachwood bag drop attendant John Catfish Dillow.
His daily ritual begins with a drive around the course in his pickup truck in search of problems or anything out of the ordinary, and hes settled into spending about an hour in the clubhouse before sunrise each morning, having a cup of coffee and shooting the breeze with pro shop workers and Dillow. He often tells stories from his years at the course.
Ive heard stories this week that Ive heard for the last 11 years, but I give him credit, the stories never change, said Bob Wagner, an 11-year pro shop assistant. The facts are there and they never change.
Bellamys favorite work activity has to be using the riding greens aerifying machine. He loves that thing, Dillow said. Hed aerify the clubhouse if the [spikes] would go through the concrete. Hes aerified that practice green nine times this year, I bet. Thats the best green in Myrtle Beach right there.
Thats what they ought to give him as a retirement present, give him the aerifying machine.
The next chapter
Kenny Meredith, Bellamys assistant for 17 years over two stints, is his successor. He worked at Beachwood prior to taking over maintenance duties at the Harbor View par-3 and driving range facility for three years, and was asked by Beachwoods owners to come back in anticipation for Bellamys retirement.
Meredith should have known better. That was 16 years ago.
The owners asked me to come back in preparation of his retirement or illness if something were to happen, Meredith said. Then nothing happened. Im surprised hes retiring because this has been his entire life.
In retirement, Bellamy plans to regularly visit his four children in four different states, along with his nine grandchildren. One thing he and his wife of 49 years, Hazel, have wanted to do is stay in Orlando for a few days in March and attend Atlanta Braves spring training games.
To do so, he has to leave his fifth child of sorts the golf course behind. He has raised and nurtured the layout from its infancy to become the longest tenured superintendent in the history of the Strand.
Its a little scary after all the time Ive spent here, not knowing whats ahead, Bellamy said, but its time to make a change and move in a different direction.
Bellamy intends to fish a bit and get back into playing golf after about a 10-year layoff. If he plays Beachwood, no one will know the course any better. Ill know where to hit it; that doesnt mean thats where its going to go, he said.
He also plans to visit the course and its workers occasionally, quite possibly early in the morning. Ive always been an early riser, even growing up on the tobacco farm out here, Bellamy said. Even after retirement my wife will probably be fussing because Ill probably still be getting up at 4:30 or 5 oclock in the morning.
He might just manage to catch another sunrise behind the 14th green.
Im always here when the sun comes up, Bellamy said. Id say [seeing the sun rise] has been very important to me over the years.
Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.