Home Course: James Dodson

By:Bob Gillespie

Date:9/8/2014

For someone who grew up in Greensboro, N.C., and spent nearly half his life living along the coast of Maine, author James Dodson has a strong affinity for South Carolina, a state he knows mostly for its golf.

That probably comes from his roots as a writer. When he was a first grader, his father was advertising director for the Flor​ence (S.C.) Morning News, and Dodson followed his dad’s footsteps and became a journalist. But at age 30, “I decided I wanted to do something different, and my dad had this radical notion: (he said) Follow your passion, do what you love, and you’ll never have to ask, ‘What if?’”

Dodson wanted to write about golf, but knew little about the sport in New England, where he was working for Yankee Magazine. Then an editor assigned him to write a story about an 83-year-old woman, Glenna Collett Vare, known as “the female Bobby Jones,” Dodson says. The story was picked up by a British golf magazine and by the U.S. Golf Association, which asked him to write about a young college player from North Carolina who was about to turn pro: Davis Love III.

Twenty-five years later, Love is captain of this fall’s U.S. Ryder Cup team, and Dodson is one of America’s best-known golf writers. His first book, “Final Rounds,” in 1996 recounted how he and his father, who was dying of cancer, took a final trip together to Scotland to play golf and say goodbye.

Arnold Palmer, after reading “Final Rounds,” asked him to co-author The King’s autobiography. Dodson later also wrote Ben Hogan’s official autobiography. His 10th and latest book, “American Triumvirate: Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan and the Modern Age of Golf,” has been recently released.

After two decades as a columnist at Golf Magazine, he quit five years ago to return to his roots, living in golf-crazy Pinehurst and editing two magazines as well as writing for the hometown newspaper. “I’ve made a lot of great friends,” Dodson says. “How many can say they’ve played 30 times with Arnold Palmer? It brings tears to my eyes. But the Carolinas are where I’m from – I played my third round of golf here.”

As great as his love is for North Carolina, Dodson maintains an abiding interest in his childhood home state. “I know all about Kia​wah, I’ve written about Hilto​n Head,” he says. “In my next book, which I want to write about the boom years of golf (1960-1996), South Carolina will figure in a major way.

“The state really has become the new holy land of golf in America. The years I lived in New England, I can’t tell you how many people, when April 20 rolled around, they were heading to South Carolina.”

Driving from Pinehurst to Myrtle Beach’s Pawleys Pl​antation recently to promote his new book, Dodson was reminded why that was so. “There are so many beautiful golf courses here,” he says. “The economic impact on South Carolina is colossal. It’s provided a wonderful industry for the state, allowed it to show off its beauty and resources.

“North Carolina has benefited the same way, but not to the extent South Carolina has. And the game is starting to rebound (from the down economy). I think it’ll bloom again.”

Dodson plans to be around to witness that – and perhaps write about it some more. Golf and the Carolinas are in his blood, after all.

Hometown: Greensboro, N.C.; lived in Flore​nce as a first-grader

Bio: Columnist and writer for Golf Magazine for nearly 20 years; now editor of O. Henry and Pinestraw magazines, and writer-in-residence for The (Southern Pines, N.C.) Pilot tri-weekly newspaper; lives in Pinehurst, N.C.; wrote “Final Rounds,” about taking his dying father to Scotland to play golf, in 1996; now has written 10 books, most about golf.

Highlights: Newest book is “American Triumvirate: Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan and the Modern Age of Golf,” released this year; wrote Hogan’s authorized biography in 2004; awarded the 2011 Donald Ross Award by the American Society of Golf Course Architects for his contributions to golf literature.

Where I play: “I go back to the days of playing (Myrtle ​Beach’s) Gator Hole (now closed) and Myrtlew​ood as a teenager. My uncle belonged to all those courses, so I grew up playing those a lot. I played a wonderful event at Myr​tle Beach National once, and Caledonia (Golf ​& Fish Club), I saw a week before it opened when I was an editor with Golf – I’ve never played it, but I remember thinking it was about the prettiest place I’d ever seen, so I’m going to come and play it. I can’t wait.

“The Barefoot Resort co​urses, I’ve seen and played those, especially the Davis Love III course; Davis is an old friend. I’m in the Golf Writers Association of America, and I would come and play The Dunes ​Golf & Beach Club with them every 4-5 years. I haven’t been able to experience all of the courses, but Cecil Brandon (founder of Myrtle Beach​ Golf Holiday) was always on me to come and play. I’m really a bit of a newcomer who wants to get to know these courses. I’m coming back to the beach in the fall and want to become familiar with the courses here.”

Where I eat: “I love barbecue, but you’ve got to have mustard in the sauce here, which is kind of an unholy thing to do to a guy from North Carolina (laughs). I grew up eating Calabash seafood, and I love Bowe​n’s near Charl​eston, which is legendary. I’ve eaten my weight in oysters and beer there a dozen times; anywhere there’s a plate of fried oysters, I’m there, and no place on earth has those like South Carolina.”

What I do for fun: “In the first grade I lived in Flore​nce, where my dad was advertising director of the Florence Morning News, and I have very fond memories of this old slow Southern town – not the booming I-95 town it is now. It’s the sociability of South Carolina that I love; it’s become such a great place to go with so much to do. I love the whole ups​tate area and seeing what they’ve done at Furman and Woff​ord – my dad went to Wofford and North Carolina. It’s just a wonderful place. There’s not a better place to go eat than Charleston, and the history there is so rich and full. Being a historian, I love that.”

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