FORT MILL, S.C. — The late Sparky Anderson, former manager of the Cincinnati Reds and Detroit Tigers, lived by a simple rule given to him by his father.
“It doesn’t cost a dime to be nice to people,” the elder Anderson said.
Bud Welch never knew Anderson but he knows about the advice because he has put it into daily practice in the golf business for the past 55 years.
“The best thing you can hear from people who come into your pro shop is, ‘We’ll be back,’” said Welch, the 78-year-old head professional at Springfield Golf Club in Fort Mill, S.C., just over the state line and about 9 miles from Quail Hollow Club, which hosted last week’s PGA Championship.
In fact, Welch says that his whole career in golf turned on a good deed and 35 cents. Welch was 25 and not long out of East Carolina University and a short stint in the Air Force. He was working as an assistant pro at The Lakes in Boiling Springs Lakes, near Southport, N.C., when two men came into his shop to play. While they were on the course, Welch shined their shoes.
When they came back in from playing, the two men wanted to know who took care of their shoes. Welch acknowledged it was him. They left 35 cents on the counter as they walked out the door.
An hour-and-a-half later, Hamp Auld, the head pro at Cape Fear Country Club in Wilmington, N.C., called Welch and asked him to come over. When he walked into the golf shop, Auld hired Welch on sight. “But you don’t even know anything about me,” Welch said.
“I know that two of my members were just at your course and told me I had better hire you,” Auld said.
While at Cape Fear, Welch was exposed to the top PGA Tour players every spring at the Azalea Open Invitational, which was played at Cape Fear the week before the Masters. He says he met all of golf’s stars at the Azalea except Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson, who chose not to play the week before the Masters.
“They let me marshal the last group on Sunday,” Welch said. “One year, I was walking with Tom Weiskopf, who said, ‘Jerry Barber is half my size and he’s beating my brains out. I don’t understand it.’”
In one of the Azalea pro-ams, Roberto De Vicenzo was paired with Hoss Ellington, a NASCAR driver, who had just won at Talladega. On the par-5 12th hole, Ellington was 35 yards from the green in two. He was standing over the ball in the fairway with his putter.
“What are you doing?” De Vicenzo asked.
Ellington replied, “I’m putting for eagle.”
But it’s with rank-and-file golfers that Welch has made his mark over the years. Welch has worked at private clubs and daily-fee courses in North and South Carolina during his long career. And everyone who comes into his shop, whether they be members or occasional patrons, is treated like his long-lost friend.
He greets his customers with his bright, ready smile and a wish that they play well that day. He might be 78, but he bounces around the shop like a man at least 20 years younger.
“You have to love what you’re doing,” he said. He still does, and it shows.
Welch had retired from Carolina Downs in nearby York, S.C., and was urged 11 years ago to come out to Springfield and work as a starter and ranger. Not many ex-pros would have taken such a job. Welch put as much effort into it as he would if he were running the show.
Then something happened when he went back to work.
“All the creative stuff started flowing in me again,” he said. Within six months of Welch’s arrival at Springfield, management made a change in the head pro’s office and asked Welch if he would consider taking the job. He immediately said yes and hasn’t looked back.
Welch sat behind his desk, leaned back and contemplated his time in golf.
“I’ve been blessed,” he said. “I’ve had all my dreams come true.”
In Welch’s world, the glass is always full, no matter how much water is in it.
SPRINGFIELD GOLF CLUB
Location: 639 Hambley House Lane, Fort Mill, S.C.
Mike Purkey has written about golf for more than 30 years for a number of publications, including Golf Magazine and Global Golf Post. He lives in Charlotte, N.C.