Bob Holliday

Hugh Morton's golf outing endures

Posted 2:34 p.m. Tuesday
Updated 3:49 p.m. Tuesday

Hugh Morton, who died in 2006, is remembered for many things. But “The Outing,” his outing, was a creation Morton held dear.

— Harris Prevost had spent the afternoon visiting his boss, mentor, and friend Hugh Morton, who was in the final stages of terminal cancer. Prevost headed toward his car in the parking lot when a nurse came racing after him. “Mr. Morton wants to speak to you,” the nurse said. Prevost returned to Morton’s room and can never forget what he heard next: “Harris,” Morton said, “promise me, promise me you will keep that outing going.”

Morton, who died in 2006, is remembered for many things. He was the owner of Grandfather Mountain. He was a major force in the North Carolina Tourism Industry from the mountains to the coast and everywhere in between. He was a leading environmentalist, who helped lead the campaign against acid rain in the 80’s and 90’s. And of course he was a photographer extraodinaire. But “The Outing,” his outing, was a creation Morton held dear.

Hugh Mortonâs golf outing endures

Morton’s vision was to stage a relaxed, off season event, that would bring together ACC media and the coaches they cover. Morton believed that a few rounds of golf in the Linville sunshine, sandwiched around a social hour and banquet, would give the ACC’s various stakeholders a chance to get to know one another in a way that could never happen in November, or March. Morton’s goal was to foster a “family atmosphere” in the ACC.

Hugh Morton's golf outing endures

Hugh Morton's golf outing endures

I did not personally witness the first 30 or so of these outings. I am told they were grand occasions, heavily attended by both head coaches and members of the media. We have included some black and white photos, courtesy of the folks at Grandfather Mountain, that provide some documentation of those early years.

Hugh Morton's golf outing endures

Hugh Morton's golf outing endures

My first ACC Golf Outing occurred in 1991, and I’ll never forget it. It was a Thursday in early June and conditions were perfect. The main event that year was not at the Grandfather Mountain Country Club, but at Linville Ridge, a course built on top of the mountain across from Grandfather. I was paired with Commissioner Gene Corrigan, ACC Legend Bucky Waters, and Redskins play by play announcer Frank Herzog, whose signature call was “Touchdown Washington Redskins!”

Commissioner Corrigan called our foursome together, pointed at bright 75-degree sunshine and said “Let’s have a great day. There’s no sense in anybody getting (upset ). We started on the par three 12th hole. No one in our group really challenged the flag. And in fact after chip shots, all of us were still six to eight feet from the flag. And then Corrigan turned to the group and said, “pick them up. These putts are all good!” When you’re at the ACC Golf Outing and the Commissioner says “pick ‘em up” who is to argue? We finished our round on the 11th hole, the one that has an incredible view of Grandfather. None of us that day thought to bring a camera. But I can share with you a photo from 2015 that gives you an idea of what you can see atop Linville Ridge. My playing partner that day was a guy named Jim Belk from Greensboro. Jim and I actually walked 18 holes at Linville Ridge in 2003, when the course was open, but the golf carts were not yet available. Still can’t believe we did that-very steep walk! But I digress.

Hugh Morton's golf outing endures

Hugh Mortonâs golf outing endures

Work and family obligations kept me from getting back to the mountains for a couple of years. When I returned to the ACC Golf Outing in 1994, the growing popularity of golf at the hosting mountain courses had pushed Mr. Morton’s grand event from June to early May. I learned first hand of the variable nature of High Country weather in May. 68 degrees in Raleigh might translate to 46 degrees on top of Linville Ridge, with a whipping 30 mile per hour wind. My group that day decided to drive below to the historic Linville Golf Club, a Donald Ross design. The temperature at the LGC, in the valley, was a balmy 52 degrees, with a 20 mile per hour wind. I have attended most outings since 1994, though of course I was unable to attend during the Carolina Hurricanes’ deep playoff runs in 1999, 2002, 2006, and 2009. Ironically, I was actually taking part in the ACC Golf Outing in May 1997, when the news broke that Peter Karmanos was moving the Hartford Whalers to Raleigh.

Hugh Mortonâs golf outing endures

Here in 2017, Harris Prevost, with support from the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association (ACSMA), the ACC, and other sponsors, just put on the event for the 58th time. As the Outing long ago moved from June to May, so also have the work environments changed for coaches and members of the media. Although Georgia Tech Coach Paul Johnson joined us a couple of years ago, head coaches are not often able to break away for golf and fellowship as they once did. And members of the media find it more difficult to get away from work as well-for example in television, May means ratings, and TV people rarely are given time off during rating periods. Yet each year the outing draws 60-100 attendees. Some just come for the Sunday night coat & tie dinner and program. But serious golfers can be found among the various coaching staffs and athletic departments at the Big Four schools, Florida State, Clemson, Virginia Tech, and others, as well as the ACC staff. Some ACC media members and folks connected with the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame also join in. These are the folks who annually accept Harris Prevost’s invitation to come to the mountains in May; to play fabulous courses like Linville Golf Club, Grandfather Country Club, Elk River Country Club, and the Linville Ridge Country Club-and occasionally there are other courses. Most pay for their participation, for golf carts, meals, and such. Conditions can be tranquil, as was the case in 2014, 2015, and 2016. Or golfers may have to bundle up for temperatures in the 40s and 50s with strong winds, as was the case this year. But Hugh Morton’s dream of golf and fellowship among people connected with the ACC lives on.

