Elizabethton – William B.
In 1972, Sam Snead and his nephew J.C. Snead came to town for an exhibition. Sam Snead was 60 years old and still competitive on the PGA Tour, winning 82 times.
The big match happened shortly after Snead won one of the six major PGA Championships for his account.
Local Bank President Bill Greene, the man the tournament is named after, featured in the show this weekend. A top amateur in his own right, Greene teamed up with longtime Elizabethton pro Tommy Horton to take on the touring pros.
Snead was already in the area to hold an exhibition at Johnson City Country Club to raise money for Hal Morrison’s East Tennessee State golf team. Green asked if there was anywhere else they could play.
The idea came to do an exhibition in Elizabethton, then the Green House course. Tickets cost $3 and the proceeds went to the Carter County Boys Club.
JC Snead had contact in the area. He attended ETSU but did not play on the golf team because he was already a professional baseball player for the Washington Senators farm system. At that time, athletes could not be professional in one sport and amateur in another.
By the time of the match, JC had been a professional for eight years. He went on to have an accomplished career in his own right, with 16 professional wins, including eight on the PGA Tour.
On this day, all that mattered was beating the local hotspots. They hardly did.
“They bit our muscles, but I think we played really well,” Green said. “I think it was 1-up or 2-up. Of course we had the advantage of the home course. We had a good game and there was a big crowd. A group of ladies came out. Sam had a lot of fun with the spectators. We did what you do when you’re at a fair. You Trying to beat the other team.”
Horton, who served as Elizabethton Pro from 1965 to 1981, said he didn’t remember much of the match since it happened so long ago, but Sam Snead’s swing made an impression.
“He played very well,” said Horton. “It was very smooth and effortless. It impressed me a lot. We had a good match with them. We had a great time and there was a great crowd.”
Lewis Hopkins, who spent 54 years working at Elizabethton before retiring as the Greens supervisor, was a buggy that day and also remembered admiring the Snead swing.
“He had a very different swing from what you see today,” Hopkins said. “It was smooth and smooth. He hit it hard and straight.”
Hopkins was in high school at the time, and cans pulled numbers to see who they’d carry. JC . drawing
“When we were done, he gave me the $20 bill and told me to go get a Coca-Cola,” Hopkins laughed.
Just having a golfer of Snead’s stature was important to the small town course.
“Sam said he had a great time,” Green said. “He really enjoyed the hospitality of the people and was very complementary to the course, especially the greens.”
The Sneads stayed at the Green House when they were in the area and began a friendship that lasted for many years. They have also held exhibitions in Ridgefields and Grandfather Mountain.
Greene, who said he’s gone to play Snead more than 100 times, remembers a humorous incident that happened one of the first times he met “Slammin” Sami. JC had invited Greene to play with Sam at Greenbriar in West Virginia.
“I thought I was kind of a hot shot,” Green said. “We went out to hit the balls and at a tee I put my bag on the right side of Sam’s cart. He came and said, “Get (your ass) out of my car.”
“I was kinda scared. This is where the Maester is sitting,” he said. “Who the hell is Maester?” I thought.
Maester was Snead’s dog.
“This dog just jumped in that seat and never moved until they got close to a creek,” Green said. “Then he went and got golf balls.”
Greene said Snead enjoyed his one day in Elizabethton.
“He said it was the perfect golf course for this community,” Green said. “He said that is what makes golf so attractive to newcomers. They go out and play a course like this and then they stay with the game and never give up. He was very fond of Elizabethton.”