Local golf magnate and Cleveland family friend Randy Watkins talks about how the Mississippi golf business exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic and the state of golf in the Magnolia State.

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Tyler: Hello, and welcome in to another episode of the Crooked Letter Sports podcast with your hosts, Mississippi Today sports columnist, Rick Cleveland, and me, Scorebook Live Mississippi’s Tyler Cleveland. This is the show where we talk about Mississippi sports and the folks who play them. Today, jumping right back in with part two of our conversation with local golf pro and Mississippi golf legend, Randy Watkins. 

Rick: Well, we could spend a whole lot of time talking about your playing career, but we’ve got a lot of ground to cover and I want to move to today. And of course you’re owner of three Jackson area golf courses.

Randy: Yeah. 

Rick: Randy Watkins Golf, and last February and March, when the pandemic hit, I remember talking to you and 

Randy: Yep. 

Rick: It was somber. 

Randy: Definitely scary 

Rick: Thought the golf business was going to… 

Randy: Shut down, like a lot of businesses. We didn’t know what was going to happen. And no way to know. This was a, you talk about a wicked curveball. 

Rick: And what happened?

Randy: It was the opposite of closing.

I mean, it erupted. The golf business exploded because it was an activity that people felt safe and comfortable. You outside. A lot of people walked like you like to walk, you like to walk to play golf. You can just, it’s naturally social. Distanced, you can’t stand next to people while they hit a shot. You don’t stand near people when they put you walk by yourself rent.

So people felt comfortable with the flood gates opened. But we had requirements from governor Reeves numbers of people in a group in, at a time. And we actually talked to his office about the golf, what we would do, and we didn’t sell a beer or a burger or a ball for three months. We closed the pro shops effectively.

We didn’t, we didn’t cook anything. We didn’t produce anything. Went to 15 minute intervals on tea time instead of eight single router golf carts. Pretty expensive as it turns out, it wasn’t sustainable that you couldn’t the demand for the Tate towns was so great. We couldn’t get members on the golf golfers on the golf course when we, when they wanted to play, because we just simply didn’t have enough.

Either times or carts to go around, to feed the tee times. So it was the first three months were difficult in every tournament and outing of the spring got canceled April or may. Our two biggest months for charitable fundraisers are corporate functions. Those are our biggest months of the year. All of them canceled.

Well, that is a huge amount of money for all golf courses. Not, not simply my own, but every golf course. So we took a great big hit, but more people joined, more people, brought people with them. People came out of the bushes that wants to quit the game. They came back to the game. Some people started the game that had never played or had sort of tickled around with the thought of playing and.

They coming out of that house, you know, they had to have something to do at one time. Governor have been shut down fishing, you know, and it it’s to fit. I can’t fish in a boat with my son, but they can go play golf. You know, it was you know, it was first, several months were tough and then it just exploded.

I know, personally, I played more golf last year. I hadn’t played since high school. Yeah. Good 

example. Yeah. 

Tyler: I don’t remember trying to call and get on a couple of times when it was just absolutely slammed. And other times I went where, you know, like you said, there weren’t enough golf carts and I ended up walking.

You know, just being outside and being around. I mean, even if you were a distance as being around somebody else, besides the folks you were looking at at your house was pretty spectacular, 

Randy: you bet. And it wasn’t without consequences either we pull up here, I took some heat over it for being okay. Some residents around the golf course, looking out their windows, seeing people play golf and having fun.

They’re stuck in her house, scared to go out of the house, calling us, raising cane, thinking we shouldn’t be open and thinking I was really doing something dangerous. That took a fair amount of that for the first month. 

Rick: Yeah. You know, Randy, another base I want to cover here is junior golf in Mississippi and Again, I don’t know of anybody.

You know, Robbie web did an awful lot for Jr in Mississippi and in Jackson, but you’ve sort of taken that man on talk about the state of junior golf and this I’ve 

Randy: never seen it, but it’s never been better. And the proof Rick, and you know, I’ve talked about this, the investment in junior golf. Now the S the spoils of that are now visible.

