"A few kind words go a long way," result in free trip to PGA Championship

Published online: Sep 08, 2015 Golf News

At first, Murray Calhoun thought it was a hoax.

A gentleman who claimed to be representing the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America called him in June and said that he had won a trip for two to this year's PGA Championship.

Calhoun, a Country Club of Columbus member, forgot that the contest he had entered in April to recognize course superintendent William Smith also was a sweepstakes for the participants. But when his secretary at Flournoy & Calhoun Realtors did some research and confirmed that the sweepstakes was legit, Calhoun called back the GCSAA rep and gratefully accepted the prize after being randomly selected out of approximately 1,100 entries.

"It was surreal," he said. "I couldn't believe it."

Here is what Calhoun wrote to Smith, who has worked at the club for 26 years:

"I have always appreciated the way that under your expertise and leadership our course has been maintained. It is a pleasure to play and a source of pride when we have visitors to the club. Also the character and the professional way that you go about your work. Last, but not least, the way that you put up with us 400 'experts'."

Smith was honored to receive such praise.

"It's just a feeling of accomplishment and doing the job right," he said, "and it really helps when it's noticed by the people using the golf course."

Then he returned the compliment, calling Calhoun one of the club's finest members.

"During my tenure here, he was golf chairman for a term," Smith said, "and he's always been very supportive of the club and proud of the club."

All of which prompted Calhoun's wife, Betsy, to sum up the moral of this story: "A few kind words go a long way."

In this case, they went more than 900 miles.

The choice

Murray and Betsy traveled from Columbus to Kohler, Wisc., where Whistling Straits hosted the final major golf tournament of the year, Aug. 13-16. To join her husband, Betsy opted to sacrifice attending her own special occasion.

The 50th reunion of her Athens High School class was the same weekend, so Murray figured he would have to get somebody else to accompany him. Betsy, not a golfer, tried to convince Murray to take one of their four sons. "But that would have been hard for him to pick," she said.

It was an easy choice, however, for Betsy to select her husband over her high school friends - despite being afraid to fly.

"Golf is Murray's life, other than his family," she said. " I knew he wanted me to be with him."

"That's a good answer," Murray said.

Asked why he wanted Betsy to be with him on the trip, Murray deadpanned, "Well, look at her."

Because everything is better when you do it with the person you love most?

"Exactly," he said.

Besides, Betsy added, "Athens isn't that far, and I do keep up with my closest friends from there."

After persevering through the plane ride, Betsy had no regrets as soon as she saw their accommodations. They stayed at The American Club, a 97-year-old, Tudor-style building that used to be a dormitory for the Kohler manufacturing company's immigrant employees -- with a pub, bowling alley and barbershop. In 1981, it was turned into a hotel and has earned ratings of five stars from Forbes and five diamonds from the American Automobile Association.

"It was like if you took The Cloister on Sea Island and plopped it down in Plains, Ga.," Betsy said, "because the little city of Kohler is 2,000 people, and the people were just kind, easygoing. They either worked on their farms or in the mill. It was just awesome."

The prize also included airfare, a rental car and a shuttle to and from the course.

The attraction

Golf has been a significant part of Murray's life since he was 10 years old, when his father, Murray Calhoun Jr., introduced him to the game.

"Golf makes you cry, and it makes you happy," he said. "Most people play golf the way they would like to play about one out of four times, maybe. But after that one time, you feel like you could do surgery or something."

Murray, 72, is a graduate of Columbus High School and the University of Georgia, where he played on the golf team. He wasn't on scholarship, but he lettered for two years.

"I was just fortunate enough to be able to play for free at Athens Country Club, which is one of the finest courses I've ever played," he said, then added with a laugh, "I played in some matches, but they could have done without me."

Then he wouldn't have met Betsy.

During his senior at UGA, Betsy was a senior at Athens High. One day, a golfing buddy suggested to Murray, "Let's get a date with some of those high school girls." Murray had remembered meeting Betsy at a dance, where he cut in for a twirl, and replied, "How about getting me a date with that Wellman girl?"

"And the rest is history," he said.

They married in 1966, the same year Murray started working at Calhoun Realty, founded by his father, who died in 1974. Murray took over the company and merged it in 1990 with Flournoy Realty.

Murray was "burned out" from golf after college. He swung a racket instead of a club for a few years, "but then I got hooked again," he said. "I just enjoyed it so much."

Asked what he shoots now, Murray humbly said his handicap is "5 or below." It's actually listed as 3.3.

Betsy interjected, "He shot his age a couple weeks ago. He's modest, so I'll brag on him."

In fact, Murray shot his age or better three times this past year, with two 71s and one 70 on the club's par-71 course.

"My goal from the time I was 68 was to shoot my age from the black tees," he said. "This last winter, I wasn't getting very close, and I moved up a set of tees, from the black tees to the blue tees. I had to give in to reality."

He added with a smile, "Ten or 15 yards makes a big difference."

Murray faithfully shows up for his group's tee time Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. "He doesn't miss it," Betsy said, "rain, sleet or snow."

"I'm still active in business," Murray clarified, "but at 12:30 on Friday, if I don't have another engagement, I'll be there."

Sometimes, the golf leads to transactions beyond the bets.

"You make good friends," he said, "which turns into business from time to time."

The trip

The Calhouns don't travel much, so the logistics of getting to the airport on time and finding their rental car "wasn't in our wheel house at all," Murray said. But their visit to Wisconsin was worth the effort.

"We just had a great impression of the people from that state that we met," he said. "We have the perception of Southern hospitality and how great it is, and it is, but the people from there are just really nice, well-spoken, polite, just a bunch of nice folks."

Oh, and there was a major tournament to watch. The Calhouns have been attending the Masters tournament in Augusta for about 15 years, so they have witnessed big-time golf. But this was a different experience at Whistling Straits.

"It looks like a great course to play; it was a hard course to follow on," he said. "A lot of hills and uneven ground. I mean, there were people that sprained their ankles. You either got to go to the front side or the back side, unless you really want to walk your legs off."

Although the tournament started that Thursday, the Calhouns flew up Friday and saw the second and third rounds on the back side. The final day, they wanted to see the front side, so they found seats in the stands at the sixth green, where they also could see the action on some other holes.

"We saw Phil Mickelson hole a bunker shot out of the front bunker," he said, "and the crowd just went nuts."

Murray also savored a bunker shot by Tiger Woods on the par-5 11th hole.

"He was probably 175 yards away, and it was a side-hill lie," he said. " He hit it, and he was just stone still. It was a beautiful shot, right up there. He didn't make the putt for birdie, but "

But it was good enough for Murray.

The tournament concluded in historic fashion. Jason Day broke Woods' 15-year-old major championship record by finishing at 20 under par. The Calhouns, however, weren't on the course then.

"I watched the last couple of hours on television back in my hotel room," he said. "You could see so much more."

Source: www.ledger-enquirer.com