Not everyone in the Grand Strand golf market knew Gabby Parks.
But when Parks died at the age 98 on Dec. 27, the area lost one of the underappreciated ambassadors for Myrtle Beach golf.
Parks hosted what came to be known as the Gabby Parks Thanksgiving Couples Tournament for 23 years through 2005 at Arcadian Shores Golf Club, and other courses as well after the event grew too big for one location.
Parks was more than just a host to the participants, he became a friend, and they looked forward to seeing him every year as much as he looked forward to seeing them. The initial greeting every year consisted of smiles, handshakes, hugs and kisses on the cheek.
“He was certainly quite a character; very colorful,” said Arcadian Shores assistant pro Jeff Wisniewski, who helped Parks run 17 of the tournaments. “There are still a few folks who played in the event for a few years that still come by and say hello and ask about Gabby. One couple played in all 23 events.
“It got to be kind of like a family. We had so many folks come year after year, it became like a family reunion for everybody.”
The tournament featured four rounds of golf. The inaugural event in 1982 was a small affair, but it grew to a high of approximately 360 players around 2000 and was played on several courses.
The event was far-reaching. The 2004 event had players from 25 states and Canada, and 37 couples from Arkansas alone were in the field. Another four couples came from Las Vegas.
Parks worked for the Hilton, which operated Arcadian Shores through 2009 as part of a long lease agreement, and neither the Hilton nor Arcadian Shores did much advertising for the tournament. It grew almost solely through Parks’ phone solicitation and word of mouth. Even when the number of players swelled to more than 350, Parks still greeted most players by name.
“He was always concerned with making sure the guests at the tournament were well taken care of and had a good time,” Wisniewski said. “He started that thing from scratch. Gabby was definitely a good ambassador for Myrtle Beach golf and the Hilton.”
Parks did not organize the event on a computer. He used the old-fashioned method of retaining information on index cards, of which he had about 1,200. He ran an annual contest awarding the person who recruited the most players a free week’s vacation at the Hilton, and he regularly had dozens of participants trying to win.
Emil J. Parks was born in 1914 in Cleveland, Ohio, was the director of fabrics purchasing at Hanes Corporation in Winston-Salem, N.C., and Guilford Mills in Greensboro, N.C., and moved to Myrtle Beach in 1979. Guilford Mills built the Hilton hotel and golf course, and Parks first helped run the pro shop and golf course.
He attended college for about six weeks in 1932 before joining a dance band as a trumpet player and singer. He met his wife and now widow, Dee – they were married an amazing 77 years – while playing music in Greensboro, N.C., but he said he gave up the music business because it wasn’t conducive to their relationship.
Parks is said to have performed with jazz musician Tommy Dorsey and performed at a Cleveland Browns football game with composer and conductor John Philip Souza. He would give participants a song or two at his tournament’s awards banquet. He could still shoot his age on a golf course at age 90.
“His was definitely a life well-lived,” Wisniewski said.
Parks is survived by his 97-year-old wife, a son, three grandchildren and nine great grandchildren, who will all undoubtedly miss him dearly.
Individuals like Parks have built the Strand golf market into what it is.
Parrish back on course
Former Grand Strand resident Tony Parrish is going to give a playing career another shot.
Parrish, who lived in the area from 2003-10 and is now in Erwin, N.C., has been operating his Bogeys to Birdies golf shop in Dunn, N.C., for the past couple years.
But he’s moving the club making, fitting and repair business to his home and is getting back on the road for regional events in 2013, predominantly on the Sunbelt Senior Tour.
Parrish turned 45 on Nov. 4 and the Sunbelt, which is owned and operated by Don Barnes of Longs, recently dropped its minimum age requirement from 47 to 45.
Parrish was a multiple winner of Grand Strand Pro Golf Tour money titles before wrist and elbow injuries forced him to concentrate on his golf shop, and he moved close to the family of his wife, Julie. Parrish’s family still has a condo in Little River and his father lives at Barefoot Resort.
He has regained his amateur status and wants to play in the Carolinas Amateur at Kiawah Island Resort this summer before joining the Sunbelt.
“I’m going to play on the Sunbelt Senior Tour and I’m going to do well. I can feel it,” Parrish said. “I just felt that’s where my path seems to be taking me. Why I got my amateur status back was because I needed something to play in while I was healing. I need to play in tournaments or I’ll chew my fingers off.”
Parrish’s last pro event was an NGA Carolina Series tournament in 2010, when he had swelling on his elbow and wrist pain from hitting hundreds of balls a day, even off mats indoors in the winter.
“I was hurting so bad and I was playing so bad, I just couldn’t take it anymore,” Parrish said.
Working on a Bowflex exercise machine at his home over the past couple years has helped Parrish overcome the injuries and return to playing. “It’s a little more traveling but I just think it’s what I’m meant to do,” Parrish said of the Sunbelt Tour. “I’m not meant to sit in the shop all day long.”
Organizers of the Golf Dimensions National Father & Son Team Classic are changing things up for the 16th playing of the event in 2013.
An easier two-man Texas Scramble format using 60 percent of individual handicaps is replacing the tournament’s customary alternate shot format in the first round.
Texas Scramble, which involves both players hitting tee shots and each player finishing the hole with his own ball from the best drive location, is added to a better ball format counting 80 percent of handicaps and captain’s choice format taking into consideration 30 percent of handicaps in the final two rounds.
“The tournament committee got together and we decided to make it more exciting and enjoyable,” said tournament director Brad Greenstein. “It’s been 15 years and we felt we wanted to change it up a little bit.
“We feel this Texas Scramble will definitely add some pizzazz to the tournament, especially being on that first day it will warm people up. We’ll give it a shot and see what happens.”
Tournament rounds are also moving around. New courses for the July 18-20, 2013 event include Wild Wing Plantation, the Myrtle Beach National King’s North course, Burning Ridge Golf Club and Crow Creek Golf Club. The 2012 tournament had more than 800 participants and was held on eight courses.
Greenstein said registration thus far has been encouraging.
First Tee ball set
The First Tee of Brunswick County’s third annual The Golf Ball will be held Feb. 16 at the Brunswick County Association of Realtors banquet facilities at 101 Stone Chimney Road in Supply, N.C. The event will include dinner, speakers, a live auction, dancing and live music and will benefit The First Tee chapter’s scholarship program, which provides college scholarships to graduating seniors of the program based upon academic performance.
Tickets are $100 per person and other group and sponsorship packages are available. The event is black tie optional. For more information contact Lori Boldt at 910-409-2474, Beth Coffey at 614-774-9888, or The First Tee staff at 910-754-5288.
To view Blondin’s blog, Green Reading, or Twitter page visit myrtlebeachonline.com.
Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.