WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS —
In sports, the word “love” belongs to tennis.
“Fifteen-love, Mr. McEnroe,” the scorekeeper will say.
But tennis does not have exclusive rights to the word, for Jim Justice has brought it into the world of golf.
You might know the name Jim Justice. In fact, if you are from West Virginia, you might even know this giant of a man yourself, for he gets around.
He’s in the coal business, where his fortune started, growing as high as $1.6 billion at one point and still at $1.2 billion, making him one of the richest men in America, according to Forbes Magazine. But he’s also in or has been in the timber business and the grain business and even had Christmas tree farms and, along the way, found time to be the only billionaire to coach girls’ and boys’ basketball at Greenbrier East.
Oh, did we mention he saved what is perhaps West Virginia’s greatest asset, The Greenbrier, and brought a PGA Tour event, The Greenbrier Classic, to the site, which will be contested June 30 through July 6 on the famed Old White Course?
And this, of course, is where he brought love to golf, for while this golf tournament is as clever and effective an international marketing device as he could have for his hotel, the driving force behind it was love — not the love of the dollar, for he has enough of them, but his love for the state of West Virginia and his desire to improve its image and standing in America.
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The marriage of golf and West Virginia, with Jim Justice officiating at the ceremony, was as pure and natural as the whitewater streams that wind their way like ribbons through the state and the rhododendrons that give West Virginia so much of its natural beauty.
You listen to him speak of the two — golf and West Virginia — for just a few moments and you understand how real Justice’s commitment is to the sport and the state and how important it is to him.
“If you look back in my life, my dad grew up in a company-owned coal camp house, an only child. And every time I ever visited my grandparents on my mom’s side, there was no indoor plumbing,” he begins when asked to explain just what his love for the game of golf grew from, a love that brought him first to the University of Tennessee as a golfer and then to Marshall University to play.
“The game of golf instills things that are so vital to kids today,” Justice continued, offering up things you normally don’t think of when it comes to any kind of sporting endeavor. “Those principles of honor, ethics, etiquette, respect and all those things that carry you through your whole life.”
These, he says, are virtues he took from golf and virtues he would hope others would take from the sport, especially the young, if he can spread the word and get them involved.
“There’s no question golf is playing a tremendous role in my life today,” he said.
And that carries him into his motivation in bringing it to his state, to his hotel, to his people.
“I think oftentimes we get the short end of the stick in West Virginia, and I don’t like that,” Justice continued. “This state is so beautiful and has so much, and its real treasure probably is the people. I mean our people are so loving and appreciative.
“So, all that being said, even if I am just one grain of sand on the beach, if I can move the needle to help our state, that’s what I want to do. This forum right here, tying it all together — golf, West Virginia, the honor, the tradition, the history of maybe where we’ve been and where I want us to go — that is what’s important.”