HERSHEY, Pa. -- PGA Honorary Member Dennis Walters has recorded a series of milestones in his remarkable 34-year road show career, but the veteran trick-shot artist got an even bigger rush on the afternoon of June 25, when he learned who had beaten him to give a golf clinic at Hersheypark Stadium.
Nearly 58 years earlier, Walters' idol and former Hershey Country Club host professional, Ben Hogan, had stood at the 50-yard line of the stadium that once had manicured real grass not synthetic turf.
"I could not believe it when I heard that Ben Hogan was the first to give a golf clinic here, and I get to be the only person to follow him," said Walters, a paraplegic who has conducted more than 3,000 golf programs since 1977 and was the featured guest at the PGA Sports Academy and Youth Clinic. "That alone is very special to me, having idolized Ben all my life. Then, to meet someone who was here at the clinic that day in 1953 was even better."
During his lone appearance at Hersheypark Stadium, Hogan took a wedge and pitched balls to an assistant holding a wash bucket in the south end zone. One fan in the stands was David Fengfish, then 6, and now a 64-year-old PGA teaching professional at Heritage Hills Golf Resort in York, Pa.
"I do remember watching the clinic and hearing the sound of the golf balls hitting the bucket," said Fengfish, who was one of 10 Philadelphia PGA Professionals giving lessons to some 80 Greater Hershey area youth attending the PGA Sports Academy. "There was real grass on the field back then, and Hogan was right on target."
The golf clinic was one of three events in Hershey honoring then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower's 63rd birthday. Eisenhower appeared first at the stadium in events sponsored by the Pennsylvania Republican Finance Committee. The celebration was held Oct. 13-14, 1953 with Eisenhower's actual birthday Oct. 14.
On Oct. 13 of that year, spectators arrived at 10 a.m. at the stadium for a Hogan clinic at 5:45 p.m., with 12,000 turning out to see the president, Hogan, along with LPGA pioneer Patty Berg and former U. S. Open Champion Lew Worsham. The birthday party also included the Hershey Sports Arena and a dinner for 6,000 and a cutting of the giant birthday cake for the president under a big top tent provided by Ringling Brothers-Barnum & Bailey Circus. Hogan later moved from the stadium for a fundraiser program and exhibition in the Arena.
On June 25, the PGA Sports Academy was held in conjunction with the 44th PGA Professional National Championship, blended fitness stations alongside traditional PGA golf instruction. It is designed to bring the next generation of golfers to the sport in a fun and interactive program.
"It was my first PGA Sports Academy experience and I thought that it went very well," said Fengfish. "The PGA has done a nice job in adding the fitness element. I also had never seen Dennis Walters before, and I thought that his program was very well done."
PGA Professional Jim Reed played "center fielder" for Walters during his program, standing near the south end zone with a baseball glove and attempting to catch a heavier "Cayman" restricted flight practice ball.
"I could not believe how hot the ball got and how hard it hit the glove on the fly," said Reed, who is the PGA head professional at Spring Creek Golf Course at Hershey. "The ball that Dennis hit with smoke is still red hot! These are not your regular Cayman balls. I do know that after watching Dennis perform, we will want to have more golf clinics in this stadium."
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