We have. A female winner on the LPGA tour from Fulton, Mississippi, Allie Ewing. We have. Chad Raimi, who is doing great stuff on the Korn ferry tour. We have Davis Riley from Hattiesburg. He’s going to be a name. They don’t not everybody knows him right this minute, but you don’t have to worry about that.

Brighton Thornberry, that woman named CWA championship. These are people that are not. Play and professionally they’re doing well. They’re succeeding. They’re advancing through the process. So we’re feeding colleges, some of those state here in Mississippi, some of them went somewhere else to play, but we’re producing D one.

Players that are now taking the next step up. And I think that’s attribute better golf courses than there once were a lot more, really good golf courses, better instruction than there once was while I think I had terrific instruction with the pros. Listen to who I grew up with. The pros around here were Robbie Webb, Ken Lindsey, Ben Nelson, and Arvin Guinn and ham Carruthers cotton hill.

These were all. Very good, very successful PGA pros that could teach and play. Now we have VJ Trulio and Tim Yelvington at, oh wait, whether that stuff, factory of your son, my son, Thomas has a junior problem. That’s unbelievable. And I tell him all the time, you just wait, you’re going to see the spoils of your work.

As these kids advanced. Cause some of them are going to keep going. Some of them won’t some, but, but somebody is going to come out of it and play. And I, I think it’s it has never been better. And the fact that we have so many girls play in and competitive girls and that are achieving in girls golf, there’s Amy all tastes, plays it diamond head.

She just signed. And I forgive me for not knowing, but she just signed. Troy or south Alabama, I think it’s south, Alabama and USA has got a great golf program for ladies. This girl wins everything she plays in. I mean, so we have boys and girls. I never saw a girl golfer growing up. I never, never not in high school, not in junior golf until the PGA junior.

That I want in 1977, they had a girls division. So there were girls from all over the country. Well, I’m from Mississippi there. Wasn’t one. Well, we’ve produced from sissy Gallagher on. We continue to produce. And so I’m bragging on the girls too, because that’s a big, big area of growth for golf that parents have seen.

It’s a pretty good avenue and it still remains the easiest scholarship athletically for a girl to get. Yeah. Sorry, Katie, you got 80. He’d go D one. Yeah, 

Rick: you got a shot, Tyler. And I want to have some fun with you. We won’t play the lightening round questions. Quick answers. You got it. Favorite golf 

Randy: course in the world.

Augusta national. Right? How many times you played it once? Once? Yep. What’d you shoot? 74, 74. 

Tyler: You got dream 

Randy: foursome. I do. It’d be my dad made my dad, my son. All Palmer and late Trevino is the, as the fifth, if I can get a five. So I’m going to put Trevino in and give you five. I take Trevino who set the groundwork for me right in this town in 1974, when he came to Brookwood country club was the reason I do what I do today.

Rick: He is it. Where are you going to have to explain 

Randy: that? And it may have been 73, but Lee Trevino was Lee Trevino. In 1973, well, I’m 12, maybe 13 and Dr. Pepper, Ken brown and his family had the Dr. Pepper distributorship here sponsored the junior golf program around Jackson. And it pretty much was it went to Vicksburg.

Moradian basically Metro Jackson and it was a series of events for kids on Monday. And the pros that I’ve already named random. And at the end of the summer, there was an all-star team selected, which I made with several other ball boys. It was 10 or 15 of us got a clinic. Dr. Pepper sponsor, Trevino. Mr.

Brown got him to come to Jackson and did a clinic at Brookwood country club. And if it was, it would not be clear. To me if it had happened an hour ago, that man stood on the practice tee at Brookwood country club and entertain those kids were sitting on the ground and I literally was sitting six feet behind him and he’s unbelievably entertaining when he hit that golf ball.

