Billy Hill stands just 4 feet 10 and weighs all of 117 pounds, but don’t go thinking that his diminutive dimensions in any way translate into a lack of stature at his job as ranger and starter at Hillandale Golf Course in Durham, N.C.
“There is no greater ambassador for a golf facility than what Billy Hill means here,” says Karl Kimball, the PGA director of golf at Hillandale, an 18-hole public facility designed by George Cobb that is not far from Duke University. “As the starter, Billy is the first contact many people have at the course after they pay their green fees, and Billy is just a sweet man who has a knack for conversation and putting people at ease. You can’t train anyone to do the job he does. Either it’s in you or it isn’t.”
What’s in Hill is a large heart that loves people and the game. Though he is 83 years old, the Durham native still plays three or four times per week. He’s had five hole-in-ones in his life, including one at the No. 4 at Hillandale.
And then there is the 20–30 hours he works at the same place he figures he’s played “a million times, and driven around it a million more.”
Hill gets every group started with an introduction to the course, the conditions and any special situations they might encounter, and then he monitors their progress throughout the layout, mostly making sure they are safe and enjoying their round. He also serves as somewhat of a traffic monitor, given that players have to cross a road.
“Golf is supposed to be fun. I feel like my job is just to help all the golfers have a good day,” says Hill, who has held a number of jobs throughout his life, including one for the state department of transportation. “I just try to do what I’m supposed to do, which is work with people, welcome them to the course and see they get around and enjoy themselves. It’s a dream job to me.” Hill started playing golf at a young age, though he doesn’t quite remember when. “We didn’t have a lot of money, but that didn’t keep me from playing,” he says. And, of course, as he grew older, golf only strengthened its grip on him. It’s something about the outdoors and the camaraderie with friends and the unique challenge that all come together for a oneof-a-kind experience. And that’s what drives him to want to help others get a similar enjoyment from golf.
“It’s the greatest game there is,” he says simply. “You learn a lot playing this game. But you get out of it what you put in.” Hill, who enjoys travel and Duke sports, particularly its men’s basketball team that enjoyed another great run in the 2010 NCAA Tournament, performs other tasks at Hillandale, none more special than his assistance with the junior clinics and junior academy. Kimball is so trusting of Hill that he lets him get the kids started before instruction begins.
“He’s an organizer who doesn’t need me to tell him what to do,” Kimball, the current Carolinas PGA Section president, says. “Things go pretty smoothly around here because he’s around, watching out, letting me know if there is a problem. What he lacks in stature he makes up for in personality and respect, and that’s big in our business.”
If Hill has one regret in his long life, it’s that he didn’t work in golf sooner. A lifelong bachelor, Hill says he’d have loved to have become an instructor and teach the game to others, particularly kids, and help grow the game. Nevertheless, he feels a strong connection to The PGA of America. “I feel like I’m a part, in some way, of The PGA, sure,” says Hill, who helps represent the association and what it stands for as an employee at Hillandale, a PGA facility. “The PGA does a lot of good things for people, especially kids. I think that’s what I like best.
“When I say this is the best job I’ve ever had, I really mean it. I think this is the best job anyone could have. This is what keeps me going, keeps me alive, really, and feeling like I am contributing to something that is important.”