Sports column: Bill Caldwell was a Vicksburg legend

Published 3:55 am Sunday, January 28, 2024

Even if you never met him, if you’ve ever spent any amount of time around one of Warren County’s golf courses odds are that you’ve heard of Bill Caldwell.

That’s the way it goes with legends.

Caldwell, you see, was perhaps the best local golfer Warren County has ever seen. He made six holes-in-one. He won the Vicksburg Country Club championship a dozen times and the Warren County Championship three times, and kept adding his name to the trophy at ages when most are hitting scud shots off the senior tees.

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Caldwell’s last Warren County championship came in 1994, when he was 68 years old. He won the VCC championship three years after that. His 15 combined championships spanned 36 years.

“I have no idea how many times he finished second,” said his grandson, John Halpin Caldwell. “It would be so funny that, for someone who won so much, it was the near-misses that he always talked about.”

Besides his local success, Bill Caldwell won several amateur tournaments around the country and a couple of Corps of Engineers regional championships. His mix of determination and skill made him a top player no matter the field.

“Just sheer willpower. He never missed a fairway and chipped and putted better than anyone else,” John Halpin Caldwell said. “He was the best putter in Warren County for a number of years.”

Bill Caldwell routinely shot his age well into his 90s and never felt old, his grandson said. He played golf three times a week until his vision deteriorated, and then went to the course as often as he could wrangle up a ride.

“He bought a new car on a six-year note and got a driver’s license that was good for 10 years when he was 94 years old,” John Halpin Caldwell laughed. “He told me all the time that he never felt old until these last three or four years.”

Bill Caldwell was born in 1926 in Beckley, West Virginia. He served in the U.S. Army and was stationed in Korea in 1946, during the period between World War II and the Korean War. He briefly played basketball at the University of Miami, left school and went to work on an automobile assembly line in Michigan, then went back to school and got his degree in civil engineering from Michigan State.

Caldwell moved to Vicksburg in 1962 to work at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Research and Development Center, and over the next 62 years he raised a family that shared his passion for golf.

More than a half-dozen of Caldwell’s children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews played college golf. His son, Bill Jr., was inducted into the PGA of America Hall of Fame, Gulf States Section in 2002. John Halpin has twice won the VCC championship. Almost all of them were taught by the family’s best, Bill Sr.

“Just the experience and knowledge that he could pass along was invaluable,” John Halpin Caldwell said. “Just the opportunity to learn from his experiences helped his kids and grandkids become accomplished players as well.”

Golf, especially in Bill’s later years, became as much a vehicle for spending time with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren as it was for his own enjoyment, John Halpin added.

“In September my 6-year-old son hit a ball off the ladies’ tees on the No. 6 hole (at VCC) over the massive ditch that’s there. He hugged him and the two of them lit up like it was Christmas,” John Halpin said. “There’s not a lot of people that can say they got to spend as much time with my grandparents as I did. And even their great-grandparents.”

Bill Caldwell passed away on Jan. 19 at the age of 97. His funeral was held, appropriately, at the Vicksburg Country Club for one last round at his home course. His casket was in a banquet room in the clubhouse, while photos and trophies lined the length of the bar — and most of the tables — in an adjacent dining room. It was a tribute to a life well-lived.

“When you think you have this game mastered, that’s when it masters you,” Bill Caldwell said in a 2011 interview with The Vicksburg Post.

Caldwell might never have mastered the game, but he came as close as anyone in Warren County ever has. And even though he’s gone, his legend will certainly live on.

That is, after all, how it goes with legends. They never die.

Ernest Bowker is the sports editor at The Vicksburg Post. He can be reached at ernest.bowker@vicksburgpost.com

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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