The first time I heard it, I hear it now. And I, I came home. I said, I have got to learn how to hit a ball. Like I want to sound, I want that sound. I want to feel it and hear that. And to this day, when I practice I’m hunting that sound, I’m not sure I ever got it that crisp. And then I got the occasion to tell him that story.

12 years later in the U S open at Wingfoot. And I played a practice with him, practice round with him, just sort of by accident. I didn’t have a game cause my buddies didn’t qualify for it. So I didn’t have my buddies there. So I’m just looking for a game and here he comes and off we go and somewhere during the round, I tell him this story and he loved it.

So he’s in my group. Yeah. Best swing savy ballot Steris, most 

Tyler: memorable shot you’ve ever seen. 

Randy: Jody Mudd. Was it Georgia Southern? I was at Ole miss. We played at stillwaters, Alabama. I was a sophomore. Jody was a junior and with a reigning us made Ammar champion and he was he and Bob Tway were the two guys in college.

Well, we, our team Ole miss and Georgia Southern were comparable at that time. He birdied the first seven, an Eagle, the eight. On this first round that still works Alabama and the Eagle was a one iron off the ground and into a par five and hit a foot from the hole. And I can see it and hear it today. And I can remember Ernest Ross, who was my golf coach at Ole miss.

We’re going from eight green to 90. Now he’s 900. Going to nine. So Ernest comes running up say, Hey dude, how you doing? I say, doing what the damn. He said, well, how are you staying? I said, I’m one under any. He said, I think that’s Laden acid. He’s nine under nine leading the damn thing. And there wasn’t a fluke in the deal.

He stands on now T and hooks and a hazard makes a bogey and shoot 60. He shot 63 for the day. And I can remember calling my dad and said, I just play with guys going win five masters. There ain’t no way to hit it better than this highest tower and draw most beautiful touch around the greens. Putting stroke was silky smooth and almost did almost one it twice.

Let it wire wire one year, but that one iron off the ground was something to see. 

Tyler: Let’s say joke about the one hour and a few ever in a lightening storm. You just got there and hold it 

Randy: up. Even God can’t hit it, turning out. Literally, you know, he’s my man. Yeah. He said, yeah, that was a long answer to a rapid fire question, but it’s too good.

A story you 

Rick: got? I appreciate the answer. I had one more. Do you have one time? No, 

Randy: I get asked. Best round I replied, no one ever says, what’s your lowest score. Say what’s the best round. That’s completely different conversation than lower score. But my 70 in the final round of the finals of the tour school in 1983 was the best round I ever played because it meant more to me cause I got to the, to the tour.

Cause I went into the last day and 45th place. They given out 50 cards, that’s it. And so at that time, they’d still didn’t have scoreboards really, but you sort of know how you do with the field. You just always have a feel for it. So I knew I was passing people being on their power, but I, you have to finish that Sawgrass.

I mean, you’re coming in, then you have to finish it. And I’m 300. Going to 18 T and I had golf ball caddying for me. And I’m a nervous wreck because all I gotta do is finish and I get my car. I know I’m going to get my car. Cause there’s no way I haven’t passed people in many people have passed because the golf course too hard and everybody’s choking.

So I reached for my driver and golf ball, grabbed my wrist. And I looked at him and I’m sure my eyes were this big. He said, no, no, no, no. We only had two ironed down by that car path. We’re going to pitch it out into the fairway, knock on the green, make bogey and get our car and go back to Jackson, which is exactly what I did made a bogey.

But I knew that I graduated. And, and the, the fun after that because Jim Gallagher made it, my friends, Brad and Willie would Mark Brooks, Corey Pavan, my class, we all made it. And we had, we had quite a, quite a party, 

Rick: Randy, last couple of years. You and I have talked a lot about a Mississippi guy, a guy who’s proceeding you in the hall of fame.

