Here’s Ellen Griffin with stock-car driving legend Richard Petty, who was at the Randleman farm to pick up a child after a golf lesson. (Courtesy photo)
Former instructor created foundation for teaching, playing careers
RANDLEMAN – From what was farmland in Randleman to much bigger stages, Ellen Griffin helped grow the game of golf.
While that was decades ago, her legacy lives on.
“It’s unbelievable people still remember her,” said Charlie Griffin, her nephew.
Last week, Griffin was inducted posthumously into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame at Raleigh Convention Center.
She was a golf instructor and helped form many initiatives involving women’s golf.
So many of the stories associated with Griffin revolve around her teaching venue with a Randleman address.
It was far from what would be considered a conventional set-up.
“It was pretty fascinating,” said Dot Germain, who became a golfer on the LPGA Tour. “She was turning this old farm into a golf facility. You would hit balls into the side of the barn.”
Former college golf coach Mary Beth McGirr also said the setting was different. But there was an appeal, largely because of Griffin.
“I would teach there in the summers,” McGirr said. “I kept coming back to the farm.”
Germain recalled that along with the golf clubs there were peacocks, turkeys, ducks, guinea hens and cows.
“Animals would follow her around,” Germain said.
Griffin typically donned painter pants, a flannel shirt and a bucket hat.
“She was not a self-promoter,” Germain said. “She was one-of-a-kind.”
Charlie Griffin, now 72 and living in Washington, D.C, spent time on the farm during his teenage years. He saw what was happening with golf among the farm animals.
“She raised me in those very important years of high school,” he said.
He recalled what Ellen Griffin did on about 8 acres of land near N.C. 62. There were three holes and a sand trap.
“That’s where she set up her shop,” Charlie Griffin said.
She created an indoor hitting area and putting green.
Yet her influence was extensive, particularly on women’s golf.
McGirr credits Griffin with boosting her career, which included time as an award-winning coach at UNC Greensboro and an Atlantic Coast Conference Coach of the Year at Wake Forest.
“She was really my teaching mentor,” McGirr said. “She was wonderful. She had a way of weaving life lessons into golf. She had a gift. She was particularly gifted with the kids. She wanted to have a positive influence in their lives and she did.”
Part of what impressed McGirr was how Griffin was so steadfast in her teaching methods. And it didn’t matter if the student was from Randleman or a country club in Greensboro.
Much of Griffin’s background stemmed from her role as a physical education instructor at the Woman’s College of UNC (that became UNCG), where she spent nearly three decades. She had a fondness for golf.
“She was so forward-looking,” Germain said. “It was golf that she wanted to teach. I would say she was an expert on the basics.”
Germain first heard Griffin speak during a tournament at Duke. She later met with the instructor in Greensboro.
“She really liked to teach,” Germain said. “She taught the basics and I could watch her teach. She was fun and she was an expert. She was a teacher’s teacher.”
Griffin’s influence came at a time when there was room for women’s golf to grow.
“That’s back when women didn’t have any status in the profession at all,” Charlie Griffin said.
She helped found the Women’s Professional Golf Association, the forerunner of the LPGA. Among many honors, she was named the 1962 LPGA Teacher of the Year.
Her instructional manuals were geared toward golf teachers. She spent time as educational director of the National Golf Association.
Page Marsh, the current women’s golf coach at North Carolina State, was one of Griffin’s former students. She pushed to have Griffin enshrined in the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.
Griffin died in 1986 at age 67. She’s buried in Snow Camp on the grounds of Cane Creek Friends Meeting.
After Griffin’s passing, McGirr oversaw what became known as “The Farm” for several years to keep it as an instructional place for golf.
Griffin has been recognized for many achievements. She entered the Guilford County Sports Hall of Fame in 2014. This latest induction seemed like another level.
“It came out of nowhere for me,” Charlie Griffin said. “For it to happen again now in 2023, it’s pretty amazing.”