Hugh Mortonâs golf outing endures

Avery County native Tom Burleson is a regular at the outing’s Sunday night affair. Burleson, star center of NC State’s 1974 Championship Team, has appeared on the program a couple of times, and always draws a crowd at the reception and dinner. Burleson rarely gets the chance to play golf, but joined us this year for the Monday morning round at Grandfather CC. Burleson holds a key position in Avery County Government, helping shape the area’s planning and economic development. He told me he’s quite proud of Avery County’s low density and high tax base. It’s clear from listening to him, that Burleson cares about the environment. T.B. worked for Hugh Morton at Grandfather Mountain as a teenager.

Hugh Mortonâs golf outing endures

Hugh Morton's golf outing endures

Administrators for the ACC take part as they can. Brian Morrison, Associate Commissioner for Men’s Basketball rarely misses the Sunday/Monday morning events, although this May his son’s graduation kept him in Greensboro. Senior Associate Commissioner for Football, Michael Strickland, joined us this year. And Commissioner John Swofford joined a group for a round at Hound Ears on Monday afternoon.

Hugh Mortonâs golf outing endures

As luck would have it, I was in the group behind the Commissioner, and got a few minutes to speak with him while we were waiting to tee off. I first congratulated him on the ACC’s outstanding year. He noted that it’s not done yet. While more NCAA Titles may await in the spring sports, the league has already accomplished a rare feat, winning National Championships in football and basketball during the same academic year. I suggested it was just the second time this had happened in ACC history. “It’s the third time,” he corrected me. It is harder to fact check before you say something in a conversation, don’t you think? Anyway for the record:

  • ACC Double Championships
    • 1981-82 Clemson-Football UNC-Basketball
    • 1990-91 Georgia Tech-Football (Co Champions) Duke-Basketball
    • 2016-17 Clemson-Football UNC-Basketball

Our conversation turned to Don McCauley, who made All-America at UNC in 1970. That was a team Swofford played on, and a team I covered. We each had a Don McCauley story.

I went first, telling the Commissioner that McCauley was my first ever interview in my student days at UNC-TV. We aired a nightly segment, known as the “Feature” on Evening Edition, that ran about eight minutes. I prepared eight minutes of questions, or so I thought. I suspected that McCauley was not used to being interviewed. I encouraged him to relax and take his time answering the questions. After running through my legal pad of ten items to discuss, the floor crew gave me the five minute cue. Don was not at all expansive. I don’t remember what I asked him over those final five minutes, but I know we ultimately took our q&a session the full eight minutes. It was my first lesson in one of the fundamental requirements of broadcasting-sometimes you just have to fill. And fill!

Then it was the Commissioner’s turn. Swofford was quarterback at UNC in 1969 -- that was the year before McCauley became All-American, though McCauley still gained more than 1,000 yards in that ’69 season. Swofford noted that in Bill Dooley’s tailback oriented offense, he usually gave the ball to McCauley. One game Swofford remembered, he gave the ball to McCauley on eight consecutive plays. Back in the huddle, an exhausted McCauley begged for relief. “John,” he said. “Give the ball to someone else.” Swofford’s response: “Don, I’m not the one calling the plays.” But Swofford, realizing McCauley’s need for a break, did call a time out. When play resumed, Dooley sent in the next play. And Swofford gave the ball to McCauley. Again.

Hugh Mortonâs golf outing endures

Former Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer was the honored guest at this year’s outing. I don’t know if Beamer took part in the Sunday afternoon golf at Linville Golf Club, but he definitely played Monday at Grandfather, and he was the keynote speaker at the Sunday night dinner program.

Beamer told the 100 or so in attendance that the day Virginia Tech was invited to the ACC was “one of the greatest days of my life.”

Beamer discussed the run up to his retirement. He noted that no recruit had ever told him he was turning down Virginia Tech to attend another school out of concern Beamer might not coach for all of the recruit’s time in Blacksburg. But Beamer added: “You knew it was happening some. You could just look at the recruiting classes. Each year we would come away with fewer of the top prospects.” After a few years that adds up. In 2015, Beamer decided to retire.

Beamer believes the quality of high school recruits and their readiness for college football has changed drastically. “They’re bigger and stronger,” Beamer says. “High School strength programs have really improved.” High school coaching is better now too, according to Beamer. In his later years, he found kids coming out of high school more ready to play ACC level football.

Beamer was asked about the great tradition of special teams at VT. Turns out, it came about by accident. Beamer wanted to be involved with offense and defense, but realized after a few years that the head coach has too many other responsibilities. So he turned the offense over to a coordinator, and he turned the defense over to Bud Foster. As those coaches had held some special teams responsibilities, Beamer found he needed to take over special teams himself. With that as his focus, Beamer truly made special teams special at Virginia Tech.

I asked the former coach what he thought about the quality/level of play in ACC football. Beamer said the strength of the league received quite a boost when Florida State first joined the ACC in 1992. And he suggested the addition of Big East teams in later years, including Virginia Tech, also made an impact.

As to the future, Frank Beamer this fall becomes a member of the College Football Playoff Selection Committee. Beamer said during his talk at Grandfather Mountain, he believes the current system of choosing the top four teams, will almost always produce the true national champion. “If we were to go to eight teams,” Beamer said, “I know we would always get the true #1 team.” Beamer noted that the current contract calls for four, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon.

I am told by the guys who played with coach Beamer, that his Monday round in the extreme winds of the Grandfather Country Club, began slowly. But he heated up on the back side and made four or five pars in a row. The Coach told us, he definitely plans to work on his golf game, now that he has more time.

Hugh Morton's golf outing endures

And coach Beamer, I like the way you think! I need to start working on my golf game. It’s only 51 weeks until next May, when another ACC Golf Outing will bring us back to Hugh Morton country, and days of good stories, and challenging golf.

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