Pete brown. Yes. And what he means to Mississippi, but also what he meant to you. Because I think after you won the junior didn’t, he 

Randy: picked up the phone, call my home and I knew who Pete brown was. But at that point I had not met Pete brown as a 15 year old. So I get this call and my dad says, Pete, Brown’s on the phone.

And I said, Pete brown. He said, yeah. And he would congratulate me on winning and offered to help me anyway. I could, he said anything I can do to help you. I’d love to play with you sometime meet you sometime, whatever. Well, we formed a little friendship and we, we did play golf one time, which was a treat because it was just.

These Pete Brown’s cool. You know, cause he was a winner and it just a stud of a guy. And so then going forward, when I won the sec, I get another phone call. Pete brown calls me not carry middle cough. Not some people be brown. Cause then I qualify for the tour that comes out. I get a phone call people.

Sort of adopted me for whatever reason. So then I get my, the card and I’m playing in the Buick open in Detroit. I call Pete, I’m going to play in Detroit. He said, I’m coming out there. And he, matter of fact, he said, you going to play Tuesday? Of course, I’m going to play the practice round Tuesday. He says you ever play with cam.

Gavin Peyton I’m like, no, no, no. I’m scared of him. Count and pay was Calvin paid 1984. Don’t get me wrong. This guy was winning best ball striker out on my God. And I’m like, I never have, he goes, I got it. He looks it up. I got a practice round, me paid brown walking. He just walks with us Calvin pate. And I brought Mark Lee, who I was, he was my mentor at the tour.

They had a mentor program. Mark line was my guy. I play a practice round with Calvin pate at this time. And he’d won the players. He was winning three times a year. You can’t believe what I saw. He didn’t just hit the fairway. He hit the center or the side of the fairway. He wanted, it didn’t make a difference.

What he hit off the tee, a driver and he would hit a three wood. It wasn’t long. It wasn’t short. It wasn’t like it was too short for golf. You know, people picked on him because he didn’t hit it very far. He had plenty for him. And he was just like gracious. So I’m walking on the fairways with Pete brown and Calvin, Pete just absorbing golf and shots and stories between those two was, it was.

One of my better days. 

Rick: Yeah. Your relationship with Pete brown and how he grew up. He learned the game from caddying and sneaking on the golf course playing with one right-handed club and one left-handed club. Yeah. But I think about that every time I met your, well say lake Carolina, and we’re out at the practice to you and I’m seeing these little African.

Yes. Playing golf and learning the game. Yes. On the putting green and just the opportunities that are there now that weren’t 

Randy: no, they weren’t there. And Pete just came out of it came. He was one of golf ball and Melvin Johnson and Orlando Scott. When I went on tour, most of the calves were black. And all of those.

And S bunch of them were from Jackson, who I had known growing up because when they weren’t on tour, they were at the country club caddy and for Bob Travis and that max tell us, so I knew them. They were all Mayberry Robert Mayberry. If people had ever seen him at a golf of data, made him play golf.

This is the most incredible this guy was some basketball player. He was on the pro vine team. That was, it provided the oh, he was showing the, 

Rick: Linear, linear linear team that won the 

Randy: national was on that team that went, did the whole deal. He was Bob. Travis is personal Katie. So I knew him, all of them could play.

None of them are as good as Pete, but Pete was at one time. That was, he was in that group of guys. That was their group. And Pete just. Really caught on. I really had a gift and a talent for playing. These guys were all very good play. Every one of them ass on a golf, they were, they learn how to play. They had time while their guy was in the 19th hole.

They were down on the chipping greens waiting to be told what they’re going to do next. When to take the bag to the car, what’s the next tee time or whatever they they’re hitting balls and shipping and Putin, or they learn how to play. And then they learn how to teach plan. And I got as much instruction from those guys probably as I did any golf pro, because I spent probably more time.

I just spent more time with him and Pete, I got one more great story on paper because he and Johnny pot share this story. And I actually first got it from Johnny pot, but then I got it from Margaret Brown after died. Cause I asked her about it on their resume. Their, each of their first wind was the Waco Turner open.

