Maggie Crichton learned the secret to the century-long family heritage at Hope Valley Country Club while she was on the range with her father in 1959 hitting balls to him in the distance. Marshall Crichton, the Durham, North Carolina, club’s original and legendary head professional, was standing more than 100 yards away “shagging” balls as he gave an impromptu lesson to his older daughter.
“I hit him in the shoulder pretty good with one of my shots, and he wasn’t going to be consoled,” Maggie Crichton recalled. “He just told me not to tell anybody about this. There’s no need. That’s the first lesson I learned: ‘What goes on at Hope Valley stays at Hope Valley; don’t you forget that.’ So, through the years I learned if I heard something from or about members, I just let it go over my head.”
That credo, better known to apply to Las Vegas visitors, has served the Crichton family well. The 1926 Donald Ross-designed gem has always had a Crichton in the golf shop, from Marshall for 34 years, son/older brother Dave as the second head pro for 21 years, and Maggie as the shop attendant for 64 years. There have remarkably only been six head pros during the 97-year period – all with the Crichton lead or influence.
“There’s no way any other club can say they’ve had immediate family members working at their club for that amount of time,” said current head pro Bob Byrnes, who has been at Hope Valley since 2010.
If not for another golf tip, the century-long legacy might not exist.
Marshall Crichton grew up in Monifieth, Scotland, not far from St. Andrews, where he learned the sport and caddied before immigrating at age 20 in 1911 to the United States behind older brother Bill, another longtime pro in the Southeastern United States. Marshall Crichton hopped around the country in the golf and entertainment industry until the mid-1920s, when he was giving summer golf lessons in Hendersonville, North Carolina. One of his first pupils was K.B. Lewis, a prominent cotton mill owner in Durham who summered in the cooler mountains. The day following that lesson, Lewis went out on a mountain course and made a hole-in-one. Thinking that Crichton had the magic elixir, Lewis prompted him toward the planning of the new Donald Ross-designed private Hope Valley, where Lewis was a founding member.
By 1926, Crichton had become entrenched in central North Carolina at the elbow of Ross, another Scottish immigrant, at Hope Valley for an entire community plan, a rarity among Ross’s 385 course designs. Ross had a friendship with legendary architects in other fields – building architect Aymer Embury and landscape architect Robert Cridland, who were on board to design the clubhouse and grounds, respectively. Ross strove for a golfer’s privacy; therefore, he had few residential lots directly on the course. The names of the roads throughout also hearken back to their homeland – Surrey, Norwich, Devon, Cornwall, Avon, Stratford. Ross often commuted from nearby Pinehurst to check on the progress of the course.
“Not other than talking with him about what he was going to do,” Maggie Crichton said of her father’s input on the course development. “My father didn’t say put a bunker here or a green there. But he was around when Ross and those other guys set up everything. No suggestions, but I wouldn’t put it past him.
“You see, my father was a little short fella. And he didn’t mind telling you what he thought.”
Marshall Crichton’s Scottish bravado stood out at every turn, just like his daughter. Imagine being among a slew of Scottish and Irish clubmakers and caddies who came across the Atlantic early in the 20th century seeking to share their expertise in a land brand new to golf. Crichton also exhibited a sharp game, as he won numerous Carolinas Open and PGA titles, capped by a senior professional major in the 1949 Senior PGA Championship in Dunedin, Florida, at age 57. He also was nearby Duke University’s first men’s golf coach in 1928, and an instigator in getting the Durham Open PGA Tour event to visit Hope Valley in 1944 and 1945, with Byron Nelson winning his fourth of a record 11 consecutive titles there in 1945.
Crichton died of a heart attack in March 1960 at age 68. His grave marker at a Durham cemetery is unique in its Scottish heritage with the saying: “Forever Honour’d And Forever Mourn’d.”
“I gave a few lessons, mostly to men. … I didn’t like teaching. If the player didn’t do what I expected them to do, then I got crabby. It just didn’t suit me.” — Maggie Crichton
Maggie came on board quite by chance. When she graduated in 1952 from a class of 15 – 12 girls and three boys – at Hope Valley High School, she wanted to explore.
“I wanted to do something different than all the rest of the girls,” Maggie said. “All of those girls became stenographers or secretaries, and I couldn’t type worth a toot. I was determined that I wasn’t going to sit behind a desk.”
So, Maggie joined the Marines, following in line with uncles and her brothers who had served for the United States and Canada in World Wars I and II. For seven years, she was stationed mainly on the West Coast and reached the role of staff sergeant by 1959. She decided then it was time to try something else.
“My daddy and I talked, and he asked if I wanted to come to work for him. At first I was getting $8 a week. That was great for me after seven years in the Marines. He spent the last year of his life trying to help me with my golf.”
At first, Maggie followed the lead of her father and brother and gave golf lessons. But that wasn’t her forte.
“I gave a few lessons, mostly to men,” Maggie said. “But when we started hiring assistants, I figured that was their job to give lessons, not mine. I didn’t like teaching. If the player didn’t do what I expected them to do, then I got crabby. It just didn’t suit me.”
Maggie’s calling was to organize the players from the stand-alone golf shop that sits left of the first tee, a building now called the Crichton House. “Mostly I just get in everybody’s way,” she said in a 1972 Durham (North Carolina) Sun profile. From behind the desk, she can shoot the breeze with any doctor, lawyer, businessman or city and state politicians who are Hope Valley members. She can recite club history or recall the games of fathers and grandfathers of current members. She has reverted to her sergeant training by reining in rowdy junior golfers for seven decades. At age 89, she still works behind the counter on Fridays and Sundays and has recently, and expertly, learned the transition from paper tee times to an online system. An auto accident and injury 20 years ago couldn’t keep her away either, even though her golf participation has stopped within the last three years.
“Nobody on this staff could beat her here in the morning and still can’t,” Byrnes said of Maggie’s 23-mile commute from home in northern Durham County. “She’ll stand back there as long as she’s needed.”
Maggie indicates that commiserating with the membership has been therapeutic.
“It has helped me personally,” she said. “I can get along with anybody now. It used to be – much like my daddy – I could get a little bit snotty. But golf mellows you out.”
Byrnes jokes that on the centennial of the club, “Maggie, you’ll only be 93.” She will also have quite a backdrop. In addition to the pro shop name, a family plaque sits adjacent to the first tee, all forward tee markers are labeled the Crichton tees, and the women’s club championship is called “The Maggie.”
“I’m hoping I’ll be around when the club turns 100 years old; that will be something,” she said. “All of this really shows how much this club thought of our family. These people couldn’t be nicer.
“I expect it is unusual for Crichtons to last this long here. Or maybe I’m just crazy to stay around this long.”
© 2023 Global Golf Post LLC
Top: Maggie Crichton stands with the trophy won by her father, Marshall Crichton, at the 1949 Senior PGA Championship. Photo: Courtesy Hope Valley Country Club
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