Golf Course Profiles

Remembering Ben Wright

By Stan Olenik, Editor-Publisher, The Golf Club

Tell the truth. How many of you have dosed off watching weekend golf on TV.

No mater how big the stars or how compelling the competition, be honest, sitting in a comfortable chair after a big Sunday lunch, it is hard to keep your eyes open.

Ben Wright probably ruined a lot of Sunday snoozes during his almost 25 years as part of the CBS’s golf coverage.

You could always see highlights if you missed a great shot, but you couldn’t catch up on the colorful descriptions and  back and forth banter led by Wright.

Ben Wright passed away at the age of  88 last month. Wright lived a good portion of his life in Western North Carolina and Hendersonville at Kenmure in particular.

Ben Wright (CBS Sports Photo)

Ben had been gone from a regular TV commentary position for over 25 years. There are plenty of places online you can find different versions of his departure from CBS’s golf coverage, but not here.

While he was no longer a regular contributor to national broadcasts, he was active, involved and valued for his contributions to golf in our part of the world.

In a past lifetime, when I earned a living as  TV sportscaster, I got to bump into Ben at golf events and was pleased to know he was an occasional viewer.

Since he lived in the area, my station talked him into doing some promotional announcements for our golf coverage and I got to meet Wright during those productions and we developed an acquaintance.

When I started a Sunday TV sports talk show Wright was generous enough to come down from Hendersonville and spent an hour with me for the program.

During the show we talked about golf and golfers and the state of the game at the time, but also about a colorful little known chapter in Wright’s life.

 Ben told the story of how he put the Beatles on TV for the first time.

Wright was doing a sports show on TV in England and for some reason the producer insisted on a musical act being a part of each broadcast.

The Beatles around the time Wright featured them on a TV show in England for the first time.

As I recall him telling me an act canceled and a friend brought him the Beatles, who were not yet the Beatles.

He recalled how he sent the four scruffy musicians off to get cleaned up and dressed up and then had them appear on the show.

He said when he paid them 500 pounds they thought they were rich and wanted to come back for the next show.

They made a couple of more appearance before they actually became the Beatles.

Ben Wright helped the Spartanburg Mobile Meals program raise over $7million through his support of the Ben Wright International Cup tournament in Spartanburg. (GolfClub Photo)

Wright used his celebrity locally to lend his support to some important fund raising activities.

He supported the International Challenge golf tournament presented by Mobile Meals in Spartanburg.

The tournament matched up US companies against foreign companies from the area in a Ryder Cup style fundraising event.

Wright gave the event instant credibility and he helped recruit some of the foreign businesses to support the event.

Ben took part in “The Ben Wright International Challenge  Cup” for 25 years including this last spring.  His celebrity helped raise over $7 million dollars for the organization.

His obituary asked that any memorials be made to Mobile Meals of Spartanburg.

Smaller events also got his intention and when he was asked to be the celebrity at an Alzheimer’s Fund raising tournament he was nice enough to ask me to join the foursome with two of the big donors.

The tournament was at Kenmure and it started in the rain and the rain never let up.

At the turn we went into the clubhouse and Wright was convinced we had played all the golf we would that day. We were soaked to the skin.

When we went to the pro shop to let them know we were done, we saw our playing partners buying more towels and rain gloves for us all.

Wright decided we would soldier on, saying we can’t get much wetter.

Ben Wright designed The Cliffs Valley course. (The GolfClub Photo)

Wright made a long lasting contribution to golf in the Carolinas with his design of The Cliffs Valley golf course.

He once told me that he had designed other courses. One of the courses he designed, was in France but “the bloody frogs runed it, so I don’t take credit for it,” he said.

Wright was not the original designer of The Cliffs Valley, instead he was brought in to tame a difficult golf course design and make it into more of a park like setting with a very memorable and playable course, which he succeeded doing and earned the course national recognition.

The Cliffs Valley course has often been one of the courses played in the Korn-Ferry Tour’s BMW Charity Pro-Am.

Wright would play in the tournament and announce the golfers as they approached the finishing hole for many years.

Kevin Costner, the star of ‘Tin Cup’ put the celebrity pro-am on the map when he played in the event for several years at the course designed by Wright who portrayed himself during a scene in the movie.

Even a boring run-a-way golf tournament was fun to watch when Gary McCord and Ben Wright were teamed up on CBS golf broadcasts produced by Frank Chirkinian.

But to most golf fans it was his work on TV that made him memorable, especially when he bantered back and forth with Gary McCord.

There were always great shots to talk about, but the often ridiculous by-play between the two livened up even the dullest tournament broadcast.

Wright’s dry and often laugh out load wit would set up McCord to match his frivolity. 

They are both missed on todays television golf.

If you are too young to remember Wright’s work on TV you can catch a glimpse of it in the movie Tin Cup, as well as countless old Masters videos.

He wrote several wonderful golf books about the sport. A Literate Guide to the Game of Golf and The Spirit of Golf are two of his works and you can hear his voice in every word.

I had not seen Ben in a number of years. In my story file I had a note to catch up with him to do a story about what he was doing, but I never did.

I wish I would have found the time. I would have much rather written that story than this one.

A version of this post was included in the October issue of The Golf Club Newspaper.

Ben Wright at The Cliffs Valley. (The Cliffs Photo)

Categories: Golf Course Profiles

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