So I asked Johnny pot when he was here to be inducted in the Mississippi golf hall of fame. I picked him up at the hotel and I spent some time with him. So I said, I got to know about the Waco Turner open where’d y’all play in Waco and he busted out laughing. He said, we didn’t play in Waco. The man’s name was Waco Turner.

It was in Oakland. He was a rich guy that owned the golf course. And in Oklahoma, his name was Waco Turner and he wanted some notoriety for his golf course and said, I’ll put up the money. If we can get some tour players to come play in a tournament here and make it an official tournament. And I think that tour made him put up 25,000 or whatever the number was back then.

Well, they all go well. He rode around in his Cadillac bet. And the players bet you can’t hit the green bitch. Can’t get it up and down close to the hole between you and him. 50 bucks, 20 bucks, a hundred bucks, Pete and Johnny power want to have the first two winners of that term at both. Mississippi was just a cool story.

But Pete Margaret told me later that Pete called her in Los Angeles. They live in, in the, they living in the slums of it. Barely making it paid. When’s the tournament wins $2,500 and he calls Margaret and she told me she was, I remember bawling my eyes out and told him, please make it home safe. We’re gonna, we’re gonna make it.

We can pay the bills and feed kids. 

Rick: Pete brown. First African-American woman. The PGA tour. Yep. From Jackson. 

Randy: Yeah. Port Gibson, originally port Gibson originally raised here when his daddy moved up here and it, to be honest with you, I have a burn my ass about it, but they talk about Charlie. Sifford no problem.

First one to win was Pete, Pete, and they all mentioned him with Lee and Leila, or had told me that himself. It pissed him off that Pete doesn’t get. He said, I get more conversation than Pete does. And Pete was the first one. I wouldn’t have done what I’ve done without Pete brown and still offense.

Charlie’s my friend too. But Pete’s the one that got it started where we thought, well, damn we can do it. Pizza wanted started it. And they just, they just don’t and it bothered. It’s 

Rick: amazing to me. How many people in Mississippi don’t know who he is? 

Randy: It’s crazy. When I would tell all the tour players I would introduce, I introduced him to people in Detroit.

They didn’t know who Pete brown was custom. Good to subtract. It’s Pete brown, man, look at the, let me see your resume. I’ll put it up against pay now. I’ll be one of ’em. Yeah, this guy, he might beat us now cause he wasn’t old, but he was a good bit older than me. Cause we was, I was a kid. 

Rick: Well, Randy, we could go on and on talking like this, but I just want you to know how much we appreciate you being part of our show and how much we both appreciate your friendship.

The 

Randy: well, same here. And I appreciate that. This for me. I know your dad. Well, I knew very well, Bobby too. So I’m three or four generations in the friendships with the Cleveland’s because of golf, but then that’s a really. A big part of my life, the number of people I know because of the game, I’ve had a lifelong love affair because I fell in love with it.

The first time I hit it. And the first time I heard Les Trevino hit that ball and I never stopped loving it, but I love the people of the game I really did. And I’m lucky. Well, I just loved you back. It has, it’s given me way more than I gave you, but I’m not through yet. Not through here. Thanks buddy. You bet.

Thank y’all.

Tyler: All right, that’s it for us today. Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of the cricket letters, sports podcast, and thanks to everyone who makes it possible. This podcast is produced by blue sky podcasting in Jackson. Feel free to subscribe on your favorite podcasting app. Follow Rick and I on social media at Tyler Cleveland at Rick Cleveland on Twitter.

And you can always stay tuned to the latest in Sydney sports by reading Rick’s work in Mississippi today@mississippitoday.org. I’m Tyler’s with Scorebook Live Mississippi. That’s scorebooklive.com/mississippi. Thanks for listening guys. Have a good one.

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.

Tyler Cleveland

Tyler Cleveland is a senior reporter for Scorebook Live and the co-host of Mississippi Today's Crooked Letter Sports Podcast.