Let me introduce you to Pidge Fleming — the First Lady of Oglebay Golf

My apologies to those whowere expecting to see the first column of the bowling season today. Instead, I have elected to write one more golf column. As you read, you will discover why I had a change of heart.

For the first time since the kids were in high school, my family decided to take a vacation. Our destination was Oglebay Resort in Wheeling, West Virginia. As we disembarked at Wilson Lodge to check in, my attention was drawn to a golf course well below the level of the parking lot.

As I gazed down the steep hill a couple of greens came into view. Between the putting surfaces a few deer were contentedly grazing on the grass. There is something about a mountainous golf course beset with local wildlife that is so beautiful. I was mesmerized.

The following morning, I headed to that golf course to see about possibly playing a round. I had brought my sticks along, but wasn’t sure I could get on Crispin Golf Course. I chatted up the starter, a nice gentleman named Dale. He assured me that I would indeed be able to play that day, and started telling me a little about the course.

Soon a lady came by and Dale stopped abruptly. He quickly suggested this woman could tell me more about Crispin than he ever could, and then introduced me to Pidge Fleming.

My conversation with Pidge lasted about 15 minutes. She had already played nine holes and was hurrying to a lunch date before she would return to the course to play again that afternoon. Our meeting was brief, but for the second time in two days, I was mesmerized.

Pidge pointed out to me that she plays golf four days a week. A busy schedule for anyone, but did I mention that on her next birthday she will be 83? The term “First Lady” immediately popped into my head.

A delightful and witty person, Pidge knew as much about Crispin Golf Course as anyone possibly could as the course was built by her father Robert Biery in 1924. She turned around and pointed to a house near the first tee. “That is where I spent my childhood,” she said.

“I had a wonderful time growing up here at Oglebay. The women at the pool (a huge outdoor swimming pool sat in back of the clubhouse) taught me how to swim.”

“I had a beautiful little brown and white pony that we kept at the stables.” Again, she pointed out the direction where the stables are still located. “The only problem with my pony was that it was very slow. The only way it could have been slower was if it went backwards!

“Evenings meant playing golf,” Pidge said. “Recently, someone asked me when I first played golf. I said, ‘I can tell you, but you probably won’t believe me.'”

Turns out that Pidge first played golf at the age of 18. Of course that would be 18 MONTHS! Seems her father cut down a set of clubs and took her to the very first tee where we were standing.

“My dad was on one side of me and my mom the other. The photographer that they hired to document the moment walked behind. It took me 18 strokes to finish the hole!” Her folks told her they had the photographer along because they figured she would never remember the day.

After our conversation I knew I needed to play this course. I came back about an hour later and signed up for nine holes. Dale sent me to the back nine, suggesting that I would find it very scenic. I was sure I would, but I also thought the front nine would be very similar.

My favorite hole was No. 13, a downhill par 3 that measured somewhere around 190 yards. The tees were perfectly lined up some three yards apart, so there was not much difference for all golfers on this hole. The view to the hole below was awesome.

Though the course was beautiful, it was not necessarily easy. I did have one birdie as I nearly drove the par 4 16th hole which was playing only 220 yards. Pin high and two inches from the putting surface (I guess my “towards” was off), a two-putt from 30 feet resulted in the bird.

The biggest problem I had was trying to find a flat lie. The hills and contours made me work on every shot. It was downhill, uphill or sidehill for all my approach shots and some of those efforts made me look like a beginning golfer.

I labored getting to and from the cart to the greens or tees as it seemed difficult for a person my age. Oops… I better stop whining in case Pidge reads this. She is not likely to have much sympathy for someone “only” in their 60s!

During our conversation I mentioned to Pidge that I write a golf column for my local newspaper and thought this would make for a good story. She said she would like to read it and that I should send her a copy. I then noted that I was switching from golf to bowling and I would not write the story until next spring.

Her comment: “Gosh, I hope I’m still around then!” Now you know why bowling will wait one more week.

Robert Biery built a beautiful golf course that has withstood the test of time. That is a legacy of which he would be proud. Almost as much as raising a daughter that is doing basically the same thing.

Pidge Fleming is into her ninth decade of playing this wonderful game. She likely will be “around” next spring and for many more years to come. Her vitality and zest for life is apparent.

I would hope that the next time we speak it will be longer than 15 minutes. I can only imagine the stories she could share. For now I would like to thank Pidge for allowing me to share this one!

Next week I promise I will turn my attention to bowling. Well, probably. The odds are good…

Al Stephenson is the A-T’s golf columnist.

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