On Grand Strand Golf: Weldon named Myrtle Beach area golf employee of the year

Gene Weldon (center) invited Golf Channel personalities Kelly Tilghman (right) and Charlie Rymer (left) to participate in The First Tee of the Grand Strand's Future Generations fundraising golf tournament, where they shot a live remote for the network’s Morning Drive show in 2013.
Gene Weldon (center) invited Golf Channel personalities Kelly Tilghman (right) and Charlie Rymer (left) to participate in The First Tee of the Grand Strand's Future Generations fundraising golf tournament, where they shot a live remote for the network’s Morning Drive show in 2013.

Gene Weldon, who has made contributions to the Grand Strand golf community for 43 years, has been named the Myrtle Beach Area Golf Course Owners Association 2015 Employee of the Year.

Among his stops, Weldon was the only head professional at Gator Hole Golf Club from the course’s opening in 1980 to its closing for redevelopment in 1999 and spent nine years as the director of golf at Thistle Golf Club. He has championed junior golf dating back to the beginning of the Myrtle Beach Junior Golf Program.

“I’m very honored,” said Weldon, who is currently the director of new business development for East Coast Golf Management. “There’s a very strong list that came before me.”

Weldon succeeds 2014 Employee of the Year Bill Dewitt, 84, a three-decade employee of Eagle Nest Golf Club, and will be presented the award at the MBAGCOA meeting at Akel’s Family Restaurant at 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 17.

River Oaks Golf Club, the 2015 Golf Course of the Year, will also be recognized at the meeting.

The winning employee and course are nominated before June and voted on by a selection committee, and now are considered for state honors.

The South Carolina Golf Course Owners Association board of directors, consisting of one representative of the state’s five chapters – Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head Island, Charleston, Midlands and Upstate – will vote for the state winners on Aug. 11.

Weldon, 66, receives the news as he’s battling colon cancer, and appears to be doing it successfully. He has had surgery to remove an affected section of his colon and has managed to undergo six weeks of chemotherapy without suffering from many of the common side effects.

“I’m fully recovered from the surgery and I’m going through chemo. I have absolutely no symptoms from it, and I’m feeling great,” Weldon said. “I play at least once a week. I haven’t lost a hair off my head – not one. I’m feeling great and feel lucky to be that way.”

Weldon has held tightly to a couple principles throughout his career – dependability and personality. First of all, he’s always on time. That was likely born out of his four years in the military, and he has instilled it in anyone working under him over the years.

“In the 40-some-odd years I’ve been in the business here, I’ve never been late for work,” Weldon said. “There’s no need for that. … If I can’t depend on you being there to open the doors before the customers come, you’re no use to me. You’ve got to be dependable. That’s one of the biggest assets of a golf professional. Everything else comes after that. You’re not late in the military. I learned that the hard way.”

The genial Weldon was seemingly blessed with the other character trait. “You leave your troubles at the door and take care of the guests the way they expect to be treated,” Weldon said. “Treat them like a member. You’re a member for the day at the golf course. That’s the way it is in our business.”

Many of Weldon’s close friends are people he has worked with or past members at Thistle, where he worked late into 2013.

“He was greatly respected at Thistle when we had the membership,” said past Thistle member John Sloper. “He’s a real Southern gentleman and a real asset to golf. He’s very personable. I think he can get along with anyone. He has a knack for being able to diffuse any issues that come up and get the parties involved to reconcile their issues.”

The Hartsville native and Ocean Isle Beach resident 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. “That was the start of it. It got in my blood,” Weldon said.

He entered the PGA of America apprentice program and spent 18 months as an assistant at Beachwood Golf Club beginning in 1972. From there he moved to Arcadian Shores for seven years and earned his first head pro position at Waterway Hills Golf Club (then called Skyway).

Former North Myrtle Beach mayor Phil Tilghman, the father of Golf Channel personality Kelly Tilghman, hired Weldon to open Gator Hole.

“He was definitely like a second dad to me,” said Kelly Tilghman, who played countless rounds of golf at Gator Hole with Weldon’s son, Wil. “My dad was the brains and the brawn of the operation, but Gene to a certain extent was the heart and soul of the place. He was the smiling face that greeted you at the door and the guy who had a beer with you after the round. If you had five or 10 years between rounds he was the same smiling face greeting you again.”

After Gator Hole closed, Weldon first became a member then membership director at The Surf Golf and Beach Club and was head pro at Sandpiper Bay Golf Club for three years before moving to Thistle.

Weldon has represented Myrtle Beach and his individual golf courses or companies at numerous consumer golf shows since 1980, and still travels for East Coast Golf Management.

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 has worked with The First Tee chapters in Brunswick and Horry counties, launching a fundraising Players Card for discounted rounds at area courses and coercing Tilghman and fellow Golf Channel personality Charlie Rymer to annually take part in a fundraising tournament at Caledonia Golf & Fish Club.

Georgetown County impact

The Georgetown County Historical Society is hosting a roundtable discussion on the Economic Impact of Golf on Georgetown County beginning at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the J.B. Beck School District Offices at 2018 Church Street in Georgetown.

The discussion is free and open to the public.

The roundtable speakers will be Bob Seganti, the director of golf at both Caledonia Golf & Fish Club and True Blue Golf Club, Waccamaw Golf Trail director John Rusher and Kathy Grace of the Ambassador Golf package company.

The event is being held in connection with The Smithsonian Institution’s ongoing exhibit “Hometown Teams – How Sports Shape America” that began July 25 at the Georgetown County Museum.

Topics expected to be broached include the number of courses in the county, the average number of rounds played per year, the number of visitors golf attracts, how courses support housing communities, the number of golf employees, golf’s impact on other area businesses, and the charitable contributions of golf courses.

Juniors finish Optimists

Matthew Griego of North Myrtle Beach and Daniel Graves of Longs competed in the 2015 Optimist International Junior Golf Championships over the past week at PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

In the Boys 14-15 division, Griego finished 46th at 18-over 234 and rebounded from an 84 in the opening round with scores of 76 and 74 in the final two rounds. Naraajie Emerald Ramadhanputra of Indonesia won the division in a three-man playoff after he, Andrew O’Leary of Norfolk, Mass., and Simon Estrada of Armenia, Colombia each shot even-par 216.

In the Boys 16-18 division, Graves shot rounds of 86, 88 and 80 to miss the cut to the final round. Adrien Pendaries of France won the division by a shot with an 11-under 277.

Griego and Graves qualified for the tournament through a S.C. qualifier in May at River Hills Golf & Country Club.