CHARLESTON, W.Va. - For a state mostly known for its whitewater rafting, hunting and fishing, West Virginians have enjoyed golfing almost as long as there has been a West Virginia.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin on Tuesday presented a proclamation to members of the West Virginia Golf Association commemorating the group's 100th year.
Six state golf clubs founded the organization in 1913 to oversee the state's amateur golf tournament. The group now has 85 member clubs and more than 12,000 members, organizing a variety of tournaments and tours, as well as a youth golf program in state schools.
But golf was in the Mountain State long before the West Virginia Golf Association was formed.
The state's first golf course, Oakhurst Links in Greenbrier County, was founded about 20 years after West Virginia became a state.
WVGA Executive Director Ken Tackett said Scottish immigrants built the course in 1884, making it one of the first five golf courses in the country.
"They settled in West Virginia because it felt like home and built a nine-hole golf course," he said.
The state's golf industry is now worth more than $600 million, with more than 100 golf courses scattered throughout the state.
Some of the world's best golfers have played on West Virginia's courses, from Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods to 17-time West Virginia Open champion Sam Snead.
Since 2010, The Greenbrier's Old White golf course has hosted "The Greenbrier Classic," a nationally televised stop on the Professional Golf Association tour.
"We're very proud of what we have to offer here," Tomblin said before presenting a proclamation to Tackett and Phil Reale, chairman of the West Virginia Golf Hall of Fame.
"Golf is one of those games you can continue to play throughout your life, and it's for all ages," Tomblin said.
He applauded the golf association's First Tee program, which currently teaches golf to students in 50 state elementary schools. The association hopes to expand that program to all state elementary schools by 2020.
Tomblin said he began golfing relatively late, taking up the sport in the late 1990s when he, former House Speaker Bob Kiss and former statehouse reporter Tom Miller started the Tin Cup Challenge charity golf event.
Tomblin now is a member of the Logan Country Club in Chapmanville, although he said it's been a while since he was on the links.
"Not much time for the last couple years, but I love to be out," he said.
Following the press conference, Tomblin and First Tee student Sam Goodwin, 9, took turns at an improvised driving range set up on the Capitol's west lawn. Tomblin, armed with a large red plastic golf club and miniature tennis balls, even chipped a few shots at gathered photographers.
Goodwin, son of U.S. District Attorney Booth Goodwin and governor's spokeswoman Amy Shuler-Goodwin, has participated in the First Tee program for three years. He said he usually gets to play about twice a week.
"When you hit the ball in the air, it feels good," he said.