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Home Course: Jim Ferree

Bob Gillespie Bob Gillespie
Bob is a former sports writer at Columbia’s The State newspaper. He enjoys golf at South Carolina’s 350-plus courses, and after a round, sampling craft beers from the Palmetto State’s breweries.
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South Carolina's Karen and Jim Ferree from Hilton Head
Karen and Jim Ferree

If you remember the 22-year stretch when the Champions Tour was known as the Senior PGA Tour, then you also remember Jim Ferree. You might not realize it, though.

When the success of the inaugural Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf (a two-man event for 50-and-older players) spawned the then-Senior PGA Tour in 1980, commissioner Deane Beman wanted a distinctive logo for the veterans' circuit. What better, Beman decided, that the silhouette of a player in knickers, a popular piece of apparel for the older guys?

And so it was that Ferree, who turned 83 in summer 2014, became the logo's model. "Quite a few of the guys were wearing knickers then," he says. "They took pictures of a lot of guys' swings, and I think they liked my follow-through.

"I was very honored," the Hilton Head Island resident says, and laughs. "I guess because I know it's me, when I look at it, it looks pretty good. I tell folks, one good thing is (the logo) always puts me at the top of the leader board."

Though he didn't play in that first Legends event, Ferree recognizes what a boon the Champions Tour has been for players past their PGA Tour prime. "It's the ultimate ‘mulligan,'" he says. "For a long time, guys would leave the Tour in their 40s and go get a club job. But once the interest got going, you had some really good players who fans had followed for years - Sam Snead, Jimmy Demaret, Jackie Burke - and now here's a chance to see them play again, guys you grew up watching ... and for us to keep playing."

Ferree, who won the PGA Tour's 1958 Vancouver Open and later won twice on the Senior PGA Tour, had taken the previously traditional career route, leaving the "junior tour" in 1966 and taking club-pro jobs in Savannah and Pittsburgh. He has no complaints, though; not only was he able to return to competitive golf in the 1980s - he won two Senior Tour titles and 23 Super Senior victories - but his teaching career introduced him to his future wife, Karen Shapiro.

"She was living in Augusta and her family was members at Midland Valley in Aiken," Ferree says. "Whitey (Midland Valley head pro Orville White) didn't like to teach, so I started giving her lessons when she was 15 (and Jim was 35)." Shapiro went to college and became a physical therapist, but golf kept drawing her back.

"So later I helped her get a couple of golf jobs in Pittsburgh," he says. When Ferree became director of golf at Hilton Head's Long Cove Club (where the couple still live), he encouraged Karen to apply for the head professional's job, and she won out over more than 50 other applicants.

Over the years, "we became good friends, and she was terrific," Jim says. "She ran the business end, which I didn't like to do, and I helped promote and played golf with prospective members," he says. It was a match made in golf heaven, and the two wed in 1987.

Today, both are retired, and in January 2014, they became the first husband-and-wife tandem named to the S.C. Golf Hall of Fame (Jim was inducted in 2009), with their son presenting his mother for induction. Ferree says life with your best friend - and your favorite golf partner - has been very, very good for both. "We play a lot of golf together now," Ferree says.

Don't get the idea, though, that his game is strictly recreational now. In 2012, competing in the Legends' Demaret Division (ages "70 to infinity," he says), Ferree played solo when regular partner Miller Barber was ill and substitute Billy Casper contracted bronchitis. The first round, Ferree shot 71 to defeat the duo of Bobby Nichols and Homero Blancas by two; in the finals against Don January and Gene Littler, he shot a 69 to their 71.

"I shot 22-under my age (81) for two days," he says, laughing.

That Senior PGA Tour logo went away in 2002 when the circuit became the Champions Tour, but Ferree will always be a part of its history. In fact, given how life turned out, he figures he's still at the top of the leader board.

Hometown: Pinebluff, N.C. Lives in Hilton Head Island.

Bio: Grew up in Winston-Salem, N.C., and learned the game from his father, Purvis, a long-time professional at Old Town Golf Club. Won once on the PGA Tour and, after joining the Senior PGA Tour in 1981, won twice on that tour. Was director of golf at Long Cove Club in Hilton Head during his 30s and 40s.

Highlights: Was chosen by then-PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman to be the model for the knickers-wearing player that became the Senior Tour's logo. Won nine times in the Georgia Pacific Grand Champions, sharing the most victories with two others. Was named Senior PGA Tour comeback player of the year in 1993. Was the first golfer named to the University of North Carolina Hall of Fame in 1991, and was named to the S.C. Golf Hall of Fame in 2008.

Where I play: "I played in the first Heritage (in 1969) when it was at Thanksgiving, and I liked it so much, having lived in Savannah for three years and knowing how nice the winters were, I decided to go to Hilton Head and play over the winter. I thought I could get a lot better playing Harbour Town, because you have to hit it out of chutes in the trees and hit it straight. Harbour Town is still one of my favorites in the world to play on.

"The reason we live at Long Cove Club is because it's one of my other favorites. You've got two great Pete Dye golf courses, very different but both very good. I also love Yeamans Hall (in Charleston,) and Chechessee Creek(near Beaufort,), and Country Club of Charleston is a lovely golf course, so I guess you can say I like the Lowcountry. And I still like The Dunes Club in Myrtle Beach. It's a good strong course."

Where I eat: "We're lucky in Hilton Head that there are lots of really good places to eat because all the tourists help support them. Our No. 1 place is Catch-22. Gary Duran, who used to be the pro at Port Royal, got into the restaurant business - he also has caddied for me in the Legends of Golf and read putts for me. I go there and order the same thing most of the time, and they know what I like there.

"The Bistro in Hilton Head is very good, and the true hidden jewel is Il Carpaccio, a wonderful Italian place hidden away in a shopping center. The guy who runs it was the maitre de at another place that closed. It's worth the effort to find it."

What I do for fun: "I've always liked to hunt, but I didn't do any this fall because I hurt my knee. I quit duck hunting because when you get old and it gets cold, you're not happy. But we still hunt quail; Charlie Drawdy has a back of about 5,000 acres and hunting dogs, and we ride out in ATVs. Charlie had a back injury, so we would talk about getting well and going again. I also like to go to football and basketball games in Chapel Hill (Ferree played on the North Carolina golf team); we've got tickets for Duke-Carolina, and if it's nice, we might stop and play at Pinehurst on the way home."

Bob Gillespie
Bob is a former sports writer at Columbia’s The State newspaper. He enjoys golf at South Carolina’s 350-plus courses, and after a round, sampling craft beers from the Palmetto State’s breweries.