CAREER GOLF STORY…AND TURNING 95

Story by Bill Hensley

One thing is for sure.  Golf has played a major role in my life, both playing it and promoting it.

Bill Hensley
Executive, Golfer, Writer, Friend.

I was a late starter, not taking up the game until I was 24. And as luck would have it, when I began my public relations firm my first clients were resorts. Now 95, I can look back on 70 wonderful years of involvement in my favorite sport.

My only disappointment over the years was that I never became a low handicap player.  My playing partners would describe my game as “mediocre.” My lowest ever handicap was 12 and my scores when I was at my prime ranged from 82-86.  I have had scores in the 70s only five times, making it to 78 on each occasion.

My statistics are a bit on the odd side. For example, I have had more holes-in-one (5) than eagles (4). Only one of my eagles was being on the green in two and one putting.  The others were holing out my third shot.  My aces were at Myers Park Country Club, Pinehurst No.6, Blowing Rock Country Club and twice at Hound Ears on the seventh hole.

For the record, I have played in 22 states and 18 foreign countries, including such far-away spots as Australia and Thailand. A major thrill was touring Scotland and Ireland and the fact that my late wife, Carol, was with me on most of my overseas trips.  She was my favorite playing partner. Sadly, none of our four children took up the game.

My favorite golfer was Arnold Palmer who was a friend for more than sixty years.  We met in college at Wake Forest and saw each other frequently throughout his illustrious career.  Oddly, I never played golf with him mainly because I didn’t want to put my game on display to the many observers he attracted. He and Billy Joe Patton were my favorite celebrity players.

ABOVE: Bill Hensley stands on the #7 tee at Hound Ears where he has earned two hole-in-ones.
BELOW: Bill stands on the 12th green of the Old Linville Golf Course with Fran Stone.

A North Carolinian from Charlotte, I am often asked to name my favorite courses in the Tar Heel state.  That’s an easy one.  In no special order, they are Pinehurst No. 2, Charlotte Country Club, Pine Needles, Country Club of North Carolina (Dogwood course), Old North State Club, Grandfather Golf and Country Club, Elk River, Linville, Quail Hollow and Biltmore Forest.  Just missing the top ten is Mid Pines. I looked at several courses that I like a lot but not enough to have them as one of the chosen few.  Those courses are Pinehurst Nos. 3 and 4, Cape Fear Country Club, Asheville Country Club, Blowing Rock and CCNC-Cardinal, all fine layouts that are must-plays for the avid golfer.

Six of the courses were designed by the famed Donald Ross, four are in the Pinehurst area, and four are in the mountains and two in the Piedmont area of the state.  I have been playing all the courses but one (Old North State) for forty years or longer.  I first teed it up at Biltmore Forest in 1951 and at Hound Ears in 1965, the year after it opened.

I have played 260 of North Carolina’s approximately 575 courses.  In 1995, I organized a panel to rate Tar Heel courses each year and it has been an enthusiastic and effective group.  Pinehurst No. 2 has been selected as the state’s best course since the beginning.

As for a single favorite, that probably would be Charlotte Country Club, a Ross classic, where I was a member for forty years and played often.  Hound Ears is a close second. The US Open will never be played at Hound Ears because it is too short and lacks the difficult challenges that an Open course must have. But it’s a fun course and a joy to play.  And isn’t that what the game is all about?

Non-North Carolina favorites would include Pebble Beach, Augusta National, Whistling Straits, the Dunes Club, Harbour Town and Sun Valley, while foreign courses would be Royal Dornoch, the Old Course,  Troon and Muirfield in Scotland; Tralee, Ballybunnion, Doonbeg and Lahinch in Ireland; and Cape Schank in Australia.

As my playing begins to wind down because of age, I can always think of the past and be thankful for a lifetime of thrills on the beautiful fairways and greens of some wonderful courses around the world.  I was a lucky player.

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Bill Hensley (left) & Ed Stone (far right) play with a group on a trip to Costa del Sol, Spain in the mid-80s.

Editor's Note: On January 23, 2021, Bill Hensley of Charlotte, North Carolina turns 95 years young. Bill continues to play golf and contributes to GoGolfandTravel.com. He has been a writer to this website since our beginning in 2002. You will find most of his articles under the North Carolina section, but he also has stories about Arnie and others in the profession. I came to know Bill in the mid-1960s when he was travel director for the State of North Carolina and I was getting my feet wet in my first job as public relations manager at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia. Bill and I have remained close friends since then and attempt to talk with each other almost weekly. We also attempt to play golf a couple of rounds a year. He is in great shape and good spirits for a 95 year-old gentleman. I'm looking forward to playing golf with my first 100 year-old best friend in five years. Happy Birthday, Bill Hensley.