Ron Bingeman has been selective about his activities and even his chores around his house in the Philadelphia area since last October.
“This past year my wife would ask, ‘Can you do this?’ I’d say, ‘No I could stumble and turn an ankle or something.’ ‘How about the weeds?’ ‘No, that’s not level ground,’ ” he said. “She said, ‘Why don’t you just wrap yourself in bubble wrap.’
“Everything I was doing, this was in the back of my mind. I have a bad knee and balance issues and that kind of thing, so the last thing I want to do is do something really stupid and not make this trip.”
“This trip” was a momentous milestone that Bingeman and friend Everett Cassel achieved this past week – 50 fall golf trips to Myrtle Beach in 50 consecutive years.
It has been a trip made annually by a full foursome prior to this year. Bingeman, Cassel and Larry Spangler have been making the trip since 1970, but Spangler was unable to make it due to health issues after 49 straight years.
Craig Aiken made his 30th trip after replacing Bob Hayes, who had to end his journeys after 20 years because of health issues and has since died.
Cassel is 83, Spangler is 76, Bingeman is 75 and Aiken is a spry 64.
Cassel said only a “nuclear war,” was going to keep the trip from being made this year.
“There was no way in hell we could have possibly predicted anything like this,” Bingeman said. “But once we got to 40 or 45 we had to do it.”
The group believes this may be their final fall golf trip to Myrtle Beach together. “This is probably our last year,” Bingeman said. “Fifty is a really big deal; 51 is kind of a yawn comparatively.”
Aiken said he may begin bringing his son down and start a new tradition.
The group has completed more than 400 days of golf packages, played more than 10,500 golf holes per player, and traveled the equivalent distance of going around the world twice.
The first year the trip was $25 per day per person including lodging at The Caravelle hotel, breakfast, dinner and green fees each day. The first trip was four days but most have been 7-9 days thereafter.
What has made the annual trips more special is a friendship with the Weldon family.
The group became friends for more than 40 years with the late Gene Weldon, who spent nearly five decades as a professional in the Myrtle Beach golf market and died in January 2017 at the age of 68 after a battle with cancer. They met while waiting out a frost delay when Weldon was the pro at the former Waterway Hills Golf Links.
“It’s one thing to come here on a golf package and go back home,” Bingeman said. “We had Gene Weldon as a close friend for 46 years I think, and we always got together here, and that just added an extra dimension to the trip. Talk about a 24-carat person, that was Gene Weldon.”
Weldon even visited the families at their homes in the Philadelphia area. Last week, the group played a round of golf at Pine Lakes Country Club and had lunch with Weldon’s son, Wil, and had dinner with Wil and Weldon’s widow at The Parson’s Table in Little River.
The group has experienced Myrtle Beach’s growth. There were barely 10 Strand courses for their first visit, which grew to about 120 in the early 2000s. So each year they played new courses and played just about every one of them, and Bingeman has a logo ball from about 115 of them to show for it. Weldon helped them get on the area’s handful of private courses.
“To have full access to the 115 couldn’t have happened anywhere else in the world,” Bingeman said. “You name it we played it.”
They stayed at the Caravelle hotel for 15 years, then would stay in the north, central or south end and concentrate on playing the courses in those areas. They would often play 36 holes a day, enjoy entertainment at night – often closing the bar down at the Holiday Inn in North Myrtle Beach – get less than 5 hours of sleep and do it all over again the next day. That was BC – Before Craig.
They would also play a round on the road on the way into town and play the morning before they drove back home.
The torrid pace was too much for Cassel on the drive back to Philly one year when Bingeman, in the front passenger seat, glanced to his left to see the vehicle speedometer at 35 mph on I-95 and Cassel asleep at the wheel like a scene from National Lampoon’s Vacation.
“I grabbed the wheel and said, ‘Why don’t we get a room for the night,’ ” Bingeman said.
They’ve had other misfortune on the commutes that have threatened the trip. One year in the early 1970s, Cassel’s Volkswagon broke down at about 9 p.m. The cable from the back engine to the accelerator peddle broke, forcing Cassel to get creative using his knowledge of knots as a Boy Scout leader for more than 20 years.
He used a pair of pliers and a knife to peel the steel from the rubber on shards of truck tire tread on the side of the road, and used the steel belts to make a makeshift cable that he connected.
Though the vehicle wouldn’t travel more than 50 mph because of the slack in the wire, they used it in that condition until they returned home.
They also blew a head gasket on Cassel’s Dodge Caravan one year in the 1980s, and bought a five-gallon jug of water and stopped three or four times on the way back to Philly to refill the radiator with water and keep the car cool enough to drive.
The streak was nearly interrupted by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. They were scheduled to arrive in the storm’s immediate aftermath and called multiple courses from south to north until they found a course and accommodations provider that was open – Oyster Bay Golf Links in Sunset Beach, N.C. “We had the place to ourselves,” Bingeman said. “It was a magical week.”
For the first 45 years the group lost just five days of golf to rain, and they won’t play if it’s raining. In 2015 alone they lost four days because of historic rainfall and flooding in the area. There were frequent viewings of Caddyshack and Talladega Nights DVDs that week. “We went wacky,” Bingeman said.
The trip was four rounds over five days this year, and each player chose a course based on their preferences and memories. The courses were Pine Lakes Country Club, The Dunes Golf and Beach Club, Tidewater Golf Club and Heritage Club.
“It’s hard to find another place like this with so many options,” Cassel said. “It’s like going into a candy store, the courses are all over the place and there are so many that are quality.”
Event to premiere
A new amateur tournament that is part of the East Coast Amateur Golf Tour will debut on Nov. 3 at Blackmoor Golf Club.
The Blackmoor Classic 18-hole individual stroke-play tournament will feature five divisions to place golfers with others of similar skill levels.
The divisions are for golfers with handicaps of 0-2, 3-7, 8-13, 14-19 and 20-plus, and each division will play a different yardage ranging from approximately 6900 to 5,850 yards. Tee times begin at noon.
The entry fee of $100 includes range balls, lunch, and use of the practice facilities before and after the tournament. Distance measuring devices are allowed, as is walking and caddies.
The East Coast Golf Tour was founded by area residents Franklin Bursick and Ken Johnson to give amateur golfers of all skill levels an opportunity to play competitive tournaments at an affordable cost at courses in the Carolinas. Visit eastcoastamtour.bluegolf.com to register or for more information.
Dream Weekend upcoming
The public still has an opportunity to participate in the second annual Dream Weekend presented by Liberty Mutual, a charity event created by media personality and North Myrtle Beach native Kelly Tilghman that will be held on Oct. 25-26.
The event will feature World Golf Hall of Fame member Nancy Lopez and Javier Colon, a winner of NBC’s “The Voice,” while also awarding an entry into the Liberty Mutual Insurance Invitational National Finals at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course.
Money raised during the Dream Weekend will be donated to the Gene’s Dream Foundation, which was created to honor the late Gene Weldon, who mentored numerous children during his career, including Tilghman, who helped found the organization. The inaugural event in 2018 raised $50,000.
The Dream Weekend will begin with the Gene’s Dream Gala on Oct. 25 at the Surf Golf & Beach Club, which includes a three-course dinner, cocktails, a silent auction and an acoustic performance by Colon.
The afternoon Dream Challenge is open to the public and up to 32 four-person teams in an 18-hole captain’s choice scramble event that will send its winner to the Liberty Mutual Insurance Invitational National Finals. Playing spots are still available and the entry fee is $2,500 per team. For more information, go to GenesDream.com or MentorCup.com.