As one might expect from a man who has made a good living in the promotion business, Bill Hensley is a font of one-liners.
"I once won the 10th flight of a club championship and was runner-up a year later."
"I was expelled from Dana Rader’s golf school."
"I have made four holes-in-one and at least that many birdies."
"I have taken my classic three-piece, over-the-top swing to 14 foreign countries and hold the record for double bogeys in eight of those countries."
"I probably hold the world’s record for bets lost in foreign currencies."
It’s a good thing that Hensley, now 75, can laugh and self-deprecate about a golf game that leaves a lot to be desired and is a source of almost constant ridicule from his peers in the golf writing and promotion business, not, it must be noted, that those peers can necessarily produce anything better.
Hensley graduated from Wake Forest when it was still located north of Raleigh. Carol, before she became Mrs. Hensley, went out with a young WFU golfer with a first name of Arnold and a last name of Palmer.
"She dated the world’s best golfer and married the worst," says Hensley.
Feeling he was not going to get anywhere with sports as a participant, the tall and athletic looking Hensley decided to become a sports writer with the Asheville Citizen-Times. However, after writing a piece about the Federal Bureau of Investigations, Hensley joined the FBI for a couple of years until Jim Weaver, who would ultimately become the commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference, asked him to become sports information director at Wake Forest. He eventually took the same position at North Carolina State. His salary at the time was $7,000. On Hensley's departure from the FBI he noted, "It didn't take me long to realize the bad guys I was chasing had guns too."
After N.C. State, Hensley took positions with R.S. Dickson Company, Wachovia Bank, and Paramount’s Carowinds, the massive amusement park just south of Charlotte. After several years promoting roller coasters and their adjuncts, Hensley opened his own shop, providing services for a variety of clients - but he always felt a pull towards the game he loved.
"I suppose I just started to take on more and more golf and tourism clients to the point where promoting golf became my business," Hensley says. "Since that point, it’s never seemed like work."
Hensley also served for six years as North Carolina’s director of tourism from 1965-1971. In that capacity, he organized the state’s first golf guide and initiated a national advertising campaign designed to attract golfers to North Carolina . He routinely invited golf writers to the state from around the country. The fact that so many golfers visit North Carolina today can be attributed to Hensley’s work in the early 1970s.
Hensley’s clients from his private practice include the Old North State Club on Badin Lake , Ballantyne Resort in Charlotte , Elk River near Boone, Pinehurst Resort and Country Club, Pebble Beach Golf Links, Hound Ears, plus Pine Needles and Mid Pines.
"I don’t take bad clients," Hensley recently told Ron Green, former sports columnist for the Charlotte Observer. "One reason I’ve been successful in public relations is that I’ve only promoted courses and resorts that were worth promoting."
Hensley will once again help Pine Needles this year when the U.S. Women’s Open returns to the famed resort. He has also helped with promotions and press relations for several championships including last year’s U.S. Senior Men’s Championship at Charlotte Country Club.
One of Hensley’s more noted and important contributions to the game has been the initiation of the North Carolina Golf Panel for North Carolina Magazine. The panel, which includes golf writers, business people, and others in the golf industry, rates private, resort, and public golf courses in North Carolina and produces a top 100 list each year. Even though he claims to be semi-retired, new and established golf courses continually call on Hensley to help them with promotion.
"Bill brings extensive knowledge of the golf travel industry to the table," says Holly Spofford Bell, Director of Sales and Marketing with Pine Needles and Mid Pines. "With all his contacts around the country, he helps us communicate changes and other important events that happen at these properties. Plus all the work he does to promote golf in North Carolina helps everyone in the golf industry."
Bell adds that even the crack cadre of PGA and LPGA teaching professionals at Pine Needles have so far been unable to fix Hensley’s golf game.
And so it was for his significant contributions to the promotion of the game that Hensley was recently admitted to the Carolinas Golf Hall of Fame.
Fellow members of the hall include talented and accomplished golfers like Harvie Ward and Peggy Kirk Bell. But despite Hensley’s relative lack of skill with a golf club in his hands, Hensley’s induction is definitely deserved. It’s not a stretch to say that North Carolina would not be one of the top golf destinations in the United States without the efforts of the husband of Arnold Palmer’s former girlfriend.
Bill Hensley was inducted into the Carolinas Golf Hall of Fame in 2000.