Donna Lampkin Stephens

Donna Lampkin Stephens, from Arkansas Golfer 1999

Not many people loved golf as much as Jim Elder did.

Elder, the broadcast icon who died in June 1998, was better known for his duties as the voice of the Arkansas Travelers, his role in Arkansas Razorback football broadcasts and for his sportscasts on KARN radio. But one of his greatest loves was golf.

“If he broke 90, it was like the ocean had divided,” remembered long-time friend and fellow golfer Harry King. “I’ve never been around anybody so enthusiastic about the game. He and I played one day when it was 18 degrees. We were the only two people who played that day at North Hills (Country Club).”

KATV sports director Paul Eells was another colleague and golf partner. Eells remembered another December round at North Hills with temperatures below freezing.

“I don’t even know why they let us out on the course,” Eells said. “We played four holes and all of a sudden it got worse — rain, freezing rain, sleet. But none of us was willing to say, ‘It’s miserable — let’s
go in.’ We came back toward the clubhouse and I finally said, ‘Guys, this might be our last chance.’

“We went in, finally. It was the worst conditions I’ve ever played in, but neither Jim nor Harry was willing to say, ‘I give.’ I had to end it. I was just dying.”

King said he, Elder and a couple of other media types used to have a standing 9:15 tee time on Saturdays.

“One Saturday the phone rang and it was Jim,” King remembered. “He said, ‘Where are you?’ I said, ‘Jim, it’s sleeting outside.’ He said, ‘But it’s barely sleeting.’”

Elder, King and Eells were among a group of about 10 golfers who began playing at Longhills in Benton in the late 1970s. The group also included Ron Robinson of Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods advertising agency and the late Jimmy Jones, state editor of the Arkansas Gazette.

“Jim thought it was great that he got to play with guys he thought could play, but if one of us broke 80, it was a big deal,” King said. “Everybody loved having him there. He thought we were so gracious to include him.”

Many of the group eventually joined North Hills. But it didn’t matter where they played. Elder was in his element.

“If you were playing in the group without him, you’d always know how they were doing because he would be whooping and hollering,” King said. “He was always so enthusiastic. You’d have thought they’d made 29 birdies in a row.”

Eells, too, remembered the Elder enthusiasm.

“Jim was like me — he’d lay in bed at night playing the shot,” Eells said. “He’d get so excited about playing, he’d hit a shot and run to the ball. Harry and I would say, ‘Jim, we’ll drive you,’ but he’d be
anticipating the next shot.”

Elder was a big fan of the orange and yellow golf balls when they came out. King said his son Petey, a five-time state amateur champion before turning pro, bought Elder some balls that were half orange and half yellow.

“It made you dizzy to watch them, but Jim thought they were the greatest invention,” King said, chuckling.

Elder was a student of the game, always on the lookout for a tip when he watched pro tournaments on television. King remembered how Elder would see something Davis Love was doing with his putter and try to put it into his own game.

“He’d discover the secret on No. 13 or 14 and hit it good,” King said. “It didn’t take much to make him happy — just being out there.”

Elder wasn’t a long hitter. Eells remembered that Petey King, who thought of Elder as a second father, would out drive him by 200 yards, but that didn’t matter.

“Petey was such a good player, but it didn’t bother Jim to play with him,” Eells said. “Jim would hit 180 yards and Petey 380 and it didn’t bother Jim at all. He wasn’t intimidated.”

Petey King remembered Elder’s “unbelievable left-to-right” accuracy with an old Ping 3-wood while most golfers joined the metalwood craze.

Eells said Elder’s strengths were his bunker play and his putting.

Add encouragement to the list.

King remembered playing scrambles with Elder, who always poor-mouthed his own play.

“He was a fearless putter,” King said. “If it was 20 or 30 feet, it didn’t matter. I’d try to cozy it up; he’d knock it in.

“When his eyes got to bothering him, I’d hit one and it might sound good and he’d say, ‘That’s great.’ I’d say, ‘Jim, that’s like three fairways over, and he’d always say, ‘You know what Lou Holtz would say now — what an opportunity this is.’ We’d be behind a tree with a huge lake and he’d talk about what an opportunity it was. You could not discourage him.”

Eells recalled an annual weekend tournament the long-time group played — five rounds at different courses on a weekend in Hot Springs. Elder won one year; the trophy was one of his prized possessions.

Elder took great pride in the development and career of Petey King from the beginning. Petey qualified for a Junior World event in San Diego several years ago; Elder knocked on the Kings’ door one day with
a dozen new Titleists for the trip.

Elder made his own quiet impact on the young, at times hot-headed Petey King.

“He’d get so mad at me when I’d get mad,” Petey King said. “He would never get onto me, but I knew what he was talking about.”

As Petey King hit the top of Arkansas amateur golf in the mid-1980s, Elder was known to have sneaked through the trees to watch Petey on the sly.

“A lot of times Jim wouldn’t let Petey know he was on the course watching because he didn’t want to be a distraction,” Eells said. “He would stay in the background. I know there was a special relationship
with Jim and Petey and Harry. Jim really appreciated what Petey and Harry meant to each other.”

Petey King said one of the best parts of his winning the 1986 ASGA Player of the Year award was having people like Elder, Eells and Robinson at the awards luncheon.

“I look back, and the people I grew up with were really celebrities, and I didn’t know that,” said King, now 33 and the head teaching professional at the Little Rock Golf Academy. “The older I got, I
realized they were, and that was pretty neat for me. I also saw how hard he worked, and that meant a lot to me, too. You have to work hard to get to where you want to be.”

As diabetes took its toll, Elder played less, but his enthusiasm never waned. One of the last times he played was at Eagle Hill with King and Eells a little more than a year ago.

“It was cold and wet and you would’ve thought he was a kid in the sandbox,” King said. “He lost a shoe in the mud. It didn’t matter if the ball was on the roof — he’d get out and hit it. He played the last
nine holes with one brown shoe and one white one.”

Now, especially on pretty days, King misses his friend. Since Elder finished his morning radio duties by 9 a.m., he and King played whenever King had weekdays off from the Associated Press.

“It didn’t have to be a great day,” King said. “Thirty-eight, 40 degrees; sunshine or maybe not. There have been days (since June) when I’ve thought it wouldn’t take much to get him on the golf course.”

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