Golf royalty

Corbitt and Ferree inducted into local golf hall of fame

It should have come as no surprise when the Lowcountry Golf Hall of Fame announced it was inducting Cary Corbitt and Karen Ferree. It wasn’t a matter of if, just when.

Corbitt, vice president of sports and operations at Sea Pines Resort, and former Long Cove head pro and now amateur golfer Karen Ferree were both instrumental in establishing the Hilton Head Island Junior Golf Association and the local chapter of the Carolinas PGA in the early 1980s.

“What I’m most proud of is not only my 38 years with Sea Pines, but my involvement," Corbitt said.

Golf as an industry was in its infancy here when he arrived on the island in the mid-1970s.

“I was at the grassroots of that. I worked with Karen Shapiro of Long Cove, now Karen Ferree. There were no organized golf associations on the island, and we created that.”

Cary Corbitt

Corbitt’s love of golf started early. Introduced to the game at age 10 by his mother while growing up in Aiken and McCormick, S.C., he soon realized he was pretty good.

When Corbitt was on his high school golf team, Sea Pines founder Charles Fraser invited high school teams from around the state to help with the PGA Tour’s first Heritage tournament in 1969. Little did he know what the future held.

After he graduated from Lander University in Greenwood on a golf scholarship, he sought a job on Hilton Head. He first worked at stores owned by Bill Cork, then got a job at Sea Pines.

His start was modest, cleaning golf carts and shagging range balls. He moved up to a role as an assistant golf professional, then head professional and is now vice president of sports and operations.

But his job at Sea Pines is only a sliver of his local presence. He has been involved in several golf scholarship programs, the Week of Champions sports camp, Lowcountry Golf Course Owners Association, the Heritage Classic Foundation advisory board and the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce. He’s also on the board of trustees at Lander.

“If you have a passion for what you’re doing, involvement is essential. You want to give back and feel like you’re making a difference,” he said.

Corbitt still gets in a round a week, but misses the days when he could play more.

“Golf now is a business. It’s always been about service. But early on, golf pros used to play a lot of golf. Now with the business side, we’re managers now, not golfers.”

He said golf will continue to thrive in the area, especially if local golf clubs — and golfers — make an extra effort to welcome new golfers.

“It’s an intimidating sport. We have to be as welcoming as possible. No one wants to do the wrong thing, but they don’t know what the right thing is,” he said.

Karen Ferree

Ferree joins her husband in the hall of fame. Jim Ferree, a champion both on the PGA Tour and the PGA Champions Tour, was in the hall’s inaugural class of seven last year.

To some degree, the Ferrees have long come as a pair when it comes to golf. Jim was the director of golf at Long Cove when Karen was the head golf professional.

But the two met long before then. And it had to do with golf.

“I first met Jim when I was 14,” Karen said. She took lessons at a club where he was teaching after he left the PGA Tour.

It’s a surprise it took that long for the two to meet because their paths were bound to cross. Jim’s father owned the golf club her family belonged to in Pennsylvania when she was a girl.

Despite Karen’s promise as a golfer after winning the Carolinas Junior championship in 1967, she didn’t plan for a career in golf.

But when she didn’t get into medical school after earning a degree in physical therapy, she turned to golf.

“I realized I wanted to spend my time outside."

She has dedicated her life to golf ever since.

She left her post at Long Cove in 1987 to raise the couple’s son, but turned to amateur golf. She has racked up wins in innumerable state and national tournaments, including the U.S. Women’s Open Championship and the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur. She and Jim were both inducted into the S.C Golf Hall of Fame.

She coaches for a variety of organizations, including First Tee and the LPGA/USGA Girls Golf program. And she plays competitively “every chance I get.”

“I love being involved and seeing the young golfers like those at the Darius Rucker Invitational with so much opportunity,” she said. “It’s because of the life lessons golf teaches you, no matter what you do.”

One of the top lessons, she said, is perseverance.

“If you put in the work, the rewards will come. That’s true of anything in life.”

Golf also teaches acceptance.

“There are learning plateaus, so you have to be happy with what the game gives you, whether it’s to enjoy playing with your spouse, or playing for business or playing for the social aspect.

“It’s a process. It’s like life.”

As she notes, she’s lost far more tournaments than she’s won. But that’s OK.

“It’s really been fun. I’ve met so many wonderful people who love the game and traveled so many place for golf. I thank my peers for voting for me.”