The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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July 14, 2014

BNI: Love of golf keeps native Beckleyan coming back

Golf didn’t always used to be as much a part of Rick Thompson’s life as it is now. The 1955 Woodrow Wilson graduate played football, basketball and baseball and ran track for the Flying Eagles.

Nowadays, it’s hard to get him off the course.

The retired radiologist relocated to Hilton Head, S.C., in 2000, and now lives at Belfair Plantation in nearby Bluffton, in a house he built on a private golf community where there are acres of greens and fairways all around.

“It’s a gated community, two 18-hole (courses), 29 acres of practice (land). It’s a tremendous golf facility,” Thompson said Sunday after his round at The Brier Patch Golf Links. “I went there because I like to play golf and it allows me to have the best facilities available, and if I need teaching I can get it.”

Whatever lessons Thompson has picked up, he gets to put them to use every summer in his hometown, including this weekend at the 34th BNI Memorial Tournament, sponsored by First Community Bank.

Thompson, 77, has competed in all but one BNI. He had every intention of playing in the one he missed — he estimates it was in 2003 or 2004 — but a back injury just before he was to tee off on the first day forced him out.

“I was getting ready to play, at Grandview, and I went to my knees when I swung (at) the golf ball with severe back pain,” he said. “I went to the ground on my knees for a while and said, ‘Man, that’s hurting.’ I slowly got up and I sat there and I said, ‘I’ve got to do something.’ I grabbed the club again and could hardly take it back.”

With that, Thompson’s weekend was over before it started. Fortunately, the injury was corrected and he hasn’t missed a BNI since.

Love of golf and the chance to see family and friends are reason for Thompson to keep coming back to Beckley, where he was a state championship-winning basketball player. He was part of a junior high state title winner in 1952 and at Woodrow in 1953 and 1954.

He was also a member of four football teams that lost just one game each year he played. He says baseball and track came easy to him because he was “the fastest guy in our school.”

“They kept calling the city ‘The City of Champions’ back then because the football team was pretty good,” Thompson said. “They didn’t have playoffs back then; only two teams (played for a championship). We would have been in the playoffs in today’s system.”

Thompson actually competed in one year of track at West Virginia University, running the 100- and 220-yard dashes and the 220-yard low hurdles. But he was only a walk-on and recognized that he had more pressing priorities.

“I found out that these trips take away from schooling and I had to try to get myself in medical school,” Thompson said.

That he did, and he eventually became a radiologist at Raleigh General Hospital. He was later part of a group of people who started the Raleigh Regional Cancer Center on Dry Hill Road in Beckley.

Those days are over, but the BNI gives Thompson the chance to return to his hometown and compete in the sport he loves.

“There’s all calibers of golf in this,” he said. “You get to see old friends that you used to play golf with and enjoy that. We rib each other. It’s a lot of fun.

“I really enjoy it. I look forward to coming back, and as long as I am healthy enough to get back and play in it, I do.”

— E-mail: gfauber@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @GaryFauber.

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