NORTH MYRTLE BEACH -- Had he known what he'd be missing for the next 50 years, Whit Cobb would have probably figured out a way to disobey his wife's wishes.
Cobb was invited to join a small group from Durham, N.C., on a golf trip to Myrtle Beach in 1967. His wife declined for him, so Cobb didn't make the trip.
With this weekend's biannual pilgrimage, he has now missed 100 such trips, and all the shenanigans, escapades, fun and camaraderie that have been a part of each one.
It is believed to be the most golf trips ever made to Myrtle Beach by one group, and is quite possibly the most by one group to any golf destination.
"We had a tight bond going into it, and this just made it even more so," said Russell Barringer, the group's leader and organizer who is nicknamed "Nervous" for his fidgety hyperactivity. "There is love involved."
Cobb and his wife did make one significant contribution to the group despite his absence. They are responsible for the group's name: "The Cruds."
The late George Toms, who went on the first trip in the spring of '67, was inviting Cobb on the second trip when his wife chimed in, asking who else was going on the trip. After Toms ran through some of the names, Barringer said she responded, "My husband is not going off with that bunch of cruds."
"That's where the name came from and we've had the name ever since," Barringer said.
Cobb was never given a second opportunity. "Once you turn us down you don't get invited again," Barringer said.
The Cruds have spent the past 50 years both defying and living up to their name for two weekends per year in Myrtle Beach. The group generally spends long three-day weekends in both the spring and fall in the area.
The first trip consisted of eight men from Hope Valley Country Club in Durham. There have been 44 Cruds, mostly from the club. Eleven have died, and several more are inactive because of age and health issues. More than 20 have made this weekend's trip, however.
No one has made all 100 trips, though Barringer has made 99 and keeps detailed records of the group. He missed only the first trip. Second is Bob Baker, who has made 85 trips and is one of the eight who made the inaugural trip. He is also participating this weekend.
Nineteen of the living Cruds were born in the 1920s or 30s, so many are in their 80s. Former Wells Fargo Bank CEO Harald Hansen is the oldest on this trip at 85. He isn't playing golf this week because of health issues, but he was planning to attend the Saturday banquet at The Dunes Club.
"We're at the age now, I drove a hearse down here to be sure if somebody dies, we can put them on ice and bring them back on Sunday," joked Joe Lee III, who is one of the newbies with just 10 trips under his belt.
They've played nearly 20 Strand courses, though they first played The Surf Golf and Beach Club, and The Dunes Golf and Beach Club has received the overwhelming majority of their play.
The trip was rerouted this year. The group was scheduled to play The Dunes Club for three days, but it is closed because of damage from Hurricane Matthew so the group is instead playing three courses at Barefoot Resort.
The Cruds are a motley crew including those who go by the nicknames Jimbo, B-Bop, Wahoo, Mildred, Bird, Lord Ward, The Rockin' Doc, Razor, Boom Boom and Clem.
The group has included businessmen, accountants, attorneys, physicians, a dentist, football coach, college official, bank CEO, former NBA player, mayor, and a past owner of the Durham Bulls baseball team.
Many have been president of Hope Valley CC. "There are leaders of the whole community," said Bruce Michelsen, who has made 52 trips.
"Most of us grew up in Durham and have known each other most of our lives," Barringer said.
It has included a few good players, as well. Toms qualified for the U.S. Open and was low amateur in the PGA Tour's Greater Greensboro Open.
Barringer, who is in wholesale distribution and is also a member of The Dunes Golf and Beach Club, flies his own plane on the trips and hosts fellow Cruds at his Myrtle Beach home, which has nine beds.
"It could sleep more but men don't sleep in the same bed with other men," Barringer said. Three other members stay in their own homes on the Strand and the remainder stay at the Island Vista Resort, which is near Barringer's house.
"I got mad at him one time," said Page Wilson, who is on his 65th trip. "I said, 'Russell, if I didn't fly down here on your airplane and stay at your house and play on your golf course, I'd whip your [butt].' "
Barringer volunteered to become the group secretary after the first trip, and mailed out information and invitations. "We did try for a period of time alternating a chairman, so to speak, but that was a complete flub and I ended up doing the work anyhow," Barringer said. "So then I said, 'Guys, I might as well become a self-appointed dictator.'
