LITTLE ROCK — On this day, Orville Henry and long-time golfing buddy C.W. Keopple passed on the 8-10 steep steps from end of the cart path and hit from the women’s tees to the island green at the course in Conway.
In his late 60s and in love with the game for more than five decades, Henry used a seven-iron for his only hole-in-one. Shooting down Keopple’s argument that they were old enough to play the forward tees, Henry would not allow the ace to be recorded, saying: “It’s from the ladies tee. So it does not exist. Golf is golf.”
The snippet illustrates Henry’s passion for the integrity of the game, one of the reasons he vigorously promoted golf during his long run as sports editor of The Arkansas Gazette. He put “golf in Arkansas on the map,” Charles “Monk” Wade, former executive director of the Arkansas State Golf Association, said in a release announcing Henry would be inducted into the ASGA Hall of Fame.
The rules of the game came up on a glorious Friday morning in September, the first time the “scribes” squared off against the “throats” at North Hills Country Club. On the first tee, former Razorback play-by-play announcer Paul Eells’ slight hook wandered into the left rough.
“I had always played a second ball off the tee in my regular game in Nashville,” Eells told Clay Henry in a piece that Clay wrote about his father’s much-deserved induction into the Hall of Fame. “I reached for another one in my back pocket. From the back of the tee came Orville, ‘Paul you gonna play or you gonna practice?’ He soon added, ‘We putt ‘em all out, too.’ And we did. Then, he said, ‘We can roll it around in the fairways if you want, but that’s not really golf.’”
Fiercely competitive golf is what the group played, exemplified on the day that Orville had an 8-foot, left-to-right, uphill birdie putt on the 17th and Eells’ partner had a par putt two feet longer, on the same line. Not about to show Orville the line, Jim Elder took one look and putted away from the hole. Henry made it anyway, securing the max payoff of $3 each for him and his partner.
As Gazette sports editor, Henry, who was 77 when he died in 2002 of pancreatic cancer, dedicated a writer to cover the sport throughout the summer.
Fifty years ago, there were very few individual tournaments of quality, but I staffed the Oil Belt at El Dorado and the Ouachita Valley Invitational at Camden because Henry knew the region’s best would compete. Four-ball tournaments in the Little Rock area were staffed daily.
He also wangled me a ride on a very small plane that landed at a very small airport cut from the woods near Hardy to do a piece on the new course at Cherokee Village.
Henry is remembered for his in-depth chronicling of Razorback football, but his columns from The Masters were as insightful and as insider as anything he did on Frank Broyles’ teams. Masters media badges were numbered according to seniority and Henry had badge No. 2 when he covered his last tournament at age 75.
On the day after The Masters, he frequently drove to the USDA Turfgrass Research station in Tifton, Ga., and leaned on some contacts so he could fill the trunk with the latest in grasses. Back home, his four sons used butcher knives to cut the grass into plugs and sprig the yard. The best putting green around was in a back yard in Meadowcliff.
Personal thank-yous include:
• The day we drove to Memphis for a PGA Tour event. My assignment was an Arkie who was competing, but Orville checked the tee times and made sure we were on site a couple of hours early so I could follow Jack Nicklaus as a fan.
• The assignment was the state tournament at Pine Bluff Country Club, an hour from Little Rock. Stay overnight, he said. It was our honeymoon, seven months after the wedding.
• A day at Western Hills when a youngster offered Henry a ball he had found. The woman who struck the wayward shot rolled up in her cart, ready to pounce on the thief. Orville stopped her in her tracks, pointing out that my son was 5.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau.