Growing up in Maryville, Tennessee, in the shadows of the Great Smoky Mountains, Albert Huddleston learned several lessons from his father, Gordon, a World War II pilot and navigator as well as an avid golfer.
“I was raised to be true to your passions and kind to people in the good times,” said the younger Huddleston, who in 2017 established Maridoe Golf Club on the outskirts of Dallas. “And when things get difficult, you double down. If you can make a difference, you do more.”
Things in amateur golf certainly got difficult when the COVID-19 pandemic forced widespread canceling of tournaments last winter. Suddenly, there was no junior golf to speak of. No college competitions either. Most of the invitationals catering to elite amateur, mid-am and senior amateur players were postponed until 2021. And the USGA was only able to stage two of its 10 national amateur championships.
Needless to say, it was not a good time for competitors. Junior players could not display their skills for colleges they one day hoped to attend. College golfers could not show team captains and the USGA officials who select national squads why they should be picked for the Walker and Curtis Cups. As for the top mid- and senior ams, they lost not only the chance to butt heads with the best golfers in the land through the season but also the opportunity to spend time in social settings when play was done with the good friends they had made on the tournament circuit through the years.
“We as a club answered a clarion call. We did it with a cheerful heart and a desire to fill a competitive void as we also showed that tournament golf can be safely played if proper COVID protocols are followed.”
“Several weeks after COVID really took hold, I ran into Jordan Spieth in front of our clubhouse,” said Huddleston. “I asked him when he had last gone this long without playing in a tournament, and he said not since the age of 6. That got me thinking that we needed to do something.”
Huddleston started by creating the Maridoe Samaritan Fund Invitational, a three-day, 54-hole event for tour professionals and elite amateurs of all ages. Played in late April, it went so well that players encouraged Huddleston to hold a 2.0 version a few weeks later, which he did. With the PGA Tour starting up again in June, the club then turned its attention entirely to the amateur game. Huddleston put on the Maridoe Junior Invitational early that month and after that hosted the 114th Southern Amateur, as previously scheduled.
“We were convinced we could still stage it in July and do so safely,” said Huddleston, a single-digit handicap and the chief executive officer of Dallas-based Aethon Energy. “But there were concerns about being able to hold qualifying events. I suggested that we make the tournament an invitational for this one year. But then I learned that their budget came from fees they received for the qualifiers.
“So, I asked how much that was. The people at the Southern Am gave me a number, and I wrote a check in that amount, so we could start talking about the tournament again.”
After that event came the Maridoe Invitational in October; the East-West Cup Matches in early November, featuring leading mid-ams, seniors and college golfers; and this past week the Maridoe Amateur Championship, which is acting in many ways as a preview tournament for potential Walker Cup players.
“We as a club answered a clarion call,” said Huddleston. “We did it with a cheerful heart and a desire to fill a competitive void as we also showed that tournament golf can be safely played if proper COVID protocols are followed.”
Not surprisingly, the amateur golf world is very appreciative. “Albert stepped up at a time when no one else would,” said Scott Harvey, a leading mid-amateur golfer and the creator with Huddleston of the East-West matches that were staged last month at Maridoe. “Golf really needed that.”
Nathaniel Crosby, the captain of the American Walker Cup team, agrees. “It’s impossible to overstate what Albert Huddleston has meant to the game,” Crosby said as he made his way to the Maridoe Amateur to do a bit of scouting. “He saved amateur golf this past year.”
Huddleston has been interested in all aspects of golf since he was a young boy. He drew golf holes in his school notebooks and competed in junior tournaments. He also played club golf at Vanderbilt University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering science and met his future wife, an art history student from Dallas named Mary Hunt. Her father was Nelson Bunker Hunt, an heir to the Hunt Oil fortune and an infamous silver speculator as well as a notable breeder of thoroughbred racehorses.
After graduating in 1975, Huddleston moved to Texas and married Mary. He started his energy company, and he and Mary started a family that came to include four children. As much as he loved golf, however, Huddleston gave up the game for a spell to concentrate on his company and his family. But as his children grew up, he started playing regularly again. He relished the things that made a golf course great – and made a club special. Huddleston was especially taken by the Honors Course outside Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he was a member, and the way that its founder, a Coca-Cola bottling executive named Jack Lupton, ran it.
“That got me thinking about creating a place of my own,” said Huddleston in his gentle drawl. “A sandbox for me and my friends, where people who loved the game of golf could enjoy it as well as each other.”
The chance to finally do that came six years ago, when he purchased a club out of foreclosure in Carrollton, Texas. He then hired architect Steve Smyers, an elite amateur golfer, to revamp the original, Ralph Plummer-designed track. “I didn’t necessarily want to build the hardest golf course,” Huddleston said. “But I wanted a layout where players had to think their ways around. A place that was strategic and would make you a better player, whether you are a touring professional or a higher handicapper, and ensure that you are not intimidated by any other golf course after playing there.”
Work began in summer 2015, and the par-72 course reopened in 2017. It boasted five sets of tees, with the back ones measuring more than 7,800 yards and the most forward markers coming in at 5,200. Smyers also created a 20-acre practice ground that includes a two-ended driving range, a three-acre short game area and four indoor hitting bays.
As for the club name, that came from a nickname the late Bunker Hunt had bestowed upon Huddleston’s wife when she was born. Hunt called her Maridoe, because he thought her big brown eyes looked like those of a deer.
As much as Maridoe was designed to be a member’s club and course, Smyers says Huddleston also wanted it to become a top tournament venue.
It was earning a name for that before things got difficult and COVID hit, hosting the Trans-Miss Amateur and the Texas Mid-Am in 2019 and earning the opportunity to stage the U.S. Women’s Four-Ball in 2021. And Huddleston is building on that reputation by staging the Maridoe Amateur, the Maridoe Junior Invitational and the Maridoe Collegiate Invitational again next year.
Once again, he has doubled down.
People in the amateur game will never forget it.