AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am

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Travel Traditions

This group has gone on the same golf trip for 50 years, and you won't believe all the records they've kept

November 25, 2022
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To say this group of a couple dozen from Southeastern Pennsylvania is organized would be the ultimate understatement. Some of us struggle to remember our score from a few holes ago, but the Keystone State boys can tell you what they made on every single hole at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club … in 1974 … or 1988 … or 1997. Hell, just pick any of the past 50 years, and they’ve got it. (Except 1989, when an ice storm prevented play. It’s still a sore subject. … Or 1995, when a few pages were lost to history. Also, a sore subject.)

This year during the first week of November, the group of 24—about half from near Lancaster and the rest from Reading—celebrated their 50th anniversary golf trip to Pine Needles in Southern Pines, N.C., just outside Pinehurst. The annual four-day trip started in 1972, when a group of 12 engineers at AT&T chartered a bus and took a red-eye down to the sandhills.

Though none of the original 12 still go on the trip, the tradition has been passed down from fathers to sons and has grown as coworkers have invited friends who love golf, don’t take themselves too seriously, and most importantly, are willing to keep score.

The current ages of group members range from 36 to 78, a sign of the group’s continuity and evolution. Of the current cohort, some have been going for more than 30 years, many are at least 10-year veterans and a few are newcomers.

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As if planning a golf trip for 50 consecutive years wasn’t enough proof of their organizational skills, this group has kept a book of every score that everyone has made over the years. Actually, the book comes in three editions. A quick mental math exercise of around 25 guys playing six (-ish) rounds of golf for 50 years quickly explains why one book wouldn’t suffice.

“It’s like the Old Testament and the New Testament,” Bob Hissick says of the multiple books. It’s not a bad analogy considering the record book is sacred scripture for the group.

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Hissick has been in charge of the book since it was passed on to him in 2003. Hissick, with the help of a few others, records the hole-by-hole scores of every group after each round.

“It takes quite a few minutes to put all the scores in,” he says of the tedious process, adding, “But, there’s always drinking involved,” which the group agrees makes the process more tolerable. Sounds about right.

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The typical best-ball game consists of four-man teams using a handicaped scoring system. “Everybody chips in $30, so it’s not high stakes,” says Hissick. Not high stakes, but when you’re playing 36 holes for four days, as some of them do, the money can add up quickly.

Every year, the group has stayed on property at Pine Needles, and they’ll typically play both Pine Needles and Mid Pines, though they added Southern Pines into the rotation this year.

Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club
Public
Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club
Southern Pines, NC
Pine Needles used to lurk quietly in the Pinehurst background before the USGA chose to put it in their regular women’s championship rotation. It got another big boost in 2017 after Kyle Franz reworked portions of the course, putting the Pinehurst touch on the borders, cross hazards and bunkers. Though it lacks the intimacy and connectivity of its sister course, Mid Pines, with the holes wandering far afield due to a being part of a 1920s residential development, it’s grown into a big, championship worthy course with arguably the best set of greens after No. 2.
View Course

“The neat thing about this trip is once you get there, you kind of stay on campus. You don’t have to wander, which is one of the things we love about it,” says Ray Butterworth, the chief organizer of the group. In recent years, Butterworth has infused new life into the trip, bringing in new guys from Bent Creek Country Club just outside Lancaster. He is in charge of scheduling the trip with Pine Needles.

As anyone who has organized a buddies trip knows, managing a bunch of different schedules and locking down all of the details can be a tiresome process. How has the group managed it for 50 years? Butterworth says the secret is in dividing up the roles.

“We got a liquor guy, we got a beer guy, we got a snack guy,” says Butterworth. And, as we know, they’ve also got a score guy and a scheduling guy. That’s a lot of guys who are committed to preserving this long-running tradition, which they say has no end in sight.

Mid Pines Inn & Golf Club
Public
Mid Pines Inn & Golf Club
Southern Pines, NC
What began as a private retreat called Knollwood, funded by Roaring Twenties millionaires like James Barber, Horace Rackham and Henry Ford, is now a charming public Donald Ross design, revitalized by young first-time designer Kyle Franz in the style of Pinehurst No. 2, where Franz had worked on the restoration. Mid Pines is pure elegance and beauty. The routing is spellbinding, with holes that stretch out into corners at the property’s high points, then fall back down to intersect at junctions across the calmer interior. Franz’s 2013 work expanding greens and restoring the perimeter sandscapes has greatly enhanced one of Pinehurst’s most refined golf presentations.
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So if you’re heading to the sandhills in early November any one of these years, keep your eye out for the Pennsylvania boys and their prized book. Though they kindly request, jokingly, that you stay somewhere other than their spot at Pine Needles.

“Just make sure that you put in the article that the Wedge Lodge is booked for the first full weekend in November,” Butterworth says with a grin.