Brookhaven worker reflects on 70 years of golf

Published 11:00 am Saturday, July 9, 2022

Phillip “Pete” Kelly started working at the Brookhaven Country Club as a 12-year-old caddy in the days before there were golf carts at the course. By the late 1950’s he recalls the club getting two carts which put four caddies out of work.

He worked various jobs during the day at a plant, the Brickyard and the McClain Plant until 2006. After his shift, he would come to the golf course in the evenings and work.

In June, he turned 82 and shows no signs of slowing down in his devotion to the golf course and the people who play the game. Whether it is mowing the fairways, rolling the greens, or cutting holes, he is outside working.

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“I keep going. I enjoy everything here. The grounds and the people,” Kelly said. “It has been fun. I don’t know how much longer I’ll stick around.”

His 70 years with the Country Club have seen a lot of changes. When he started, caddies carried clubs. They advised players and kept up with the golf balls. Now people leave their golf ball in the fairway if they can’t find it, he said.

There was one golfer he caddied for that sticks out. Judge Tom Brady had Kelly as a caddy. He had one club in his bag that he would never use, a four-wood, until one day, Kelly convinced him to give it a try.

“He knocked the ball within a foot of the hole. It was his favorite club from then on,” Kelly said. “He asked me what kind of golf ball he should be hitting too. I told him to try Pinnacle. I was told soon after he died he still had that ball in his golf bag.”

Concrete posts mark the boundaries of the old course as he drove around each one. Kelly said he remembered golfer Jerry Coleman saying he could see every hole from one tee box on the west side of the old course.

Brookhaven Country Club has seen several remodels and renovations since then. The course was once flat with only nine holes. In the early 2000s, it became an 18-hole course like it is now.

Kelly’s favorite hole at the country club was No. 4  on the old course.

“It doesn’t exist anymore, but hole No. 4 was shaped like a peanut,” Kelly said. “Out of the tee box it was wide, then it got narrow in the middle and wide again at the green. It was a par four shaped like a peanut.”

He has worked with at least 10 different golf course pros. Current pro Jeff Henning asked if the course ever used sand greens when Kelly was there. He said it was before his time, but they used to cut the greens with a mechanical walk-behind mower when it was a nine-hole course.

Kelly watched two golfers from Brookhaven turn pro, Johnny Pott and Tommy Butler. Butler won the club championship at the age of 16. Pott won five tournaments on the PGA Tour and was a member of the Ryder Cup team in 1963, 1965 and 1967. 

“The players today think they are golfers, but they aren’t. It is a different game,” he said. “Johnny and Tommy would eat them alive.”

Kelly works at the course because he loves the game of golf. He loves the challenge of the game. Each round, a golfer tries to beat the previous round they played.

He does not play golf as much anymore. Several of his golfing buddies have died or moved away. Carl Holloway, Charles Caseon, Lee Stevenson, Joe Martin, Joe Edmonson and Tom Matthew were his playing partners.

They would meet in Wesson on Saturdays to play at Co-Lin’s course with a group of about 20 people. He said they would play golf all day.

“On Sunday, the preacher couldn’t get through the benediction quick enough,” Kelly said. “We were all ready to go and get on the course.”

Henning, who Kelly has known since he was “knee-high to a duck,” said the man will chop up fallen trees on the course for his wife. For 50 years, Henning has been involved with the Country Club and he does not recall a time when Kelly was not working there.

Each day, Kelly shows up to work at 6 a.m. and works until Henning tells him to go home. One of his responsibilities is to cut the holes on the course. They are changed twice a week and sometimes more if they have a tournament.

Henning said he estimates Kelly has cut close to 60,000 holes on the course, if not more. Kelly said he cuts the holes because he is the only one who knows how to.

“I’ve been called everything but a child of God for changing holes,” Kelly said. “I just pick a spot in an area, and sometimes I make them hard. I do make them legal. You can’t put a hole on a hill, so I like to be about two feet from a hill.”

In Kelly’s spare time, he volunteers at the Greater Hope Foundation. He has spent 15 years volunteering there because he loves the people. Church, golf, and home are all he needs, he said. Henning said he is one of the most loyal men he has known.

“I think it’s amazing. I asked him when he would leave, and he said ‘What am I going to do? Go home and sit on the couch.’ This is what he does,” Henning said. “He has provided a service for so many years. He is the most loyal and hardest working guy ever.”