PORT ARTHUR —
Like a blindsided NFL quarterback who is looking downfield one moment, then lying on his back gasping for air the next, Ed Campbell never saw Jerry Honza’s sneak attack coming at the recent First Tee of the Golden Triangle/Babe Didrickson Zaharias Foundation Junior Golf Award dinner. Nearly two weeks later, the dean of Southeast Texas Golf professionals is still in recovery mode.
“I had no idea that was happening,” said Campbell, of the Champion of Junior Golf Distinguished Service Award Honza presented him. “It caught me completely off guard. I know I got emotional, but this award means so much me. Honestly, it means as much as anything that’s ever happened to me in golf. I am very proud of it.”
For the 75-year-old Campbell, who has been in the golf business dating back to when he was a teenager working for Henry Homberg at Tyrrell Park in the 1950s, nothing outside family lights his fire like being involved with juniors. As George Brown, the head of Aquila Golf says, “it’s his passion in life. Promoting the game, getting kids involved and having fun with it means everything to him.”
Honza, the Executive Director of The First Tee of the Golden Triangle, has long been aware of Campbell’s passion. He’d worked for him and with him, and seen over and over how much he cares when it comes to junior golf. With that in mind, he’d been plotting for the last year to deliver a proper and memorable tribute.
“I got the idea in the spring of 2012 when Ed and I went to watch Port Neches-Groves play in the state tournament,” Honza said. “Somehow during that trip, I found out he was turning 74. I immediately thought it would be cool to do something for his 75th.
“The main reason I wanted to recognize him is because I hear all the time from junior golfers and parents alike who express their love and appreciation for Ed Campbell. They tell me about how Ed has encouraged their sons or daughters. They are amazed that he does so year after year with passion and enthusiasm, and without too much recognition.”
Campbell, who is in his 20th year as the head pro at Babe Zaharias Memorial Golf Course in Port Arthur, is widely respected in the golf business and is no stranger to awards. His most meaningful award until Honza stepped up was being named the Southern Texas PGA Golf Professional of the Year in 2001.
To put that award in perspective, there were 840 golf professionals in the southern half of Texas who were eligible. At the time, Campbell called it, “the award I’ve been waiting for all my life.” The presentation was made at a gala Southern Texas PGA awards dinner in San Antonio.
Fittingly, one of the major reasons cited by STPGA executive director Don Ray for Campbell being chosen was his outstanding work with the Southern Texas PGA’s Junior Tour.
Not only has Campbell been a Godsend to Southeast Texas golf in general, and junior golfers in particular, he’s been a textbook example of a role model for the area’s younger professionals.
“Junior golf in this area wouldn’t be where it is without Ed,” said Bayou Din pro Clint Martin. “I’ve worked hand in hand with him on the Southeast Texas Junior Tour since 1998, and learned so much in the process. He’s especially proud of getting the junior winter tour started. You really come to appreciate Ed when you watch him hustle up sponsorships to help keep it affordable. Bottom line, he really cares about kids and he’s everything a golf pro should be.”
“I’ve looked up to Ed for as long as I can remember,” says Belle Oaks pro Bryan Jackson, who has deeply personal reasons for appreciating Campbell. “He’s been an inspiration to me in a lot of areas. The way he interacts with kids is pretty special. I love his dry sense of humor and the way he expresses it. Beyond that, he’s the workhorse of the Southeast Texas golf business. He’s a great example for all young pros.”
When Jackson was stricken with breast cancer a few years ago, and was in financial distress because of mounting medical bills, Campbell was quick to come forward and propose a fund-raising tournament. He then worked tirelessly, and tapped all his resources, to insure it would be a first-class event with a significant monetary upside. With Jackson’s cancer having returned, he’s working on what will be a third fund raiser.
Nobody, meanwhile, is more impressed with Campbell than Port Arthuran Emanuel Preston. He’s come to know the Zaharias pro well from his involvement with the First Tee and with Memorial High School’s golf program.
“A lot of people look at Ed as a firm, hard-nosed guy, but when it comes to junior golfers he has a soft spot in his heart,” said Preston. “I’ve been working as a starter at a lot of the junior tournaments and Ed’s right there for every one of them. He’s always making sure everything is in the proper place and is run the right way. He is truly committed to helping the juniors.
“From my perspective, he’s just a standup guy. I’ve tried to do some things for Memorial golf and he’s always been supportive. I’m so thankful our paths have crossed and that I’ve had the opportunity to learn from him about how to manage these kids. You know, he didn’t have to allow us to blend the First Tee with the STPGA but he did because he saw the benefit for the kids.”
Campbell leaves no doubt he’s bullish on the First Tee.
“It’s gotten a lot of kids into golf who might not have taken up the game,” he said. “First Tee not only makes the game available but it teaches core values that are so important to help kids become successful in life.”
Maybe the best news for the First Tee, and for all of junior golf in Southeast Texas, is that Campbell isn’t thinking about walking away any time soon. He’s somewhere out on the back nine of life but working with junior golfers keeps him invigorated.
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