Event Aims to Honor Hudson

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 472 views 

The late James T. “Red” Hudson loved the game of golf, and — as the authentic Southern gentleman he is often described as — was particularly respectful of its etiquette.

“I heard him speak a few times, and he always included a little humor about the rules of golf,” recalled Wayne Callahan of Rogers, president of Global Wal-Mart Business for H.J. Heinz Co.

But there were some rules the founder and chairman of poultry giant Hudson Foods Inc. of Rogers didn’t necessarily agree with. Specifically, Callahan said, Hudson took exception with Rule 4-4, which limits a player to 14 clubs.

“He would [joke] that a person should be able to be a member of as many clubs as he wanted,” Callahan said.

It is true Hudson, who died of lung cancer in August 2006 at the age of 81, belonged to several exclusive country clubs across the country and frequently traveled to Ireland and Scotland for golf holidays.

Yet of all the impressive courses he played, the one he cherished most was Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers, which remains the icon of upscale living in Northwest Arkansas.

“He really put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into that country club,” said his grandson, Mike Hudson Jr., an adviser for Morgan Stanley Smith Barney in Rogers.

The club, founded in 1990 as Champions Golf & Country Club, endured a litany of early financial troubles tied to its initial developer, a promoter from Fredonia, Kan., named Fred Berckefeldt. The mismanagement was so shaky that Berckefeldt’s dealings strapped the development with an $18.5 million debt.

Hudson led a group of 21 local investors who in 1992 bailed out the club, then on the verge of bankruptcy, and ran Berckefeldt out of town.

The club grew over the years, yet continually struggled to generate a sufficient cash flow, and Hudson generously contributed his own money as necessary.

“He thought Rogers really should have a nice country club and he made it work,” said his son, Mike Hudson, who is currently president of Pinnacle Country Club. “I don’t think there’s any way the club could have stayed and been a viable entity without Red Hudson. He had a real passion for it.”

Red Hudson eventually bought the country club outright for an undisclosed sum in 2002.

“It is hard not to think of Pinnacle without thinking of Red Hudson,” said Callahan, who is also president of the Arkansas State Golf Association board of directors.

But as time passes and Northwest Arkansas continues to grow, there are many Pinnacle members who don’t think of Hudson when they think of Pinnacle — because they’ve never heard of the man.

Hudson, who was born in Pine Bluff and inducted into the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame in 2005, learned the value of hard work growing up on a tobacco farm in Tennessee, then used that trait to grow a small poultry company doing $20 million in sales in the 1970s into the fifth-largest poultry and meat processing company in the country in 1997, with annual sales of some $2 billion.

Along with visionaries Don Tyson, Sam Walton and J.B. Hunt, Hudson — whose company was sold in 1997 to Tyson Foods Inc. of Springdale in a $643 million deal — built his company on a foundation of hard work and jumpstarted the economic boom that continues today.

And that is partly the reason several Pinnacle members have developed a four-day golf tournament that honors Hudson’s legacy. It is called, simply, The Tribute.


Honoring a Legacy

There are about a dozen men from Pinnacle who make a trip to central Arkansas each summer to play in what has become one of their most anticipated golf tournaments, the Country Club of Little Rock Four-Ball.

Founded in 1902, CCLR is one of the state’s oldest golf courses and epitomizes history and prestige. Its four-ball tournament is circled on the calendar by many of the state’s top golfers and businessmen.

“They have always liked the fact that we bring good golfers down, and that makes for good competition,” said Pinnacle member Brent Henry, a senior vice president with Morgan Stanley Smith Barney in Rogers. “It has really turned into a week we look forward to.”

One of the tournament’s unique aspects, Henry said, is a qualifying round, followed by three rounds of match play, making the golf competitive for scratch golfers, high-handicappers and anyone in between.

The more tournaments Henry competed in at CCLR, the more he kept having the same thought. He recognized how much he and other Pinnacle members enjoyed the event, and he became interested in getting one started in Rogers with the same format.

In discussing it with the two Hudsons, Henry struck upon the idea of taking the concept at Pinnacle one step further — improving the Pinnacle golf schedule with a premium-type event, while at the same time honoring the legacy of the club’s most important patron.

“There are a lot of people at that club who have no idea who [Red Hudson] is,” Henry said. “What we really tried to do is take what we felt was the need for that type of tournament at Pinnacle, and to make sure going forward, everyone knew something about Mr. Hudson.”


First Class

The core group of Pinnacle members who competed in the CCLR Four-Ball comprised the original Tribute tournament committee. From the beginning, Henry said Mike Hudson’s instructions to them were clear — don’t cut corners and make the event nothing short of first class.

