Billy Gardenhight Sr., Tournament Director for the Skyview Golf Association, Asheville, NC passed away on Friday morning, November 19, 2021, in Asheville, NC.

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Billy Eugene Peters Gardenheight, 87, was a Charter Member and Founder of the South Eastern Golfers Tour (SGT) and the Skyview Golf Association. He was a former Professional Tour Player with the Negro Golf Association (NGA).

Honored in September 2013 as an Outstanding Leader in Golf by the African American Golfer’s Digest, Mr. Billy E.P. Gardenheight was born September 27, 1934 in Asheville, NC. He was educated in local schools, graduating from the famous Stephen’s Lee High School, after which he attended North Carolina Central University on an athletic scholarship.

His life since his school days had been devoted to helping other people, other humane causes, and maintaining his family obligations. He was well regarded as a hard worker, devoted husband, and father. Billy retired in 1998 from The Buncombe County Community Action Agency where he was Director of the Weatherization Program. During his life, he was employed part-time at the Asheville Municipal Golf Course and the Shiloh Community Center.

Mr. Gardenheight, as a teenager, was one of the many Black young men, early earners of money that caddied at all-white only golf courses. During the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s there was no such facility as a Black golf course in Asheville or Buncombe County and many areas beyond. Blacks learned to play golf by slipping onto white golf courses just before dark when no one was around or by using make-shift golf courses in open fields close to their homes. Mr. Gardenheight became one of the best golfers utilizing old golf clubs given to him by his Caddie master and once in a while by a white golfer that he caddied for.

“Billy,” as he was commonly addressed by friends, stood at 6’0″ and at 200 lbs. he was a kind, gentle giant, and soft-spoken. Yet, could be deliberate and ‘in your face’ when there is a problem that needed correcting. When a group of enterprising Black men wanted to establish a Black golf association in Asheville, they chose Billy as their understudy. During his time as a member of the group, after a hard fight, they obtained golfing rights for Blacks on Mondays at the Municipal Golf Course (which was white only).

Through Billy’s efforts, most hurdles were cleared, allowing the Skyview Golf Association, a social and recreational entity (non-profit) to begin its mission of creating local training and competitions for Black golfers. There was also some interest in Winston-Salem and other cities in the Southeast to start a golf circuit, the South Eastern Golfers Tour (SGT) for Black golfers. Golfers such as Jim and Chuck Thorpe, Lee Elder, Jim Dent, Calvin Peete, George Johnson and many others played the SGT, eventually playing on the all-white National PGA Tour. Billy was a driving force behind the creation of this Tour and became the Senior Tour Director.

The annual Skyview Golfers Ball became the most notable annual social event for Blacks as well as endorsing many grants to advancing youth to continue their education. Billy was also one of the original entrepreneurs to purchase land and build the Shiloh Community Center where many events are held. Simultaneously, Billy and his wife, while raising their own family, became foster parents of Black youth who had made bad choices, some with court challenges, behavioral, drug, and health problems. Most of the youths they took into their home, fed, mentored, tutored, and directed became well-adjusted and productive adults in Asheville and Buncombe County.

“Golf for me started in 1945. It was at this time that I lived in ‘East End,’ an Asheville neighborhood of single-family homes that were predominately Black and somewhat blighted,’ said Billy. “We were poor but proud people, and our parents, friends, neighbors, and others all encouraged us to do well academically in school and to stay out of trouble. Jobs were scarce for everybody — because World War II was just ending. There was little or no income for small school-aged children and caddying at the golf course was the only option for the vast majority of young boys.”

“My mother, Mrs. Fannie Gardenhight, raised four girls and one boy by herself because my father died when I was just three years old. When I asked her if I could go to the golf course to caddy she was—at first—very apprehensive, because, golf meant nothing to her. I told her that I could earn some money by carrying a golf bag eighteen holes for $1.25. At age 11, she finally decided to let me go with other neighborhood friends.”

“In 1970, I relinquished my professional status after getting a good, steady job. I reclaimed my amateur status in order to participate in the well-established local tournaments. As an amateur, I won two regular Championships, eighteen Senior Championships, and twenty-two Four-Ball Championships and hope to cash in on a few more.”

“The one thing about golf that I want people to know and hopefully remember, are African American males that have come to participate in the Skyview year after year. Some of these great men went on to play the Regular Tour or the Senior Tour. I had the distinct pleasure of playing with these great enthusiast of golf: Ted Rhodes, Pete Brown, Willie Brown, Al Green, Rafe Batts, Charles Owens, Curtis Sifford, Jim Thorpe, Chuck Thorpe, Chester Thorpe, Bill Thorpe, Lee Elder, Jim Dent, Bobby Stroble, George Johnson, Leonard Jones, James Walker, Bobby Mays, Jesse-Allen, Charles Lee, Ron Terry, Lee Carter, Harold Donavent, Thomas Smith, Harold Thomas, Zeke Hartsfield, John Dendy, Harry Jeter, Ralph Alex, Bill Dickey, James “Gum” McClure, Jarnes Black, James Powell, Lee Elder, Albert “Tup” Holmel, Robert Walker’ John “honey’ ‘Smith, Joe Johnson, Jimmy Taylor, Howard Chadwick, Jim Conrad’ Gordon Chavis, Nate starks, chink Stewart, George wallace, Will Mays, James Everett’ Melvin Ward, Charles “Big Dog” ‘Williams, Gary Muckelvene, Charles Owens, Earl Hill, Willie Reynolds, Arthur Gilreatter, Rudolph McCurdy, Harry Wingfield, George Morehead Jim Brown, Howard “Leftt” Brown, Carl Seldon, Howard Bosewll, Wiley Williams, William “June Bug” Lewis, Cliff Brown, Joe Hampton, Bill Wright, Willie Black, Elijah Walker, Boyce Layton and Clifford “Dead Eye” Edington.”

Billy won many amateur tournaments and was inducted into the National Black Golf Hall of Fame in 1994.

In addition to his parents, he was preceded in death by sons, Billy Jr. and Eric.

He is survived by his wife of 62 years, Martha Koon Gardenhight; sons, Lee Shepherd (Gail) and Roderick Shepherd; foster-son, Nicholas Freeman; several grandchildren; sister, Marsha Mack; several nieces and nephews, including special niece, Ada Roberts; other relatives and friends.

VISITATION
Tuesday, November 23, 2021, 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM
Ray Funeral And Cremation Service, 1373 Sweeten Creek Rd., Asheville, North Carolina 28803

FUNERAL SERVICE
Wednesday, November 24, 2021 at 1:00 PM, Nazareth First Missionary Baptist Church, 146 Pine St., Asheville, North Carolina 28801