LITTLE RIVER — When Mark Duzenski was hired last August as the superintendent at Eagle Nest Golf Club, he soon learned it wasn’t a common golf course property.
The land contains a greenhouse, plant nursery, two-acre vegetable garden, a multitude of flower and plant beds, numerous grape vines, pear trees, plum trees, fig trees, etc. “It’s a unique property,” Duzenski said. “It’s not just golf, that’s for sure.”
He also learned he had an uncommon worker on the maintenance staff who is largely responsible for much of the diverse vegetation.
At the age of 83, Bill DeWitt oversees the greenhouse and nursery in addition to cutting the course’s rough on a Turfcat mower. He has been on the course’s maintenance staff more than 30 years and still works 30 hours per week, from 6 a.m. to noon on weekdays.
“I guess you can call him old reliable,” Duzenski said.
On Thursday, DeWitt received the 2014 Employee of the Year award from the Myrtle Beach Area Golf Course Owners Association.
“He’s such a fixture of the golf course,” said Rick Elliott, whose family owns Eagle Nest. “We’re a family-based business and we’re committed to our people, and he’s part of the family. He’s got a job as long as he wants.
“… He’s one of the most decent men I’ve ever met. He’s faithful and a man of the faith. He represents hard work, decency and loyalty. He’s a fine example of a great citizen and great person.”
Through his dedication and a mutual love of horticulture, DeWitt developed a bond with the course’s former owner, longtime state senator Dick Elliott, who died last month at the age of 78. When the late senator was occasionally hospitalized for illness late in his life, DeWitt was often the first to visit.
“He was faithful and I think Dick had a lot of respect for him,” said Elliott’s widow, Anne. “Their mutual love was gardening and plants. He would be very proud to know Bill was receiving the Employee of the Year award. He and Dick had a good working relationship, and Bill was a good friend as well.”
DeWitt grew up on a farm in the Wampee region off S.C. 90 between Conway and Longs and still lives in that area.
He worked for the Wolverine Brass faucet maker in Conway for about a dozen years, but said he left following a union strike through which the union’s demands were not met. DeWitt said the company offered him his job back, but without much of his previous benefits. “They called me to go back but I never went back,” he said.
DeWitt then cut trees and wood for a company that provided the wood to paper mills in Georgetown via barges on the Intracoastal Waterway.
He was hired by then Eagle Nest superintendent Max Morgan, who is now National Golf Management’s vice president of agronomy, in the early 1980s, and he found a job he enjoyed.
“I don’t like sitting around the house,” said DeWitt, who has outlasted several superintendents at Eagle Nest. “It’ll mess you up if you don’t get out of the house. I really enjoy it. Nobody bothers me. My boss isn’t on my back. Now if he was on my back riding me I’d go home and stay. All of my bosses have been good to me.”
DeWitt has done just about every maintenance job imaginable over three decades at Eagle Nest, and it’s possible he has never been late for work. “He’s the type of person if he’s supposed to come in at 6 in the morning, he’s waiting on the person with the key to the gate,” said Larry Leagans, who leased and managed Eagle Nest from 1980 to 2000 and still assists DeWitt in the greenhouse and nursery.
DeWitt cut Eagle Nest’s greens for many years, and would begin working at 4:30 a.m. and have about 15 greens cut with the illumination of a headlight by sunrise. “I love to be up early,” DeWitt said. “I don’t ever want to be late on the job. I like to be on time so I can chit-chat and talk and laugh. I don’t like to have to rush.”
Leagans once put DeWitt in charge of a bunker renovation project. “You talk about somebody who took pride in his traps, those things were absolutely perfect,” Leagans said.
DeWitt discovered a new appreciation for his job with the creation of the nursery about 20 years ago. The roughly 2,000-square-foot greenhouse was built about four years ago, and DeWitt utilizes it in the winter to pot and begin growing flowers and plants that he’ll continue to nurture in the nursery in the spring and summer.
“Senator would bring a clipping from somewhere else and I’d put it in a pot,” DeWitt said. “He loved plants and flowers. He didn’t always know what [the clippings] were, he’d just tell me to put them in a pot.”
The plants are used to beautify the course, as there are flower and plant beds throughout the layout, often with a base of pine needles. The varieties include roses, azaleas and gardenias.
“He can’t see as well as he used to, so he might plant some plants and go out with the Turfcat and run them over,” Rick Elliott joked. “You have to get him pointed in the right direction now.”
In addition to the golf course property, DeWitt also cares for an area behind the golf course known as the “Back 40,” where he and the senator would clear and mow and plant various weeds to feed the property’s deer, wild turkeys and other animals. “Bill also did a lot to take care of that property and still does,” Rick Elliott said.
DeWitt is very active in the Chesterfield Missionary Baptist Church. He attends two services on Sundays because he’s an usher, sings in the choir and is also a church trustee.
He often goes fishing on Saturdays in the Waccamaw River, primarily for brim and catfish “or anything that will hit that hook,” and he’ll eat it if it’s the size of his hand or larger.
DeWitt has apparently passed down his sense of dedication and congenial personality to his four sons, several grandchildren, 20-plus great grandchildren and three great-great grandchildren. DeWitt was married for 54 years and is a widower.
His son, Ben, has worked on the bag drop at Arcadian Shores for 30 years and was named a Legend of Hospitality by the Hospitality Association of South Carolina in 2008 and also received the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce's Impeccable Customer Service award.
DeWitt has no plans to retire. He’ll work “as long as the good Lord gives me strength to get out of bed in the morning and come out here,” he said. “I love to get up and have somewhere to go. I love to have somewhere to go where you can laugh and talk. I enjoy that.
“My doctor told me to keep on doing what I’m doing. He said I’m doing good.”