Bill “Lang Willie” Engelson recently announced that he is stepping down as Captain of the Carolina Hickory Golf Association (CHGA). It is a role that he has held since the group’s founding in 2005.
Lang Willie recalled that five players met on a cool Friday in Pop’s Lounge at Mid Pines. “When the meeting was over an hour or so later, Rob Pilewski, Jay Harris, Doug Marshall, Tom Stewart and Willie Engelson had formed a hickory playing group that you know today as the Carolina Hickory Golf Association,” he said.
The CHGA is one of the largest regional hickory playing groups in the country with nearly 115 life members and more than 400 who follow its website, both in the Carolinas and further afield. Its regular meetings are capped each year by the annual Haggis Cup, whose winner is deemed “Champion CHGA Golfer of the Year.”
Engelson, who is the spiritual leader of the CHGA, thought about the decision and discussed it with his family. He will become Captain Emeritus near the end of 2015, after 10 years of service to the CHGA. A nominating committee will begin the search for new candidates for an election to be held this spring.
Originally from Michigan, Engelson grew up in Wisconsin on Washington Island. He joined the U.S. Coast Guard in 1961, retiring as a Commander in 1982. He and wife, Donna, have been married for more than 33 years, have four children and 12 grandchildren, “the source of our true wealth.”
He played little while in the Coast Guard. Following retirement, he developed a yacht sales enterprise in Annapolis, Md., then formed The Leadership Edge, a consulting and job-matching service that he operates with Donna. It wasn’t until the mid-1990s that he began playing golf again. Around that time, he spotted Mort Ohlman’s book on golf collecting in a golf store. “That was all it took to get me into hickory golf and firmly hooked.”
In 2004, Lang Willie met Rob Pilewski at Oakhurst who invited him to attend the inaugural Mid Pines Hickory Open later that year. The Engelsons decided to move to Pinehurst and Engelson was invited by local golf store owner Tom Stewart to join a monthly playing group. Soon after that, Engelson was co-founding the CHGA (www.carolinahickory.com).
“There is no doubt that the people I have met through hickory golf are the best thing about the sport,” he said. “I’ve formed may strong and enduring friendships with people I never would have otherwise encountered, for which I’m very grateful.
“I am not yet through with hickory golf, but am surely somewhere on the back nine in my career,” Engelson said. “I have a number of things on my bucket list that I’d like to pursue and laying aside my Captain’s duties will allow me more focus and time to apply more resources to the other things I wish to accomplish in this life.”
He said he is most grateful to those “ambassadors to the growth of hickory golf … who have contributed most to the success of the CHGA.” He especially hopes that his beloved CHGA will “continue growing the game of hickory golf and remain the exemplar hickory playing association in America.
“I find that standing on the first tee looking off towards the No. 1 green on Mid Pines, on Southern Pines, and a multitude of other great hickory courses in the Sandhills causes all my aches, pains and worldly concerns to melt away as I waggle my hickory driver and get into my routine” he said. “May it always be so.”
We will look for you on the tee, Lang Willie, in your customary black shirt and plus-fours. Many thanks for all you have done to promote the sport, and continue to do. It’s a far richer game thanks to people like you.
Portions of this article were published in an SoHG member profile in April 2011.