Teed Up: Meet Kenny Walker
Kenny Walker is an SC golf icon whose pace challenges all golfers, no matter their age.
The ancient Greek poet Hesiod is credited with first observing that “moderation is best in all things.” For one member of Long Cove Club on Hilton Head Island in the South Carolina Lowcountry, that sage advice rings true—about everything but golf.
Kenny Walker was born in Massachusetts in 1936 but spent much of his youth in the textile town of Anniston, AL. Always a good student with an interest in the sciences, he earned a degree from Harvard. A new job in the growing plastics industry brought him to Greenville, SC, where he met a local girl who would become his wife.
“Hila and I got married in Greenville in 1960,” Walker says, “and after a stint in the military, we were living there when a neighbor’s boss very graciously let us use his new house in Sea Pines. Back then, you knew you were in the Lowcountry from about an hour out, driving on the narrow roads with the big, mossy oaks hanging over them. Even after you crossed over to the island on the old two-lane bridge, it was like that all the way to Coligny Circle on the south end. It was just beautiful.
“So we started vacationing on Hilton Head almost every summer,” he continues. “We’d stay at the William Hilton Inn, which was a very classy oceanfront hotel where you had to dress for dinner—jacket and tie required. One year, probably in the early 1980s, the club pro at Harbour Town, John Farrell, told me that I should check out Pete Dye’s new private course at Long Cove Club. After a friend invited me to play it, I told myself, ‘that’s where I want to live one day.’”
But, taking care of business came first, and Walker found that his growing passion for golf would play a significant role in both the journey and the ultimate destination of his life.
“I took up the game in my late 20s,” he says, “because I saw that it would be a big asset to take prospects out for a round of golf. In fact, with thousands of manufacturers in the plastics business, I made a decision early on to focus on the companies run by people who were also golfers. It worked out very well.
Do What You Love
“I started my own company in 1982,” he points out. “We were living up north, and when it reached the point that we could live anywhere we wanted to live, we first went to Atlanta. We also visited Aiken [South Carolina] frequently because our daughter lived there at the time and we liked it very much. But, we kept getting drawn back to Hilton Head Island.”
Kenny and Hila Walker moved into their new home in the Long Cove Club residential community in February 1991. Then, as now, the initial fee for club membership was built into the purchase price, so he was at the clubhouse and ready to play within days.
Play it Fast
“I couldn’t have been more warmly welcomed that first day,” Walker recalls, “and I got paired up with some guys who quickly became great friends. Since then, I’ve tried to be just as welcoming to new members. We form our own golf groups at Long Cove Club—my current group has about 40 people—and I’ve always thought it was important to include players of different ages and skill levels. The only thing I ask is ‘don’t be slow.’”
But Walker’s vigorous pace of play isn’t the reason for his status as a local golf icon; it’s his Iron Man durability: He’s the acknowledged (if unofficial) all-time record holder on Long Cove Club course with more than 6,000 rounds played and counting.
“Back in the ‘90s,” he says, “I played over 300 rounds a year—five or six, even seven days a week sometimes—and for most of those I’d walk the course and carry my own clubs. When you walk the entire 18 holes, it’s about five miles, plus the weight of the bag. Now that’s a good workout.”
Lead with a Club
Over the years, Walker also got involved with club leadership by serving on the golf committee, then being elected club president in 1996-97. He introduced player-friendly changes in course operation—allowing walking rounds any time of the day and carts on the fairways for the benefit of older members—and other improvements that have kept Long Cove Club among the nation’s top-rated private clubs. He also developed a friendship with Pete Dye (“he’s a treasure”) during the course architect’s annual visits to the club and supported investment in a complete restoration of the golf course that was completed in October 2018. “They did an excellent job,” according to Walker.
All the while, he’s continued to set course records: On December 5, 2016—at age 80— Walker shot his fourth hole-in-one on the Long Cove Club course, his seventh ace overall during a half-century of play. “I tell people these days that I don’t really play golf anymore, I play at it,” he muses. “But that was a pretty good shot.”
Now in his 82nd year, Walker has cut back his golf schedule to just two or three rounds a week, but enjoys the game and his playing companions just as much. Has that been his key to a healthy lifestyle?
Keys to the Good Life
“Well, I was blessed with great genes, and I watch what I eat. We have a lot of seafood and fresh vegetables,” he says. “And I do enjoy a cocktail, not every night, but I’ll have one when I want one.
“It’s no secret that I enjoy golf and being around people who make me laugh. I think that makes for a long and happy life,” Walker notes. “It’s important to do as much as you can to fill your life with the things you like to do and do them with people you enjoy. Being married to Hila is my greatest joy.” The Walkers recently celebrated their 58th anniversary and cherish time with their son and his family when they’re visiting from North Carolina, and their daughter and two grandchildren who now also live on Hilton Head Island.
That choice of location seems to have played a role in his happy longevity as well.
“Obviously, there’s been growth and a lot of changes since we moved here in 1991,” he says. “One new thing is that they’ve finally extended the runway at the Hilton Head Airport, so regional jets can fly in directly from Charlotte, and eventually Atlanta and other places. I think that will help to keep the island as a top retirement and vacation destination. But, one thing that hasn’t really changed that much is the natural character of the island. Hilton Head has done a magnificent job of maintaining the beauty of this place,” he concludes.
“And, the same is true of Long Cove Club—it looks great, the people have been so friendly, we have lots of good neighbors, and we share all these great amenities. We really have been blessed.”
Gracious and affable. Generous and polite. The folks at Long Cove Club will tell you that Kenny Walker is the kind of member who has made their community such a special place for so long. There was only one reason that he’d kindly point out that the hour allotted for this interview was up.
He doesn’t want to be late for his tee time.