Forest Creek's Stokes Heads Into Retirement
Golf has been a large part of Waddy Stokes’ life for as long as he can remember. And now he’s ready to concentrate on playing the game.
Stokes has come a long way since the Saturdays when his dad would double playing golf and baby-sitting by having him hit balls alongside the fairways at a course in Hendersonville.
He’s been to two colleges, is a Navy vet and has operated golf courses in three states, including some of the most prestigious in the country.
He’s been at Forest Creek Golf Club, the ultra-private Tom Fazio-designed two-course complex in Pinehurst, since 1995 and now, at the tender age of 63, is ready to enter another phase.
He’s retiring from his positions as head professional, director of golf and manager of Forest Creek and plans on spending his time — you guessed it — playing golf. Why not? He’s had the bug ever since those long ago Saturdays in Hendersonville.
“Dad was a member at the country club there, and he’d take me out on Saturdays with his foursome and I’d hit balls down the side of the fairway while they were playing,” Stokes said. “But when they got on the green, he’d make me stand like a statue while they putted out.”
That beginning led to playing in high school and then a golf scholarship to Georgia Military College in Milledgeville.
“I wanted to transfer to the University of Georgia for my last two years,” he said, “but that didn’t work out, and I finished at Western Carolina.”
After college came the military, where he won back-to-back All-Navy championships in 1971-72, and “felt maybe I had the skill to play the game.”
But first he had to make a living, so he went to work at Greenville (S.C.) Country Club, where he assisted in the opening of the renowned Chanticleer Course. From there he went to Pebble Creek, another course in Greenville, as an assistant professional and decided he wanted a career in the golf business.
His first opportunity as a head professional came at Fairfield Lake Lure, and while there he qualified for the National Club Professional Championship, in which he finished high enough to earn a PGA Tour card.
“Those were the days of ‘Monday rabbits,’” he said, “and I tried it for three years with very little success. My best finish was 13th in the tournament at Hattiesburg, Miss. I just wasn’t quite good enough.”
He left the Tour and went back to work for Fairfield, this time in Sapphire Valley, then moved to Fairfield Glade in Tennessee.
“I got involved in building courses for Fairfield and then won the Tennessee Section Championship in 1985,” he said. “A little later, William McKee called me about the job at Wade Hampton.”
Wade Hampton, another exclusive Fazio course located in Cashiers, was a “great job,” but a little lonely at times.
“Wade Hampton was named the best new private course in the country in 1987 by Golf Digest,” Stokes said. “I was there for five years and I was the only year-round resident. It was very private and very nice, but I thought I had an opportunity to build a course at Walnut Cove. That didn’t work out, and then I was out of a job.”
But not for long. A new course was being built in Charlotte, and he was asked to oversee the work at Highland Creek.
“Then I was sitting in the office one day, and Terry Brown and Barton Tuck came walking in and said they were building Forest Creek in Pinehurst and asked if I was interested in working with them as the marketing director. It took me about two minutes to make that decision.
“I was enjoying working with Highland Creek, but Forest Creek was high end and private, what I preferred. I’ve been blessed to be around nice facilities and nice people.
“We had 90 founding members and after 16 years we have 540 members. The new clubhouse will be completed this spring.”
But Stokes will just be using the new facility as a member. He’s retiring Monday and being replaced by Billy Cleveland, an Alabama native who has been the head professional at Elk River Country Club in Banner Elk, a high end Jack Nicklaus design.
Stokes and his wife live on the Pinehurst No. 1 Course and have a son, Matthew Strider, and two grandchildren.
“I’ve had wonderful experience here,” Stokes said, “and I have a warm feeling about the confidence people have expressed in me and being at the facilities I’ve been at. But I’m just going to relax and play golf now.”
Stokes played some golf before. He and Whispering Woods professional Stuart Taylor teamed to win three consecutive Carolinas PGA Senior Pro-Pro championships.
“Stuart was partly responsible for getting me introduced to this area and falling in love with it,” Stokes said. “From a work standpoint, I’ve been here longer than anywhere else, and I’ve probably enjoyed it more.
“I’m comfortable retiring and I don’t think I’ll be bored. If I get to where I can’t stand it anymore, I’ll just go mow some fairways or something.”
Contact Howard Ward at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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