WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — As his widow can testify, The Greenbrier was Bill Campbell’s second home.
On a beautiful Friday afternoon, Joan Campbell made sure that will be the case forever.
The state’s most accomplished amateur golfer, who led both the U.S. Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, Campbell died last August at the age of 90. For the first time in decades, he was not in attendance for the final round of the State Amateur.
The beginning of the post-tournament trophy ceremony was devoted to Campbell. At the front of the golf complex’s driving range, a large flagpole was erected in Campbell’s memory. With some assistance, Joan Campbell raised a large American flag.
She then sprinkled some of her husband’s ashes at the base of that flagpole, a gesture that was applauded by all.
There were a few testimonials. One came from resort owner Jim Justice, who recalled being “beaten like a red-headed stepchild” every time the two played.
More stories came from Paul Moran, a long-time friend of Campbell. He told two stories of how Campbell helped shape the sport.
One is the impact he had on the career of Jack Nicklaus, the all-time leader in major championships with 18. Earlier this month at his Memorial tournament, Nicklaus told of how Campbell helped get him into the prestigious Sunnehana Amateur Tournament for Champions as a teenager.
Moran filled in a detail Nicklaus did not tell.
Nicklaus nearly took Campbell’s path, building an insurance career and playing the game as an amateur. Apparently, Campbell steered him in the other direction.
Moran said Campbell told Nicklaus, “Jack, you need to turn pro.”
It was a jarring statement. “Everybody kind of looked at [Campbell] and said, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘You’re working for an insurance company and all you’re going to do is play golf. You’ll never learn the business. You work for a clothing company, all you’re going to do is play golf.’
“So a week or two later, Jack made a decision after talking with some other folks, and he said, ‘Bill’s right.’ And he [turned pro].”
Another story comes into play this weekend, as the U.S. Open finishes at Pinehurst No. 2.
The Open once featured the 72 holes it does today, but with a 36-hole finish on Saturday. In 1964 (the year Campbell won the U.S. Amateur), Ken Venturi won the Open despite nearly collapsing in near-100 degree heat.
“Bill was flying back and thinking about it, and said, ‘The U.S. Open should not be a test of endurance, but a test of golf.’ He wrote a letter to the USGA [and] the next year, they started playing on Sunday, 18 holes.
“The point being, when Bill Campbell spoke, you listened.”
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.