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September 2021

Legacy Event Focuses On Community Healthcare

By: Steve Eubanks

In 1928, Bobby Jones hit the first tee shot at Highland Country Club in the tiny North Carolina mountain town of the same name. It was a Donald Ross design on a plateau atop the Blueridge mountains, the highest of the Appalachian chain. At an elevation of 4,000 feet above sea level, Highland was a wonderful summer escape for Southerners in Georgia and South Carolina before the days of air conditioning.

Ten years after hitting that inaugural drive, Jones, who retired from competition in 1930 after winning 13 major championships including the Grand Slam of golf, returned to Highland with a member from his other club, Augusta National, a famous Georgian named Ty Cobb. The two men played in a fundraiser for the Highland Clinic, the only medical center in a region that sorely needed more.

Now, 83 years after that first fundraiser, Highland Country Club continues to fund healthcare needs in the region through the Bob Jones Invitational, one of the most popular and unique charity events in the nation.

“Over the years, that tradition (started by Jones and Cobb) continued as we supported the expansion of the hospital,” said Jim Santo, the Bob Jones Invitational tournament director. “It started as a pro-am. But that became difficult as many (touring) professionals were either on their way home from England or Scotland or were involved in preparing for the rest of the (PGA Tour) season. So Charlie Yates (another Augusta National member and longtime friend of Jones) came up with the idea of having Walker Cup (veterans) play with teams. It is the only reunion event where past Walker Cup participants can get together, have dinner, play in an event, and just get to see each other every year for a good cause.” 

Participants have included Jerry Pate, Steve Melnyk, Joe Inman, Nathanial Crosby, Tommy Aaron, Bob Dickson, Bob Murphy, Jim Holtgrieve, Franklin Langham, Adam Mitchell, Danny Yates, Vinny Giles and many other Walker Cuppers from both the American and Great Britain and Ireland sides. 

“About three years ago the local hospital was acquired by Hospital Corporation of America, a for-profit healthcare center,” Santo said. “Once that happened, we refocused our efforts on the Highlands Cashiers Health Foundation. Last year the proceeds from the tournament supplied equipment to the local EMS vehicles. This year, our funds are dedicated to the creation of a primary care clinic in Highlands that will be staffed by two young doctors.

“The doors of the clinic opened two weeks ago. And it will be a game-changer for this region.” 

While the economics of the Highland region have changed since the days of the Great Depression, when shoeless, destitute Appalachians made the pages of “The Saturday Evening Post,” the demographics are much the same. According to Santo, “It’s difficult for a doctor to come up here and establish a practice because it’s a seasonal community. In the winter, there is a full-time population of no more than a couple of thousand people. So it’s difficult to maintain a hospital and a primary-care clinic.

“But our tournament will be supporting this clinic,” he said. “Hopefully over the years, these doctors will establish their practice and become self-sufficient. For the time being, we’re going to be helping fund it and keep it operating.

“It’s a great thing for this area.”   

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