"It takes somebody to lead it and you can't pass it around. You need one guy to run it and you have to run it with an iron hand, for the most part."
Barringer refers to himself as a "benevolent dictator," though that title is somewhat disputed.
"He's a liar," said Ray Tate, a 20-year member. "He's half right. He's a dictator all right."
The group predates all but a handful of Grand Strand courses. The only entertainment Barringer recalls the first few years were the Town and Country Lodge -- they sold beer and you'd brown bag alcohol in there, he said -- and the Ocean Forest Hotel bar. Then 2001 nightclub opened "and we closed that place down just about every night."
The group plays different golf formats with relatively small stakes of about $25 per player. "The main competition is to see who can finish, to see who is left standing," Michelsen said.
There are many Crud stories that can't be fully told to protect the guilty and the innocent. "I can tell you the story, I can't tell you the names," Barringer said.
Years ago, some were discussing too much Crud business outside the group and had to be reminded of the Crud creed, which is similar to that of a Las Vegas slogan. "We had some problems years ago and we had a prayer meeting, and I had to remind them that what was going on was serious," Barringer said. "They had to keep their mouths shut. What happens here stays here."
Michelsen noted that "out of all these trips, which is now 100, we've never had an [auto] accident, or anybody get in trouble."
Well, not exactly. "Other than Mike May and George [Toms] getting put in jail," Barringer corrected, referencing two deceased former Cruds. "That was because [May] was speeding and had an open half gallon of vodka in the car, and Mike May tried to buy the police officer out. According to George he said, 'Officer, I'm Mike May and I've got a lot of money. Just tell me how much you want to have and I'll pay you right now.' "
That same trip, May was too drunk to play the back nine of a golf round and went to use a restroom on the golf course, then never emerged.
"Jimbo goes back and finds him spread eagle on the floor," Barringer said. "He hit his head on the urinal -- he had cleats on the concrete and it was slick -- and then they sent word to me to come and get a picture of him because I always had a camera.
"He was sitting in a golf cart [with his chin down] with blood all over the place. He said, 'Russell, you've got to help me find that son of a [gun] that attacked me,' and he stuck with that story for two weeks after we got back to Durham. We finally convinced him he had not been attacked."
Of the other stories that were shared this week:
-- Michelsen's indoctrination came in 1984. He was picked up for his first trip by Dr. James "Jimbo" Rouse and Bird Aldridge. "They came in a convertible with the top down at 8 o'clock in the morning, and before we got out of the driveway they put a beer in my hand. I said, 'Here we go.' That was the beginning of it."
He got little sleep that first trip. "They put me with one of the guys who snored like you can not believe," Michelsen said. "I must have hit him 20 times that night with the Gideon Bible. That was the only thing in the room. That Gideon Bible got more air time than Rush Limbaugh. I was throwing it at him to hit him and wake him up."
-- In the early days at the St. John's Inn there was a Crud recreation room, where beverages were kept on ice in the bathtub. "There was a swimming pool there, and it was decided during the evening's festivities they would see who could toss some of the furniture farthest into the pool from the balcony," said Great Britain native Barry Ward, who is making his 22nd trip. "And there were glass lights around the pool that were broken. At the end of the day The Cruds have a wee bill to pay for draining the pool and getting the glass out."
It was determined that trucker and former NBA player Lee Shaffer was responsible for the damages, and he was presented with the bill. "We say, 'Lee, there are $365 worth of damages,' " Barringer recalled. "He said, 'God, you guys have got to help me. I don't have $365.' He was the biggest trucker in the Southeast on Friday night, by Sunday morning he couldn't pay his hotel bill."
Shaffer, who eventually paid for the damages with a credit card, is one of two who ever resigned from the group. A disagreement over a duck hunting blind between members dissolved their friendship and led to the resignation of the other.
A third member who had been relentlessly teased about his diminutive height -- particularly by Michelsen -- hasn't made recent trips. During one trip, other Cruds put a child's booster seat in the car for him, had a high chair at the breakfast table, requested Strawberry SHORTcake for desert and placed a magazine cover in the pin sheet holder on his cart reading: Small Businessman of the Year.
"You've got to have thick skin to be a Crud. We all rip each other up," Ward said.
"There's a closeness and camaraderie of it all," Michelsen said.
This article was written by Alan Blondin from The Sun News and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.
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