Frank Ford (SCGA photo)
The name Frank Ford
is synonymous with golf in Charleston, S.C. Ford has been a saint to the city’s golf scene – a facilitator for two USGA championships awarded to the Country Club of Charleston (the second of which, the 2019 U.S. Women’s Open, is close on the horizon) and a player in his own right. He’s a six-time Azalea Amateur Champion and he’s not done yet.
At 66, and relatively pain-free after two spinal fusions over the past 16 years, Ford teed it up in the South Carolina Golf Association’s Harry Wilson Super Senior Oct. 16 in what amounted to his first super-senior start. The designation meant roughly 500 yards were chopped off the Florence (S.C.) Country Club setup, which brought birdies back in play. Ford made three in a final-round, bogey-free 68 that sealed a four-shot victory. He was the only player under par.
“I hit 16 greens, and it was a pretty easy 68,” Ford said. “You don’t usually get to say that about the last round of a tournament.”
The number is especially impressive considering that Ford spent the majority of Monday afternoon, his scheduled practice-round day, standing on the side of Interstate 95 with a flat tire. He didn’t get a chance to see the course, but he’d been playing well so he didn’t sweat it.
After a first-round 70 at Florence that included lots of birdies but also lots of bogeys, longtime four-ball partner Jimmy Burgess gave him a tip.
“I told him I’ve having a hard time cutting it – that’s my shot – and he told me to clear my left hip a little more,” Ford said. “It was like, bingo, light went off. I hardly missed a shot.”
Despite lingering neck pain from an injury sustained playing high school football, Ford has managed to keep in his game intact. An initial fusion surgery in 2002 left Ford unable to lift one arm from his side. He worked through that setback to establish himself as a prominent senior amateur in his mid-50s. Ford contended at the 2011 British Senior Amateur at Royal Portrush, finishing an eventual third after a final-round 77. He felt pain again at the end of that week and underwent a second fusion surgery in 2012.
“I’m fused at the 5-6, 6-7 level,” Ford explained. “That put me kind of on the bench really from playing competitive golf for a few years. I lost almost five years from pretty good senior golf from those two surgeries.”
With a new putter in the bag – also at the advice of Burgess – Ford has renewed confidence on the greens. Ford’s father, Frank Ford Jr., told him 45 years ago that to maintain his game, he needed to somehow find an hour each day. Often, that means Ford is out late in the evening, playing three balls and counting each shot. If the three scores are similar, he’s playing well.
For Ford, very much still feeling the competitive itch, there’s still more to achieve in this game. He advanced to the semifinals at the U.S. Senior Amateur in back-to-back years (2007 and 2008), which gave him a taste of what a USGA title could be like. He narrowly missed qualifying for the Senior Amateur the past two years.
“I’d like to get there and get to match play one more time,” said Ford, whose list of titles is deep but still lacks a USGA championship.
There’s another component to Ford’s legacy, and you’ll see it in the coming months. Ford was instrumental in the success of the 2013 U.S. Women’s Amateur at the Country Club of Charleston, his home club. It went so well that the club scored next year’s U.S. Women’s Open. Ford will reprise his role as general chair.
“It’s kind of my deal, this is my wheelhouse,” Ford said. “I’ve been to enough big tournaments to know what you need to do.”
Ford maintains his job as a financial adviser for Morgan Stanley, but his history in the golf industry is extensive. In the home stretch of his college career at Furman, Ford planned to graduate with a degree in business and join his father, Frank Ford Jr., in the family-owned business, Ford Ready-Mix Concrete Co.
“He said, ‘You come to work for me, and I’ll give you a chance to work on your game,’” recalled Ford, who as most kids in his generation, wasn’t wholly devoted to golf as a junior (hence the nagging football injury).
Everything changed on Sept. 11, 1974, when Ford was 22. His father died that day aboard Eastern Airlines Flight 212 when the plane crashed just miles short of a Charlotte, N.C., runway.
The younger Ford charted a different career path, instead finding his first job under the wing of the late Hale Van Hoy at the Carolinas Golf Association. Ford calls Van Hoy – who was responsible for the association’s significant growth during his executive director tenure from 1965 to 1991 – one of the great golf administers in the country. Suddenly, Ford saw another side of the game he loved.
“Thank God he (hired me). Right out of nowhere, golf gave me an opportunity to have my own job,” Ford said. “…Golf was there for me and I just made up my mind that I was going to give back to golf.”
Ford recognizes that his career in golf has been unique, having seen the game from so many sides. He considered staying in the golf business, perhaps with the USGA, but left in the mid-80s to pursue another love: business. He has no plans to retire in the near future.
In the coming months, Ford will continue to roll out the red carpet for anyone involved in conducting the U.S. Women’s Open. He has marveled at the ability of USGA tournament personnel to embed into the Charleston community, but they’ve been lucky, too, to land in a place where Ford is the host.
There’s no telling how many eyes will be on the Women’s Open, as Ford notes, with a national broadcast and an international field.
“I kind of feel like I can pull together my love of the game and the love for competitive golf by helping bring this championship to the town that I love and show off the game to a lot of people,” Ford said. “Maybe we’ll help grow the game that way.”
A southern gentleman, opening to the door to a southern gem.View results for Harry Wilson Super Senior