“And that’s very reflective of Red,” said Henry, chairman of The Tribute committee. “We had some pretty lofty expectations to begin with and I think we’ve met them”

Registration for the tournament is a tax-deductible donation of $1,000 per two-man team to the Pinnacle Country Club 501(c)3, which is a turnkey price for the entire tournament.

The inaugural tournament was played in 2010 with 54 teams. The field included 80 teams each of the last two years, and at this year’s tournament, played July 19-22, overwhelming demand led to a waiting list for interested players.

Unlike the event at CCLR, which accepts 112 teams, Henry is satisfied with a cap of 80 teams for The Tribute.

Henry said the players like the tournament’s unique format, with teams being seeded based on a qualifying round, as opposed to pre-tournament seeding based on a player’s handicap.

“If you went off that, it’d be the same guys and same teams with the same seeds every year,” he said. “By qualifying, you have to go out and shoot a number. Some guys play better than others. Let’s face it; we’re businessmen and we’re working and there are times when the golf game is not quite where it should be. It really changes things up.”

The tournament has quickly gathered steam. Players this year came from Florida, California, Texas, Oklahoma and Missouri.

Rogers attorney Asa Hutchinson, a former federal prosecutor and U.S. congressman, also participated.

Steven Dixon, sales director for BioBased Technologies of Springdale, won the tournament in 2010 and again this year — with different partners.

Other golfers who have been on the winning team in the event’s short history include Sam’s Club executive Michael Chaney of Bentonville and attorney Conner McNair of Fayetteville with the firm Friday, Eldredge & Clark.

Charlie Jurgensmeyer, a Pinnacle member, competed in the inaugural event, but scheduling conflicts kept him out of the last two.

Jurgensmeyer spent 25 years — “my entire working life” — working for Red Hudson as the chief financial officer for Hudson Foods. He said Hudson would’ve been delighted with such a positive outpouring of golfers playing in a tournament to honor him.

“Red was not a person who sought after a lot of publicity, so he would’ve been a little shy about it,” Jurgensmeyer said. “But he would’ve been pleased with it.”


Building a Foundation

Just four years before his death, Red Hudson, who started playing the game while in his 30s, still maintained an impressive handicap of 14.9.

“He had his handicap down in single digits when he was younger, but it crept up as he got older, just like all of our handicaps do,” Jurgensmeyer said. “But his short game was always phenomenal.”

Mike Hudson remembered his father’s skill set as good, but not great. The ups and down never affected his passion for the game.

“I played with Daddy a lot and he could play all day long,” he said. “To me, you play 18 holes and that’s about enough. I’ve played 54 holes in a day with him. He loved to keep playing. He and Frank Broyles would go over to Augusta and Frank was the same way. They’d play 54 holes a day at Augusta.”

Red Hudson also hosted business associates from across the country for an annual golf outing in Rogers dubbed The Hillbilly Shootout, initially at Prairie Creek Country Club on the east side of Rogers, and later at Pinnacle.

The Tribute pays homage to that event with its own Hillbilly Shootout, a family-friendly event held Saturday night of tournament week at the 18th green. It’s played under the lights and with plenty of music, public-address announcing, food and drink.

For the first time this year, the tournament also remembered Hudson in the form of its trophies. Hudson often wore a fedora when he played, and tournament organizers sent one of his favorites to a Florida company that used it to make a bronze replica.

Eleven were ordered — 10 for each of the five flight winners, and another to be presented to Hudson’s widow, June.

In addition to the golf, there are several social elements involved for players and their families. University of Arkansas golf coach Brad McMakin spoke at a pairings party after the Thursday qualifying round, the popular Fayetteville-based band Boom Kinetic headlined Friday night’s dinner event, and the Hillbilly Shootout is quickly becoming the tournament’s signature experience.

“We are getting a good reputation of running a good event,” Henry said.

Mike Hudson Jr., who leads the tournament’s finance subcommittee, said a goal for the future is to be able to provide more of a charitable donation at tournament’s end. His grandmother will select the yet-to-be-named beneficiaries, “which will probably benefit children in some way,” he said.

Expenses right now, he said, are on the high side while the tournament is in the building stages. With several one-time expenditures this year — primarily the lighting and sound equipment for the Hillbilly Shootout, that was then given to the country club — the tournament was not profitable.

“But we were within a stone’s throw of that happening,” Hudson said. “We’ve been spending a lot on infrastructure, buying equipment to do things at night, trying to set the foundation for this tournament to go on for a long time.”