Gene Weldon, who spent more than four decades as a professional in the Myrtle Beach golf market, enriching the lives and experiences of many associated with it, died Friday morning at the age of 68.
Weldon had been battling cancer for the past couple years and died with friends and family by his side.
“Gene was a mentor, a steward, family and friend to all the golf professionals who have met him at some point,” said Mike Buccerone, president of East Coast Golf Management, for which Weldon had been working for the past few years. “He has affected all of us in some way personally and professionally. We called him the Godfather. He was a dear friend and family for all of us. He was our guy.”
A memorial service that is open to the public will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at the Ocean Drive Presbyterian Church on 6th Ave. North in North Myrtle Beach.
Weldon was a golf professional on the Grand Strand for 44 years, most recently serving as East Coast’s director of new business development.
He was the only head pro at Gator Hole Golf Club for the course's entire 20-year existence from 1980-99, and he spent nine years as the director of golf at Thistle Golf Club late in his career.
Utilizing his warm and genial personality, he also represented the area at consumer golf shows throughout North America for more than three decades.
A consistent passion throughout Weldon’s career was improving and expanding junior golf, and he was on the ground floor of the Myrtle Beach Junior Golf Program in 1981.
“It goes without saying how important Gene was to me and so many people around the beach,” said Golf Channel personality Kelly Tilghman of North Myrtle Beach. Tilghman’s father, Phil, owned and operated Gator Hole and she spent much of her childhood and adolescence at the course.
“Gene was like a father to me,” said Tilghman, who has played hundreds of rounds with Weldon and his son, Wil, and spent the past 10 days on the Strand spending time with Weldon. “Gene was the one who would close the shop up early and take the kids out for a round of golf. He loved children and loved mentoring and encouraging and nurturing the children and he thought golf was a great sport for them to learn how to be the best person they could be. He didn’t instruct us, but he taught us so much about how to love the game.”
“He loved children and loved mentoring and encouraging and nurturing the children and he thought golf was a great sport for them to learn how to be the best person they could be. He didn’t instruct us, but he taught us so much about how to love the game. Kelly Tilghman on Gene Weldon
Weldon’s other stops included Beachwood Golf Club, Arcadian Shores Golf Club, Waterway Hills Golf Club, Surf Golf and Beach Club and Sandpiper Bay Golf Club.
In 2015, Weldon was named both the South Carolina Golf Course Owners Association Tommy Cuthbert State Employee of the Year and the Myrtle Beach Area Golf Course Owners Association's Employee of the Year.
Weldon said in 2015 he coveted two character traits that he tried to live by professionally: dependability and personality. The punctuality was likely born out of his four years in the Navy, and he required it from anyone working under him over the years. The personality came naturally, and Weldon used it to form relationships and make golfers feel welcomed.
“If you needed something, Gene said, ‘I’ll take care of that,’ ” Tilghman said. “He’d go away and come back with it. You didn’t always know how but Gene always came through. He had a warmth about him and selflessness that was very endearing to a lot of people, and everybody wanted to help him improve the lives of other people.”
“If you needed something, Gene said, ‘I’ll take care of that.’ He’d go away and come back with it. You didn’t always know how but Gene always came through. He had a warmth about him and selflessness that was very endearing to a lot of people, and everybody wanted to help him improve the lives of other people. Kelly Tilghman
The Hartsville native got into the golf business while stationed at the Naval Air Station in Albany, Ga. He played a lot of golf at the nine-hole Albany base course in the cumulative year he wasn't deployed on aircraft carriers and worked in the golf shop for his last three months of enlistment at his request.
He entered the PGA of America apprentice program and spent 18 months as an assistant at Beachwood beginning in 1972. From there he moved to Arcadian Shores for seven years and earned his first head pro position at Waterway Hills before being hired by Phil Tilghman to open Gator Hole.
After Gator Hole closed, Weldon became membership director at The Surf Club and was head pro at Sandpiper Bay for three years before moving to Thistle.
He was among the first pros to work with Carolyn Cudone when she started the Myrtle Beach Junior Golf Program in 1981, and in recent years he worked with The First Tee chapters in Brunswick and Horry counties, launching a fundraising Players Card for discounted rounds at area courses in Brunswick County and coercing Kelly Tilghman and fellow Golf Channel personality Charlie Rymer to annually take part in a fundraising tournament at Caledonia Golf & Fish Club.
Tilghman said she and Rymer will continue to participate in The First Tee of the Grand Strand tournament in honor of Weldon. The event helps The First Tee chapter give youth opportunities in golf while using the sport as a vehicle to instill nine core values.
“While family and relationships were his highest priority in his final weeks, the tournament was always a topic of conversation for him,” Tilghman said. “It was like a baby for him. I have high hopes for it. I have added motivation now, added incentive to grow it as good as it can be.”
Weldon is survived by, among others, his wife Geri, who worked alongside him as the bookkeeper at Gator Hole, son Wil, granddaughter Juliana, and stepchildren John and Hayes.