Superintendent Vince Hankley was preoccupied by washed-out bunkers on the seventh hole when his phone buzzed on May 1.
Country Club of Petersburg (Va.) clubhouse manager Linda Williamson was calling. She told Hankley, a 43-year GCSAA member, that he was needed on the first tee. As he pulled up in his cart, Hankley saw familiar faces waiting — his wife, Carol, and son, Hunter. A few other members of the family, too.
A handful of other faces, though, stoked his curiosity. “There was a group of members I usually don’t see that particular day,” Hankley says.
Hankley was about to learn this was no ordinary day for him — or his profession.
As he leaned forward to rest his hands on the steering wheel, Hankley said, “What’s going on, guys?” He glanced at an object about thigh-high covered in plastic. Club member Ronnie Thomas served up a mischievous grin and told Hankley, “Oh, a little somethin’ somethin’.”
Little? Nah. As the plastic was removed and he saw what was underneath, Hankley turned emotional. A granite monument had been dedicated to honor his service, and the top inscription said it all.
Welcome to The Hankley Course at the Country Club of Petersburg.
Hankley, 67, shed tears. He wasn’t alone. To him, the tribute was more about those who had made it possible. “This honor says a lot more about the type of people they are than it does about me,” Hankley says. “I try to work hard for them. Every superintendent I know works really hard.”
It is rare, though, to name a course for a superintendent. A quick check throughout the country reveals there aren’t many. Roy Kizer Golf Course in Austin, Texas, was named in honor of Kizer, a superintendent in the area for nearly 40 years. Carlton Gipson was a superintendent — and, later, an architect — whose first name was used when the Jack Nicklaus Signature Course at The Club at Carlton Woods opened nearly 20 years ago in The Woodlands, Texas.
When one industry veteran heard about Hankley’s honor, it resonated. “During my 18 years of research for my book, I found few books within my library of 600-plus club histories that had more than a paragraph or two about their greenkeeper or golf course superintendent,” says Mel Lucas Jr., CGCS, GCSAA president in 1980 and 58-year association member. “Only nine club histories gave much praise on many pages, two of which gave full chapters to individuals. The highest honor was when the retiring greenkeeper or superintendent was given full club membership and/or a plaque, fountain or bench dedicated to that person’s value to the club. To have a club name a course for its longtime superintendent is truly the ultimate respect, thanks and love to one who is treasured by its membership. Bravo!”
David Norman, executive director of the Virginia GCSA, says, “Most clubs are named after a natural feature like a rock, mountain, valley or trees. This is just amazing to me. It’s unprecedented in our area and a nice tribute to one of the hardest workers and most respected people in our association.”
Dick Fisher, CGCS, wholeheartedly agrees. “Probably the steadiest guy I ever met in my life,” says Fisher — a 50-year GCSAA member who oversees Lake Chesdin Golf Club in Chesterfield, Va. — of Hankley. “He’s a fountain of information. When Vince says something, you write it down. I constantly ask him what he’s doing. I want to know. He is the Man.”
A special moment, captured: Superintendent Vince Hankley reacts to learning that the membership at the Country Club of Petersburg in Petersburg, Va., has named the golf course after him. Photo courtesy of Ronnie Thomas
A native of Richmond, Va., Hankley spent four years as superintendent at the Country Club of Petersburg before moving on to other positions, including TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm in Potomac, Md., and TPC Piper Glen in Charlotte, N.C. When the Hankleys learned Carol was pregnant with twins, they wanted to be closer to home, and their comeback story featured Hankley getting his job back at CC of Petersburg in 1989. Thirty days after he returned, twins Holly and Heather were born. Hankley was repairing a pump station that morning when his beeper (you remember those, right?) sounded — it was time to head to the hospital.
The Hankleys’ other child, Hunter, has followed the career path forged by his father and his uncle, retired superintendent Tildon Hankley. “I remember putting dimples in greens for seeding when I was 12 or 13,” says Hunter, a 17-year GCSAA member and assistant superintendent at The Foundry Club in Powhatan, Va. About his father, Hunter states, “Who he is, what he’s done in this area, goes without saying.”
Hankley was mostly speechless when he met Carol in eighth grade typing class. “I remember how shy he was. But he did ask to borrow typing paper from me,” Carol says. “He is so dedicated to his work. He hardly misses a day (heart bypass surgery and a knee surgery sidelined him for part of 2019). The people at the club love him to death.”
The idea for the honor was conceived by a small group of members known as the deacons, which includes Thomas. After they gained unanimous approval from the club’s board, it was on. The deacons gladly footed the bill. “Vince has just done so much for us for so long. We’ve had a pretty good surge in membership the last couple of years. We’re getting that because of the golf course,” says Thomas, noting the club’s member-guest senior-division trophy was named after Hankley years earlier. “The golf course is what it is because Vince Hankley is who he is.”
The CC of Petersburg will celebrate its centennial in 2021, and Hankley plans to be there. No matter how long his career at the club lasts, part of him will always be there.
“I was pretty shook up about what they did for me,” Hankley says, “and extremely proud. We have truly special people here. I always try to make it right for them. What they did is as cool as anything that’s ever happened to me.”
Top photo by Jennifer Traylor Photography
Howard Richman is GCM’s associate editor.