PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

Bob West

September 11, 2012

West golf notepad: Widener killing dark side of area golf history

PORT ARTHUR —  Southeast Texas’ golf history is full of talented players, interesting characters, success stories and even a visit from Byron Nelson for an exhibition at the old Pea Patch in the 1940s. There’s also a dark side, and that’s today’s subject.

    Back in the late 1950s, a flamboyant fellow named Homer Widener moved to Port Arthur from Corsicana, built the old golf course on Pleasure Island and became its head pro. PA, at the time, was a wide- open gambling town and Homer, a rough and tumble sort of guy, managed to get heavily involved.

    As a golfer, meanwhile, he was a solid player who loved high-stakes games. He and a rising Port Arthur star named Marty Fleckman once won the prestigious Odessa Pro-Am. It was no secret that Homer and a Dallas pro named Earl Stewart used to get it on at times for some serious money.

    But on Aug. 21, 1961, time ran out on Homer Widener. He was shot and killed by his brother, who would later be tried and freed on a verdict of self defense. There were those who suspected the brother made off with several thousand dollars Homer was believed to be carrying at the time of the shooting.

    Nobody Widener’s death harder than Jimmy Fetters, who was on the way to making his own mark in the golf world, first as a college player, then as a club pro who was a great friend and instructor for juniors. Fetters, in 1961, spent hours working on his game at Pleasure Island, caught Widener’s eye and was getting plenty of attention from him.

    On the night Widener was shot, he was supposed to coming to Fetters’ home for dinner.

    “Just as we were walking out of the golf shop the phone rang,” Fetters recalls. “Homer said, ‘let me get that.’ It was his brother. Whatever was said changed his plans. He didn’t make it to dinner. The next day they found him shot in his car in a church parking lot across from what is now a Waffle House near Hwy. 73.”

    The rest of the story is how the Widener shooting impacted other golf pros in Southeast Texas.

    At the time, Johnnie Barlow Sr., was just finishing up construction of what was then Pinewood Country Club near Sour Lake. Barlow was all set to become Pinewood’s pro, but never made it to opening day. He was offered the job as head pro at Pleasure Island, accepted and was still there when the course was closed in the late 1970s.

    A couple of decades later, he and his sons would build a beautiful new course on Pleasure Island. Sadly, that course was wiped out a few years ago by Hurricane Ike.

    Also impacted as a result of Widener’s death was a young pro named Ed Campbell. Campbell was working in the golf shop at Beaumont Country Club at the time. When Barlow left Pinewood Country Club for Pleasure Island, Campbell applied for the Pinewood job and was its pro when the doors opened in November of 1961.

    You can find him these days behind the counter of Port Arthur’s Babe Zaharias Memorial Golf Course.

    CHIP SHOTS: Ron Sedtal of Nederland got his Monday round at Babe Zaharias started with a bang when he holed out from 100 yards for an eagle with a pitching wedge. The shot was witnessed by Bob French, Joe Benoit, L.J. Hardy and Rick Abshire . . . The team of Matt Roberts, Dan Aran, Jim Serwan and Craig Castille combined for a 52 to win the Olympic Dreams Scramble at Belle Oaks. Closest to the pin winners were Josh LaBove on No. 8 and George Broussard on No. 15. Ricky Keyes won the long drive on No. 14 . . . There was a two-way tie for first in the Babe Zaharias DogFight between the team of Rick Pritchet, Adam Noel, Bill Jones and Charlie Huckaby (18&5)  and the foursome of Tim Turner, John Bass, Harry Green and Paul Brown (18&4). Finishing third at 16&2 was the team of Bill Hammond, Bob Moore, Rob Hatch and Billy Thillet. Closest to the pin winners were Jim Smith (No. 2), Butch Cross (No. 7), Tom Lawton (No. 12) and Jim Smith (No. 15) . . . The Senior Game at The Babe was played in a 2 best ball format. On the front nine, the team of Jim Jordan, Ray Trahan, Stedman Tahaney and Maurice Ross won with minus 1. The back nine was also won in minus 1 by the team of Adam Noel, Ted Estes, Tom Hatcher and Mike Hess. Closest to the pin winners were Bill Fears (No. 2), Hess (No. 7), Jordan (No. 12) and Tahaney (No. 15) . . . The Senior 50 Plus Game at the Patch was played in a 2 best ball format, with the team of Dennis Walsh, Price Young, Mimi Rose and Don Storey winning the front in minus 8. On the back, there was a tie at minus 6 between the Walsh team and the foursome of J. Tompkins, Cap Hollier, Vin Oliva and Gary Fontenot . . . Four players — Barry Jackson, Raymond Rice, Twyman Ash and Major Rising — tied at plus 1 in the Monday Seniors at Belle Oaks. Rice was the closest to the pin winner on No. 15. In the Friday Seniors at Belle Oaks, Jim Brown won with plus six. Ash and Ron Somerville tied for second at plus 3 . . . The Super Saturday Game at Babe Zaharias was played with 3-man teams in  a 2-ball format. The front nine was won in minus 1 by the team of Thad Borne, Harold Guidry and Jim Cooper. On the back, Adam Noel, Tom Lawton and Harold Wilkinson won with plus 3 . . . The Christus Health Foundation of Southeast Texas is hosting its first tournament Friday, Oct. 5 at Bayou Din. Entry fee is $150 per player or $600 per team, with proceeds going to the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals of Southeast Texas. Sponsorship are available in price ranges from $125 through $5,000. Shotgun starts are planned for 7:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Golfers can register online at www.christushealthfoundationsetx.org or by calling 899-7555 or 899-7283 . . . Upcoming at Babe Zaharias on Saturday, Oct. 6 is the 17th Annual Joe Williamson Memorial Two-Man Scramble. Entry fee is $50 per player and includes greens fee, cart food and drinks. Teams will be flighted by the low handicap, with the field limited to the first 72 teams. There will either be a shotgun start or tee times commencing at 8 a.m. All proceeds go toward scholarships at Nederland and Port Neches-Groves high schools. Call the Zaharias golf shop at 722-8286 to enter . . . The restoration of Henry Homberg Municipal Golf Course, under the supervision of Jimmy Fetters, has reached the point where the Beaumont City Championship has been scheduled there for Oct. 6-7. It will be a 36-hole stroke play tourney, with an entry fee of $80. That price includes carts. Players will be flighted by handicap and there will also be a senior flight. “The condition of the golf course is very good, compared to what it was,” says Fetters. “The superintendent, Paul Bourque, has just done a remarkable job. It’s not Memorial Park yet, but it’s come a long, long way.” Although the tournament is the Beaumont City Championship, non Beaumonters are eligible to participate. But only a resident can be the city champion.

    Golf news should be e-mailed to rdwest@usa.net or faxed to 724-6854

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