- Associated Press - Saturday, February 14, 2015

PINEVILLE, La. (AP) - A golf course buried under Greenwood Cemetery is laden with stories worth resurrecting.

Clifford Ann Creed, a five-time state amateur women’s golf champion and a Rookie of the Year and 11-time winner on the LPGA Tour, learned to play golf there. Fellow Louisiana Sports Hall of Famer Jimmy McGonagill became the first Louisiana golfer to win both the state professional and amateur titles when he closed out a 2 and 1 victory over Ray Bradford of Pineville on the 35th hole of the championship match in a star-studded state amateur tournament there in 1945.

Locals call it the old Rapides Golf and Country Club course - a 9-hole layout with tight fairways. The course shared land owned by the cemetery from 1922 until 1960, when cemetery expansion forced creation of a second course, which closed in 2003.

Hiram F. Bradford, a prominent Alexandria businessman for more than a quarter of a century, founded the club. His grandson and namesake, also nicknamed Hymie, said his grandfather built the course next to the cemetery on 1,000 acres he owned. He is buried in the cemetery, which initially was run by his daughter Grace and her husband Cliff Fairbanks. According to H.F. Bradford’s request, his gravestone faces his now unoccupied brick home, which is listed in the National Historic Register.

The elder Bradford, who died at age 75 in 1948, was the kind of businessman who, while working as a car salesman during the Great Depression, would tell customers “pay me when you can,” said his grandson, 74. “And he lost a lot of sales because of those that never paid.”

Bradford said the idea for the course arose after his grandfather, his father, Glenn Bradford, and his uncles Ray and James Bradford went one Sunday after church to play at Alexandria Country Club. None of the many members they knew was around to play with them.

In the parking lot, he said, his grandfather reportedly huffed, “Come on boys, we’re going to build our own course!”

Former Cleco chief executive officer Scott Brame caddied there in the mid-1940s for his father, bank president Frank T. Brame. Since the course was outside Pineville’s city limits, liquor was allowed, but golfers had to bring their own, Brame said.

Ray Bradford, once described by former Town Talk sports editor Bill Carter as the best golfer Rapides Parish ever produced, practiced on weekdays, competing only on weekends.

“I never saw a swing that I admired more than his,” Brame said.

One legend has it that before Tommy Bolt went on the PGA Tour, he stopped at Rapides and called his backers in Shreveport and said he wanted money to bet against a “pigeon.”

After two more calls deeper into the round, the backer asked, “Who is the pigeon you have?”

“His name’s Ray, Bradford, I think,” Bolt said.

“Ray Bradford?” came the scream. “You get yourself home before we all go broke. Nobody beats Ray Bradford at Rapides.”

COURSE MASTER

Ray Bradford mastered the par-70 layout - par 35 for each trip around the course. Cemetery expansion eventually cut the course to a par-69 and shuffled some of the holes. The clientele, Brame recalled, CPA George Erskine, architect Max Heinberg and Louis Pitre, who sold motion picture advertising and used to drive to the club in a yellow four-door Cadillac.

Some big names in golf graced the course.

Babe Didrickson Zaharias played an exhibition round with Ray Bradford. Johnny Pott, son of a club pro and a golfer on LSU’s 1955 NCAA championship team, went on to become a five-time winner on the PGA Tour. The ‘45 state amateur there had such stars as brothers Jay and Lionel Hebert and Fred Haas of later PGA Tour fame in addition to the champ McGonagill, the dapper dresser who bore a resemblance to Ben Hogan.

McGonagill entered the tournament as a former winner of both the Texas amateur championship and the Louisiana pro championship. Having been eliminated in the semifinals of his first state amateur tournament the year before by Ross McDade, his oil business partner in Shreveport, McGonagill won the first of his record nine Louisiana state amateur championships at Rapides. Haas beat Lionel Hebert in the second round but had to withdraw because of heat exhaustion, and Jay Hebert was eliminated in the semifinals by Ray Bradford, who won 18 club championships at Rapides in 19 years, skipping the tournament the one year he didn’t win.

Ray Bradford was 40 - a codger at that time in competitive golf - when he made it to the 36-hole finals against McGonagill. His brothers had asked him to temper his liquor intake during the tournament. He abstained entirely for its duration.

“He always regretted that,” Hiram Bradford said. Late in the tournament, he said, Ray Bradford “seemed to get tired, and he said if he’d had had a little nip he could’ve finished stronger.”

The old Rapides course made it into Ripley’s Believe It or Not when club member and garbage can salesman Slim Ellis hit a hole-in-one at No. 4 sometime in the 1940s. That wasn’t the only extraordinary thing that garnered national attention, though. Having lost the previous hole in a “Cuthroat” match to each of the seven golfers playing with him, for a total of $1.75, he was the last one to tee off at No. 4. All the others’ shots were on the green close to the hole when he went into his pre-shot routine, aiming to his left because of his tendency to slice.

After Slim’s ace, five of his playing partners made birdie and the other two parred. Eight shots on the same hole resulted in scores of par or better, including Ellis’ ace - believe it or not!

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Information from: Alexandria Daily Town Talk, https://www.thetowntalk.com

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