Putt Putt Founder Former UNC Gridder
During the introduction of the recent Good Morning America segment which originated on the UNC campus several items/people were mentioned as being from of the state of North Carolina. I can't remember them all but I do remember the Wright Brothers, Ava Gardner and Putt Putt miniature golf courses. When I heard mention of Putt Putt, I recalled the fact that Putt Putts were founded by a former UNC football player I had followed as a kid.
Don Clayton of Fayetteville was inspired to create Putt Putts after chasing golf balls around his bedroom. It doesn't take much imagination to figure out why he was chasing the balls. He created courses across the country which at the time of his death in 1996 numbered 265. In addition, there are Putt Putts in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada, Indonesia and South Africa. I heard for years that Coca Cola was very interested in buying the Putt Putt organization but Mr. Clayton held on to his courses until he retired in 1995 and his daughter took over as chairwoman.
Mr. Clayton described his enterprise as "selling happiness." and he refused to put gimmicky obstacles on his courses as competitors did. He utilized hills and geometric obstacles to challenge the players.
My memories of Don Clayton go back to the one year, 1943, he lettered in football at Carolina. I was too young to go to the games by myself and there was no adult available to take me. So I spent every Saturday afternoon beside the radio listening to the games on WPTF in Raleigh. I'm embarrassed to say that I was sure that Clayton played for Carolina in the defeat at Franklin Field in Philadelphia in 1945 when we lost 49-0 but the record book doesn't back me up in this regard. The media guide says we beat Penn in 1943, 9-6, and that is the only year Clayton shows as a letterman for the Heels. The only possible explanation for the inconsistency between my memory and the record book would be if somehow Clayton played in 1945 but not enough to have lettered. I'm inclined to think that is not the case and with the passing years several facts have probably merged into one. Good thing I wasn't testifying in a murder trial because I can now almost hear the announcer saying that Clayton, a halfback, was picked up and hurled through the air in the game I remember. It could have happened in '43 but I doubt it. Carolina was pretty good that year (6-3) and back then Pennsylvania, not Penn State, was a national power in football. We beat them both in '43.
So maybe in the total scheme of things Putt Putts are not the most important thing ever to happen in North Carolina but I bet the mention of the name brings back a lot of pleasant memories for those who regarded and maybe still regard a trip to a Putt Putt as a real treat. I read in the newspaper this morning that Billy Packer (Mr. Cash) has severed his relationship with CBS and has signed a new contract to do the Putt Putt championship playoffs again. I can live with that but I'll bet we still see plenty of ole Billy on JP/RC and maybe even ESPN. I have long ago accepted the fact that Billy Packer is going to stalk me until I check off this planet. Maybe it's something I did to deserve such a fate.