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Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

A real champion of young golfers

Thursday, September 11, 2008

HALL OF FAME: Tommy Bolt's bust that is displayed in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Tommy Bolt was a fiercely loyal man.

He was loyal to his family, to his friends and to his many fans.

And Tommy Bolt was also fiercely loyal to his local golf courses.

Just ask Highland Rebel Golf Coach Stan Maag.

"We were playing a high school tournament 10 or 12 years ago and one of the private schools from Little Rock brought their kids up here to the South Golf Course. And their coach got out and said 'Man, I can't believe there's a golf course way out here.' They were used to playing at Chenal, one of the nicer courses in Little Rock. So I said, 'Coach, I'm going to do you one better than that. I'm going to introduce you to a U.S. Open champion.' And I introduced him to Mr. Bolt and the coach's mouth was wide open," Maag said. "And Mr. Bolt could detect an air of arrogance there, so he showed him what real arrogance was. Mr. Bolt said, 'Where you from, son?' And the coach said, 'We mainly play out of Chenal.' Then Mr. Bolt says, 'That's not too bad a course for Little Rock, I guess.' With just a couple of words, he put him in his place. And that coach never said another word."

There was probably no bigger supporter to the Highland golf program, or for that matter, to young golfers throughout the whole region, than Tommy Bolt was.

"He was just such a big part of our high school golf program. He lent a hand in whatever we needed," said Maag. "He would come out there and watch the kids play -- and that alone was more than a lot of people would do. But just his knowledge in the game, and wisdom of the game, were just so important for kids just learning to play. I mean, they had a U.S. Open champion ready to help them out any way he could."

Bolt was also full of surprises, Maag found out, and even lent financial support to the Highland golf program, without ever being asked to.

"He comes up to me on the golf course one evening and says, 'Coach, I'm going out to Rivera Golf Club in California, where they're honoring me as a past champion of the Los Angles Open. And each year they give the recipient of this award $5,000. And that money goes to a golf program. So I'm giving that money to your high school golf team.' And that was a gift from Mr. Bolt," Maag said. "I was blown away, but that's just how he was. He was always willing to help. He always had time for me, and the younger kids, as well."

The young golfers that Bolt touched extended across the entire state of Arkansas, making him an ambassador of golf for not only Sharp County, but for high school golfers everywhere.

"When we hosted the state tournament in 1999, Mr. Bolt was there and handed out the trophies and poised for pictures with the young kids," Maag said. "We won the state tournament that year, but one of my favorite pictures is the one of my golf team and Mr. Bolt from that year. I've got it framed and on the wall."

A true southern gentleman, Bolt carried an air of dignity with him, whether he was using his hands to show the proper way to grip a club, or to show how a real handshake should be.

"His firm handshake was one of the things I will always remember about him," said Maag. "Whenever he shook your hand, he looked you in the eye and had one of the most incredibly strong handshakes of anybody that I've ever been honored to shake hands with. And another thing was the way he dressed -- he was always dressed to the nine's."

However dignified he was, Bolt certainly didn't mind telling tales of his golden days, even if some of those tales came at his own expense.

"When I worked at the golf course, he'd come in and hang out, waiting on some of his buddies or members of the high school golf team, and he'd tell stories about playing on the tour. They were some of the funniest things you'd ever hear. And one time I told him I'd read in Golf Digest where he got fined $100 for cussing at some old women on the golf course," Maag said. "He said, 'That's a lie. I got fined $50 for it and I handed the commissioner of golf $100. He tried to differ with me, telling me that the fine was just $50. And I told him, no, it's going to be $100. I'm not finished cussing yet.'"

Bolt rubbed elbows with a who's-who of not only the sports world, but the entertainment industry, as well.

"I asked him who the best golfer he ever played with was, and this one shocked me, because he was a Ben Hogan student," said Maag. "But he said Ben Hogan was the best player on the golf course he had ever faced. But the best athlete he ever played with was Babe Zaharias. He said she could do anything she wanted, she was such a tremendous athlete."

Bolt also supported the Arkansas State University golf program with a tournament at Jonesboro County Club that bore his name for many years until his health limited his participation. Sage Meadows Golf Course, also in Jonesboro, is a Tommy Bolt Signature Golf Course.

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