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Former club pro Spangler aims for comeback after near-fatal crash [The Sun News, Myrtle Beach, S.C.]

By Alan Blondin, The Sun News, Myrtle Beach, S.C.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Jan. 10–There’s a good chance you haven’t seen or heard anything from longtime area head pro Robert Spangler since his last course, Island Green Golf Club, closed in August.

It closed under Signature Golf’s management, and is expected to reopen no later than Sunday under new management that doesn’t involve Spangler.

But unemployment hasn’t been Spangler’s greatest concern over the past few months.

He nearly died in an automobile accident the day after the course’s official closing, and has been recovering since. In fact, Spangler said he was clinically dead on two occasions at the scene of the accident, and was twice revived with the help of a defibrillator.

“They said I died twice, and one time it was 3 minutes,” Spangler said. “I was the only person hurt — me and my golf clubs.”

Spangler, 43, of Myrtle Beach, participated in a charity scramble golf tournament at Burning Ridge Golf Club on Aug. 20 and was driving on S.C. 544 in heavy rain following the event.

He said his SUV hydroplaned and spun into the lanes with oncoming traffic. He was going backward on the other side of the road when he was struck by another vehicle, and he said his seatbelt came unhinged and he flew out the back window.

His injuries included five broken vertebrae in his neck — C-1, C-2, C-7, T-1 and T-2 — three broken ribs, a broken collar bone, broken shoulder blade, and a gash that required 18 stitches in his head. Many of the injuries were to his right side. “All the breaks were things you can’t put a cast on,” Spangler said. “The shoulder blade was the most painful break of all of them.”

Spangler was hospitalized for five weeks and was in a medically-induced coma and on life support for awhile as doctors wanted to keep his neck from moving to avoid paralysis.

When he came to, Spangler was brought up to speed on current events, which at the time included Hurricane Irene and the earthquake in Washington, D.C. “I was like, ‘What are you talking about?'” Spangler said. “It was a trip.”

He didn’t know until November if he would need surgery and a halo contraption to stabilize his neck, but it wasn’t needed and he instead had to wear a thick neck brace until last week.

His weight dropped from 165 to 129 pounds, and he’s managed to get it back up to 150 pounds. Though he hasn’t played golf since the accident, he believes he could, and is moving around fine. Neck stiffness is the primary visible sign of the accident to those in passing.

“I haven’t swung a club, but I know I could,” Spangler said. “If you walked up to me and I didn’t tell you [about the injuries], you wouldn’t even know.”

A long career in the Myrtle Beach golf industry began as a cart attendant before Spangler became an assistant pro at Quail Creek Golf Club in 1988. He was an assistant at Pawleys Plantation in 1989, and assistant then head pro at Indigo Creek from 1990-93. Head pro jobs followed at Indian Wells/Indigo Creek from 1993-94, Island Green in 1995, Tradition Club from 1995-2004, Bald Head Island Club in 2004, Oak Island Golf Club from 2004 until August 2010, and Island Green from Oct. 2010 until its closing on Aug. 19.

Spangler said he didn’t have health insurance at the time of the accident, and he was planning to file for unemployment the Monday after the weekend charity tournament, so he didn’t file for unemployment until his release from the hospital.

Spangler, who has two children — 13-year-old daughter Madison and 9-year-old son Preston — is looking to reenter the golf industry.

Before he left Oak Island in 2010 he began a golf construction and renovation company called Pro-Active Development that he’s trying to rejuvenate. He’s also doing some part-time golf-related marketing in the area, and would like to get back into the club pro profession. “It’s hard to get back, being out of the loop,” he said.

He’s ready to play again, and has pieced together a set of clubs largely from sets he’s lent to friends. His set of Ping Rapture irons were destroyed in the accident. “The bag’s ripped up and the clubs are all broken,” he said.

First Tee leader excited

So who is Veronica Gore-Kennedy, the new executive director of The First Tee of The Grand Strand?

The 56-year-old recently graduated from college after raising four college graduates ages 25-30 as a single mother, and she believes she’s found her calling.

“I have a passion for this,” Gore-Kennedy said. “It’s like giving birth. This is a conception, and now I’m nurturing something. I’m going to watch it grow up, help it exercise and get muscles.

“… I’ll watch [students] go from knowing nothing about golf to excelling at golf. And they’ll have characteristics that they would never ever think they would have. I’m going to help them dream this dream and see it come to life.”

While raising her children, Gore-Kennedy said she held up to three jobs simultaneously. She held positions at Harris Teeter, Wachovia Bank, Toys R Us, the Jackson National life insurance company, a U.S. Postal Service warehouse, and a 7-11 until the store was robbed. “They weren’t going to issue us helmets and bullet-proof vests, so I didn’t want to do that,” she said.

She spent 10 years as an executive secretary for the Victory Christian Center School in Charlotte, N.C., before moving to Southport, N.C., in 2006 to assist her ailing mother. There, she worked at the four-course St. James Plantation as a merchandiser and pro shop assistant who also gave occasional playing lessons.

It was at St. James where she was introduced to the First Tee of Brunswick County, and began volunteering.

She is a 12 handicap and has been as low as a 9. She first picked up a golf club in 2001, but by then she had already spent a year studying, reading extensively and watching videos about the game and swing. The books included those authored by Ben Hogan and David Leadbetter.

Her first set of clubs cost $25 at a consignment shop, and she said they were Louise Suggs signature Macgregor clubs. “I went out to play with those things and a woman offered me $5,000,” Gore-Kennedy said. “… When she said that then I really [started paying attention to golf].”

She often practiced before work, during lunch and after work, and joined the Les Birdies women’s group out of Sunset Hills Golf Club in Charlotte.

Gore-Kennedy said the commute from her home in Southport, N.C. — where she lives with her husband of three years, Walter Taylor, and dog, Coco — is not a concern, and she intends to buy a second home on the S.C. side of the Grand Strand once a home in New York sells.

She is passionate about her faith and has four grandchildren with a fifth on the way.

Her priorities for The First Tee are to expand the National Schools Program in Horry and Georgetown counties, recruit volunteers and establish home facilities in both Horry and Georgetown counties.

Annual fundraisers are expected to include a black tie dinner and gala, discount golf card and Futures Generations scramble tournament.

“There’s so much we’re going to give these children in South Carolina,” Gore-Kennedy said. “These minds we’re molding to be successful.”

The First Tee office is located at the Martin’sPGA Tour Superstore location in North Myrtle Beach. “This is going to blossom just like a rose garden,” Gore-Kennedy said.

Demo day

The Steve Dresser Golf Academy at True Blue Plantation in Pawleys Island is hosting a free demo day from noon to 4 p.m. Friday featuring 2012 product lines from Titleist and Cobra. Soft drinks and snacks will be provided. Call 843-650-2272 for more information.

To view Blondin’s blog, Green Reading, or Q&A Forum, Ask Al, go to TheSunNews.com.

Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.

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