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Mitch Vingle: Slugger proud to be American — and West Virginian

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — It was the Fourth of July and everywhere you turned at The Greenbrier you knew it.

From the women dressed in red, white and blue to the American flags to Bubba Watson’s shoes, one could feel the day.

And one could see it.

He sat in a green golf cart to the right of the Old White’s No. 1 hole, just across from Howard’s Creek, where rainbow and golden trout lazily swim.

Slugger White was the proud American in the cart. He was the proud West Virginia native. And, over the years, he’s made his home state proud.

You can’t miss White. He wears a Saddlebred straw hat and a sporty mustache. He’s all over the course in that cart.

Of course, that’s his job. White, a Beckley native, pretty much runs the Greenbrier Classic as the PGA Tour’s vice president of rules and competition. It’s his 32nd year in the prestigious position. And all southern West Virginians should thank him, for he was the linchpin in bringing the Classic to the area.

“I’m proud,” he beamed Friday while peering up the No. 1 fairway. “I’m as proud as I can possibly be.”

He should be. On a picture perfect day, fans streamed around the course while names like Bubba Watson, Nick Faldo and Tom Watson performed for them. If golf nirvana exists for fans, it existed on Friday.

“I think the tournament has done extremely well,” White said. “I think our field is really good this year. I think the golf course is outstanding. [Course superintendent] Kelly Shumate and his crew have done a wonderful job. The golf course is the best I’ve seen it in the five years [of the event]. It seems to get better and better every year.”

Thanks largely to White’s efforts. Now a resident of Ormond Beach, Fla., White graduated from Beckley’s Woodrow Wilson High in 1967. (“We were the last graduating class in the old high school, before they consolidated everything,” he said.)

White went to Ohio University on a golf scholarship and excelled. Afterward, he moved to Florida and joined the PGA Tour in 1976. He played for four years on the Tour and had to make a choice: become a club pro or move on to something else.

Fortunately for southern West Virginia, he chose something else.

“I was offered this out here and started in 1982,” White said.

OK, so what is a vice president of rules and competition?

“It’s basically a tournament director,” White said. “Mark Russell and myself. I’m kind of responsible for everything, but we have a great staff. It’s a pretty good deal.”

The deal that put the Classic in place can be traced back to when White and Greenbrier owner Jim Justice were 10 or 11 years old playing golf at Beckley’s Black Knight Country Club. They became friends and advanced to play in the State Amateur golf tournament. Years later, a PGA Tour tournament has blossomed because of that friendship.

“When Jimmy bought The Greenbrier I called him,” White said. “I hadn’t talked to him in a while. I congratulated him. Told him I’d read about it. I asked why he [bought] it and he went through all that. So I’m hanging up the phone and he said, ‘Hang on a second.’

“He said, ‘Maybe we might want to get a PGA event.’ I said, ‘You mean you might want a PGA Tour event?’ He said, ‘You know what I mean.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I do. And you might be talking to the right person.’

“Well, I hung up with him and called my boss at the time, Rick George. There was a spot where the Buick Open had folded. I told him about Jimmy. I think they talked the next day. I think the time frame was a couple months after. We were here and the deal was signed.”

As mentioned, the tournament has grown. All that’s missing now is a more steady flow of big-name players.

“It’s a little bit of a tough date,” White said. “I know Jimmy likes the July 4 date because it’s ‘America’s Resort.’ But I think word of mouth will prevail. I mean, golfers will talk about what a great place it is. The hospitality is next to none. [Justice has] done every single thing you can with the amenities and concerts. It’s a wonderful place.”

After a light Thursday crowd, fans took full advantage of the perfect weather Friday.

White beams.

“It’s got to be a boost for the area,” he said. “I remember a couple years ago — well, maybe four years ago — I went to one of the restaurants downtown. I had my family with me and asked about the wait time. It was almost comical. She said she didn’t know [how to gauge] because they’d never been that busy. It’s a great problem to have.”

Restaurants have been busy tournament week ever since. And on this particular Fourth of July, Slugger White was one proud American to be a part of that.

“I’m proud of the place. I’m proud of my friendship with Jim. I’m proud to be a part of it, I really am,” White said. “It does my heart good.”

As well as southern West Virginia.

Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, mitchvingle@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.


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