50-year man

Published 8:34 am Tuesday, April 21, 2015

LASKER – He was there before the first pine seedling took root; before the first blade of grass was planted; and prior to the first birdie rolling into the cup on a well-manicured green.

It was 1965 when Robert Harris left a job with a peanut company in Scotland Neck and went to work mowing the grass and tilling the soil at what would become Valley Pine Country Club.

With the Valley Pine clubhouse serving as a backdrop, Robert Harris stops his work just long enough to have his photo taken. An event planned for April 26 will celebrate Harris’s 50 years of service to the local golf club. File Photo

With the Valley Pine clubhouse serving as a backdrop, Robert Harris stops his work just long enough to have his photo taken. An event planned for April 26 will celebrate Harris’s 50 years of service to the local golf club. File Photo

Now, after 50 years of serving as groundskeeper at this sprawling 6,333-yard course on the outskirts of Lasker in the heart of Northampton County, an event is planned to honor Harris for his half-century of painstaking work.

From 12 noon until 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 26, Valley Pine Country Club will stage a lunch catered by Captain Bob’s. Plates, dine-in or take-out, are priced at $12 each and include fried chicken, charcoal pit-cooked pork barbecue, brunswick stew, masked potatoes, snap beans, hushpuppies or rolls, dessert and ice tea.

If you enjoy golf, then there are two tournaments the same day to choose from.

A four-man superball event begins at 9 a.m. The cost is $50 per player which includes cart fees and lunch. Special prizes will be awarded to the individual golfer who is closest to the pin and for the longest drive on pre-selected holes.

Following lunch, a 2-Ball Blitz will be held. The entry fee is $35 per golfer, which includes a cart.

Proceeds from all events will be donated to Harris.

“Fifty years ago, the original founders of Valley Pine Country Club made what would turn out to be the most important decision in club history when they fired young Robert Harris to be the Grounds Superintendent,” said Mike Ordnung, General Manager of the course since 2006.

“For the past fifty years, this husband and father of seven has provided the residents of Northampton County and members of Valley Pine Country Club with a little piece of heaven right in their backyard,” Ordnung continued. “He started here on day one clearing the land and has overseen the maintenance of the facility every day since.

“He is a beloved and respected figure at Valley Pine and in our community. We invite everyone to come out and take part in the celebration of fifty fantastic years.”

And for a man who has yet to pick up a club and play a round of golf, why did Harris choose this job as his lifetime profession”

“I thought it would be a lot like farming,” Harris told the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald in an interview conducted last year. “I’ve never played a round of golf in my life. I mow the grass, trim the shrubs, water the greens and the sand, but I’ve never swung a club at that little white ball there on the ground.

“When I came here and started there was nothing built here,” he recalled. “This was just a solid field; and me and another boy, who is deceased now, we got tractors and we mowed down the tall grass while they were building the greens and stuff.  All the trees here they were set out, and there’s no telling even how many since have been cut down.”

Harris recalled the early days when the fairways were cut with a bush-hog and rented tractors from farmers when needed to.

“Nowadays with these new tractors we can cut the whole 18 in about one-and-a-half hours,” he said.

Harris says he can’t remember all the ownership groups that have had a hand in Valley Pine’s rich history, but he does recall the names of the five different golf course superintendents he’s worked for – Palmer Jordan, Larry Rose, James Flythe, Stan Britton, and now Mike Ordnung.’

“He knows everything about where everything is out here,” said Mike’s mom, Ellen Ordnung, an avid golfer and Valley Pine member since the 70’s. “He knows where the irrigation is, how all the equipment operates, and he comes to work every single day; I’ve never even known him to take vacations.

“If we ever need him, he’s here,” she added. “He takes a lot of pride in his work, even in the wintertime. He always finds something to do to find improvement on the golf course.”

Harris remembers the days when the greens were cut by self-propelled push mowers and three men would take six holes each and finish all 18 on the course in half a day.

“That’s going way back,” Harris said. “Whichever one finished first had to cut the practice green, so we were slowed down sometimes and everybody would gauge themselves because no one wanted to cut the practice green.”

“There’s always something for me to do from 8-to-5,” Harris says. “If I see something that needs doing then I catch it up.”

Harris says he loves his work and has, in his words, “no mind to quit.”

“I enjoy it,” he says. “I’m in good shape, and as long as I feel like I feel now, I’m going to try to keep it up.”

While he won’t vouch for a desire to make 50 more years at Valley Pine, he does say he’ll keep up this pace as long as he’s fit.

“Fifty years?  If my health holds up, I might make more than that,” he closed with a sly smile and a wink.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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