With nearly 40 years of service under his belt, Carlton “Slugger” White long ago earned his status as one of the game’s most recognizable and well respected Rules officials. So when the PGA Tour’s vice president of Rules and Competition and his colleagues gather at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., to prepare for the annual Tour event there, he has their full attention.
“I always tell everyone at our little meet and greet, I really feel sorry for all you people out here,” he recounts. “And it’s dead silent. And I continue, because you didn’t have the chance to grow up in Beckley, West Virginia in the 1960s. I had a great upbringing. My family was fantastic, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a great time to grow up in southern West Virginia.”
White, who turned 70 on Feb. 26, doesn’t get back to his home state very often. Nor does the Ormond Beach, Fla., resident often get to play the game he fell in love with while growing up in the Mountain State. He’s on the road more than half of the year, and he estimates that since joining the Tour Rules team in 1982, he’s played, at most, five rounds of golf during his travels. The rounds he does play mostly take place at home with buddies.
For a time, it looked like playing the game could be how White carved out a livelihood. He was a standout player during his years at Woodrow Wilson High School in Beckley, where he was a teammate of current governor Jim Justice (both recall playing together often, and both good-naturedly recall beating the other one easily and often). White used to play in the West Virginia State Amateur at The Greenbrier, often the highlight of his summer.
“That was like going to the land of Oz, it was so big for all of us from where we came from to go there,” he said.
After graduating from Ohio University, where he was a member of the golf team, White began a career as a club professional, but wins in several regional events, including the 1975 Met Open, convinced him to give the Tour a try. He collected $31,487 between 1975 and 1981, playing full-time from 1976-79, with his best finish a tie for fourth in the San Antonio Texas Open. He made the cut in both U.S. Opens he played in, with his best finish a tie for 50th at the Atlanta Athletic Club in 1976.
It became clear that breaking through as an elite player and making a comfortable living was going to be a tall order, and White started to look at other options. It was right around that time that PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman, a two-time U.S. Amateur champion, was looking for former players to work as Rules officials. It seemed like a natural fit for White. He had an interest in the Rules from an early age: his father, Cotton, who had dubbed his son “Slugger” on the day he was born, was a stickler for the Rules. White had also been on the business end of a ruling when he was disqualified from a Tour event qualifier for having 15 clubs in his bag. He started in 1982, and soon after realized he had found his calling.
“It was a nice transition, because, 90-95 percent of the time, I’d be walking into situations I’d walked into before as a player,” he said. “After a couple years I thought, you know what? I kind of enjoy this. I’m around the game that I love, but I don’t have to play it for a living. I was a good player but not an excellent player. There’s always that next step above that I didn’t get to.”
Even now, in his role as a Tour vice president, you will often see White on the golf course assisting the best players in the world when they have a Rules issue. Many of the younger players don’t realize he’s a former Tour player, but that’s OK with him and he knows that experience still serves him well.
“Like I say, I’ve got shoes older than most of these guys that are playing now,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve probably been in 99% of the situations these guys have been in, and I walk in, and I say, what can I help you with? I’m always there to try to help.”
Week in, week out, White is officiating on some of the best golf courses in the game. But he hasn’t lost sight of where it all began, as a kid playing at Black Knight Country Club in Beckley, in the state he will always call home.
“I don’t get back there very often. I’m on the road 28-29 weeks a year, and my family’s in Florida; it’s just tough,” he said. “But I love the state. I wear the state on my sleeve.”
Scott Lipsky is the senior manager of content for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.