WILSON’S LOCAL PRINT AND DIGITAL COMMUNITY INSTITUTION SINCE 1896

Closing of club triggers emotions, memories

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Golf activity at Happy Valley Country Club came to a standstill Saturday. Although anticipated for the last few weeks — maybe months — news of the course closing numbed.

But etched memories, reflections and lore stirred.

Ending is a 56-year existence during which Joe Bland and the lale Mary Davenport became golfing legends.

The antics linger of such individuals as Mark Proctor, Red Davis, Raymond Harris, Hub Mattox, Herman Rouse, Candy Jones, Hutch Hammonds, etc.

Happy Valley was the only home for the 38-year run of the immensely popular Cragmont Tournament.

The first 14 years of the tremendously successful Mulligans Fore Kids benefit transpired at Happy Valley.

Of 25 Wilson Cup championships, Happy Valley owns three.

High school teams from Fike and Hunt called Happy Valley home.

ON TO THE PGA

The Happy Valley Junior Invitational emerged as one of the state’s premier junior tournaments, attracting former PGA performers Bob Boyd, Clarence Rose and Neal Lancaster.

Member-Guest and Member-Member outings for so many years drew large turnouts and large times.

The Wednesday and Friday shootouts appealed to a sizable collection of eager and confident golfers. In the latter years, golf didn’t get any better than the Wednesday shootout for Rick Watson.

And before the Sugar Shack and cart shed were dismantled, leading the Happy Valley lore were reports on raucous Sugar Shack outings.

During the last three decades, no Wilson course staged more tournaments than the Valley.

It’s where Watson played his first round of golf. Charles Matthews played there as a 6-year-old.

Gene Maples started the procession of head or club professionals that terminated with Gary Hobgood’s record 29-year stay. In between, respectively, were Claude Harris, Emmitt Matthews and Foyce Jones.

Wilson golfer and Happy Valley member Todd Poythress offers a statement of substance: “At some point and time, every (Wilson) golfer came through Happy Valley. You can’t say that about any other course.”

Former owner Donald Tomlinson remembers visiting the premises before being transformed into a golf course.

PARTY INSIDE A FARM

“A Sugar Shack in a pasture,” Tomlinson described. “It was a party place inside a farm.”

As the son of golf pro Emmitt Matthews, Charles Matthews was more familiar with Wilson Country Club (at the current Willow Springs Country Club location).

“But I met more guys that I later ended up playing golf with at Happy Valley,” Charles Matthews noted. “I met a lot of folks there.

“It was always a relaxed, good ole boys’ golf course. There was a big swath of personalities and people. Everybody and their shortcomings were accepted. It was an unique place and stayed an unique place a long time. It was special to me because of the junior tournament.”

Charles Matthews spent from 1977 until 1985 in the golf profession.

Watson, the founder and director of the Cragmont Tournament, was a Happy Valley member on two different occasions. He played his first round of golf there in 1963.

ONE-DAY MEMBERSHIP

“I don’t remember anything about that round because it was so foreign to me,” he explained. “You had to be a member to play — but they sold one-day memberships. I still have that membership card.

“I have a lot of good memories out there. It’s my home; it’s a nice family.”

Watson declared he never considered moving the Cragmont from Happy Valley.

Critical, said Watson, was the fact the club supported the benefit endeavor and Powell and his staff literally turned the course over to Watson and his workers for two days. In 38 years, a staggering 11,754 golfers participated.

“The Cragmont without Happy Valley Country Club would not have been right,” Watson insisted.

Mulligans Fore Kids’ Mickey Grizzard remarked: “Bill Powell, Gary Hobgood and (former owner) Alton Absher did so much to help us get started. They were all the inspiration we needed”.

Added Grizzard: “Happy Valley is iconic — like The Creamery and Dick’s Hot Dog Stand. I hate to see it go.”

‘SAD’ IS THE WORD

“Sad” was the word in addressing Happy Valley’s plight.

“A sad thing for me personally,” Watson said.

Expressed Ray Bass, a member for some 30 years: “Sad, very sad. This is my social life. I hate to see it gone. But we were out there playing and it was like it was deserted.”

Commented Tomlinson: “This means a lot to me. I have been said since I first heard the news.”

“It’s tough, a sad thing,” summarized Charles Matthews. “This goes back 55 years for me. I never thought about it ever closing.

“I guess there were one too many golf courses (in Wilson).”

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