Sam Foster has done it all in golf, but the most enjoyable part of his colorful career is serving the home folks.
A native of Newland, the diminutive golf professional is the poster boy for the headline
“local boy makes good.”
Foster got into golf right out of Newland High School in 1966 where he played golf, basketball and baseball. He turned professional and accepted a position at Montgomery Country Club in Troy, and then moved to Spruce Pine a year later to take over as head pro.
In 1969 Bob Kletcke hired him to be his assistant at Grandfather Golf and Country Club where his career began to take shape. A highly respected player, he was a popular choice of members and guests to fill out foursomes.
Working with Kletcke also meant spending winters at Augusta National Club, where the Grandfather pro also served as the golf director at that prestigious club.
“That was a wonderful period of my life,” Foster said. “I met and played with numerous top golfers and a variety of business and entertainment celebrities. It was almost routine to play with such stars as Arnold Palmer, Lanny Wadkins and Hubert Green, and then tee it up with Bob Hope, General Westmoreland and Dr. Christiaan Barnard.”
Foster was also a favorite playing partner of Cliff Roberts, the stern taskmaster who ran Augusta National Club with an iron fist.
“Mr. Roberts wasn’t a great golfer,” said Foster. "But he was fun to play with. I liked him a lot and enjoyed knowing him.”
In four seasons at Augusta, Foster’s lowest score on the renowned course was 66.
“I thought about trying to play the PGA tour for awhile but finally decided not to,” Foster explained. “I just didn’t have the nerves of steel that it takes to be a tour player.”
Foster did play a few pro tournaments and won money in two of the four events he entered. He shot a 63 in the final round of the North Florida Open to win that tournament, and he double bogeyed the 17th hole to lose the Carolinas Open by one stroke. He has won the Western North Carolina Open twice, and the N.C. Pro-Pro championship three times.
One of his top accomplishments was being a member of the PGA National Club Pro 12-man team in the North-South Cup matches. Playing for captain Harvie Ward in 1974 and 1976, the team won both events.
“Harvie was a great friend along with Billy Joe Patton,” Foster said. “Knowing those two was something I could never forget. They were both great players and great competitors.”
Foster became golf director at the challenging Mountain Glen Golf Club in 1973 and is now in his 38th year at his hometown layout. The semi-private course was designed by George Cobb and opened in 1964 and is owned by Avery Development Corporation. A highly successful venture, the course averages around 32,000 players a year in a season from April until November.
Foster has become a legend at Mountain Glen. Extremely popular with members and daily fee players, they regale in telling stories of his many unusual rounds. On one occasion, he bogeyed the first hole and then birdied 10 consecutive holes. He finished with a course record 61.
Today, at age 62, the 5-foot-6-inch, 160-pounder can tour the course in around par. “For some reason,” Foster jokes, “the ball doesn’t go as far as it used to.”
“Sam is the best iron player I have ever seen,” commented Spencer Robbins, a long time friend. “He hit everything right at the flagstick.”
Foster thrives in overseeing the golf activities at the 325-member Mountain Glen Club. A non-teaching pro, he does work closely with Avery High School and Lees-McRae College players.
When he isn’t involved with golf, Foster is an avid trout fisherman who loves the nearby mountain streams. He also takes an annual fishing trip to Montana. “That’s a majestic part of the world,” he observed, “and a great place to fish.”
Foster also enjoys his Christmas tree farm that keeps him busy much of the off-season. “That’s something I have done since high school days,” Foster explained, “and it is a diversion from golf and other business pressures.”
Foster is the father of four children and has five grandchildren.
If he could pick his all-time favorite foursome, his choices were Harvie Ward, Billy Joe Patton and former Masters champion Tommy Aaron. He also has a special bond with Tom Adams, golf professional at Boone Golf Club. “That would be a dream group to play with,” Foster said. “And even though he was a serious golfer, Bob Hope was funny on the golf course.”
The next time you play at Mountain Glen, see if you can get Foster for a partner. He’s a winner.