Annie Gets Her Gun Again -- In Pinehurst
Equestrians have flocked to Southern Pines for a century. Golfers worldwide know Pinehurst. But shooting in the Sandhills hasn't been center stage since Annie Oakley got her gun out to wow guests at the Carolina Hotel.
Or since her beloved Pinehurst Gun Club closed in 1993.
Annie Oakley's sport rides again Dec. 4 and 5, during Annie Oakley Boom Days -- an event conceived by shooters Tim and Carla St. Germain, whose profession, not-so-coincidentally, is promoting sporting events.
As Irving Berlin and Dorothy Fields wrote for the musical based on Oakley's career: "There's no business like show business."
For Tim, from upstate New York, shooting is a lifelong passion. Carla is an Annie-Oakley petite multi-sportswoman.
Together they marketed snow sports events in Colorado. Two years ago, while working on a project in Pinehurst, they attended an antique show at the Fair Barn. Tim picked up a silver bowl engraved "Pinehurst Gun Club."
"Do you know about this?" he asked Historical Society member Sue Pockmire.
Pockmire froze in her tracks. Not only was she a shooter -- she also managed the gun club during the 1970s.
In the good old "boom" days, the Pinehurst Gun Club had a presence, Pockmire says.
National tournaments were held at the club, once ranked among the 10 best in the country. Long after Annie Oakley died in 1926, notables like Bing Crosby and the Rockefellers came to shoot quail.
"You could be a farmer or a DuPont but in the field you shoot side by side," Pockmire says.
Forty-year veteran shooter Bob Harding came to the Sandhills from Maryland to participate in a tournament. After seeing Pinehurst he said, "Let's move."
The Hardings relocated within eight months to an area steeped in gun culture.
"It's a wonderful sport," Harding says. "People miss having the club for the social aspect."
Tim and Carla asked around.
"Shooting isn't talked about on a grand scale like golf," Carla says. But, they discovered, the Sandhills shooting culture is huge, with 88 preserves or clay locations and 300 retail equipment providers in a 100-mile radius. They fell in love with Tobacco Stick shooting club in Candor and DeWitt's in Ellerbe.
"We knew the history of Annie Oakley," Tim says.
He researched the Pinehurst Gun Club, finding that shooting preceded golf tourism, and also that emotions ran high when the club closed for noise and other reasons.
Therefore, Tim concluded that this was a great spot at which to have an event.
So, like the Hardings, they moved.
Linking the two-day competition/exhibition to Oakley was a natural choice.
The phenom feted by royalty and idolized by Americans wintered here (with husband, Frank Butler, and dog, Dave), managed the Pinehurst Gun Club and taught from 1915 until 1924.
Colorful lore survives:
Oakley, born Phoebe Ann Mosey to an 18-year-old mother and 49-year-old father, shot playing cards tossed into the air by diners at the Carolina Hotel. (During renovations, a bullet hole was found in the dining room wall.)
She shot ashes off her husband's cigarette and apples off her dog's head -- or anyone else who would volunteer. A feminist role model, Oakley taught shooting to more than 2,000 women at the club. It was there that, in 1922, she set a world record for women shooters by hitting 100 out of 100 clay targets.
Women still factor in shooting.
Carla says more than 60 percent of newcomers to instruction are women.
"Shooting gives women an immediate sense of accomplishment," she says.
The St. Germains see Boom Days as a business venture that will raise visibility and enhance the community.
Headliner Tom Knapp, dubbed the Tiger Woods of shooting, is recognized as the greatest exhibition shooter of modern times.
Knapp's performance at Pinehurst No. 8 is free and open to the public.
This exhibition will become an episode on "Benelli's The American Bird Hunter" on the Outdoor Channel.
Three female members of the USA Shooting Team (one, an Olympic Bronze Medalist) will compete against seasoned shooters in a trap challenge. Twenty teams have registered for the Quail & Clay Cup Tournament at Tobacco Stick.
Prominent firearms retailer Holland and Holland is bringing an array of custom-made guns.
The Tufts Archives at the Given Memorial Library will contribute memorabilia for a multi-media presentation.
The weekend concludes with a wild game dinner prepared by Carolina Hotel Executive Chef Thierry Debailleul and Mark Elliot of Elliot's on Linden, an auction, and a tribute to Annie Oakley and the Pinehurst Gun Club.
The film version of "Annie Get Your Gun," starring Betty Hutton, won't be shown this time. Hopefully, however, as the weekend winds down someone will belt out "Anything You Can Do."
Reaction has been enthusiastic. The St.Germains discovered a significant crossover between golfers and shooters.
"Everybody is in disbelief," Pockmire says. "When Tim came up with the idea, I couldn't imagine something this wonderful would happen."
Harding, who has a team entered in the tournament, also feels good vibes.
The St. Germains, encouraged by the response, hope to make Boom Days an annual event re-establishing the Oakley connection and drawing shooters to Pinehurst the first weekend of every December.
"Shooting is a sportsman's sport," Tim says. "There's an elegance to it. Hunting in the field with your buddies -- nothing can replace that."
Contact Deborah Salomon at email@example.com
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