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State golf legend Campbell dies at 90

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- William C. Campbell, a true gentleman and one of the undisputed giants of West Virginia golf, died Friday at his Lewisburg home, the West Virginia Golf Association announced.

He died at 4:45 p.m., with family and friends by his side. He was 90.

Campbell was called "the last true amateur," winning the U.S. Amateur and the West Virginia Amateur a record 15 times, but that's not his ultimate imprint on the game.

This is: He served as president of the United States Golf Association (1982-83) and was captain of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club (1987), and is the only person to do so. He was that influential in the golf world.

And by just about every account, he did so in a gracious, low-key manner.

"He had a kindness to him, and it didn't matter the type of demographic," said Jim Justice, owner of The Greenbrier resort. "He was the ultimate gentleman, a tremendous competitor and an incredible player."

A resident of Huntington and Greenbrier County, Campbell graduated from Princeton and served in the Army during World War II. After the war, he passed on the then-infant world of professional golf to pursue an insurance career in the footsteps of his grandfather, C.W. Cammack. Campbell headed the Campbell Insurance Agency in Huntington from 1947 until recently.

He became an icon in the world of amateur golf, both on and off the course. His interest in bettering the game was broad - one of his most understated yet vital causes was course maintenance, and he won an award from the national superintendents organization.

He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame and PGA Hall of Fame. He also won the USGA's highest honor, the Bob Jones Award for Distinguished Sportsmanship in Golf. That came in 1956, eight years before winning the U.S. Amateur in 1964, at age 41.

He was an obvious choice for charter membership into the new West Virginia Golf Hall of Fame in 2009, joining Sam Snead, his pro contemporary.

"One could not possibly express how dearly Mr. Campbell will be missed," the WVGA said in its announcement of Campbell's passing. "He is one of the true treasures of the state of West Virginia."

That U.S. Amateur was one of a slew of Campbell's accomplishments on the course. He won the Mexican Amateur in 1956, the North and South Amateur four times, the U.S. Senior Amateur in 1979 and 1980, and was undefeated in singles matches in eight Walker Cup appearances. He also was a runner-up at the British and Canadian amateurs.

He qualified for 37 U.S. Amateurs and played in 18 Masters tournaments and 15 U.S. Opens. But in this part of the world, he is best known for winning the West Virginia Amateur 15 times.

Only Pat Carter, with 13 State Am titles, has come close to Campbell. Carter first played with Campbell during the 1990 U.S. Amateur qualifier, in which Carter advanced and Campbell wasn't far from that cut.

They struck a friendship, and Carter's so-called race to the record never entered the conversation.

"We never really talked about that," Carter said. "He was always so congratulatory when I did things well, whether it was the State Am, the [U.S.] Mid-Am or the U.S. Am. He would write me a letter telling me, 'Good luck.'

"He was such a gentleman; he acknowledged good play from other golfers."

His contributions to the community reached far beyond his insurance business. He was a director of five different companies in his life and served as president of the Marshall University Foundation, among many other functions. He served in the Legislature from 1948-51.

But he made his name on an international scale in the world of golf. His message was simple: Golf is a game of manners, relationships, dignity and respect.

Campbell remained in relatively good health until his recent illness. He lived long enough to see the PGA Tour come to his beloved Old White course on the Greenbrier grounds. Campbell played thousands of rounds there, and played more than a few with Snead, the all-time Tour winner and Greenbrier club pro.

As Justice tells it, Tour officials were planning to hold the Greenbrier Classic on the Jack Nicklaus-designed Greenbrier course, which hosted the 1979 Ryder Cup. Justice offered to combine some holes of the Old White if the Greenbrier track proved too short.

By chance, the visiting Tour officials wanted to make a quick tour around Old White after lunch.

As if magically guided by Snead and Campbell, those officials loved the old course. "They said, 'Are you kidding me?'" Justice recalled. "'You don't need to change a thing.'

"They saw what Bill Campbell saw, and what Sam Snead saw. That made it really special - not just the tournament being here, but the tournament being at Old White."

You could call that one more legacy left by William Cammack Campbell.

Funeral plans are incomplete, but the service is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 10, at Lewisburg.

Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, dougsmock@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.

 


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