Golf

Bob Gillespie

SOUTH CAROLINA INSIDER

 

Home Course: J.R. Berry, WLTX-TV in Columbia

Posted 8/24/2012 1:48:00 PM

Followers of the CBS television network and WLTX-TV in South Carolina’s Midlands have been watching J.R. Berry and his familiar shock of silver hair for 22 years now. And while the Sumter native is not the station’s sports director, it’s hard to not recognize his love of all sports – but especially golf.

Most evenings on the station’s news telecast, Berry manages to slip in a remark about “great day tomorrow to be on the golf course” or the like. Even his WLTX profile notes that “in his spare time, you can usually find J.R. on the golf course,” most often his home course, Beech Creek.

No wonder; for Berry, golf truly is a lifetime passion.

He started playing at age 6 and grew up playing at a now-defunct Sumter course, Pocalla Springs. At one time, he says, he was the proud owner of a single-digit handicap. But from age 18 until he turned 30, Berry actually gave up the game he loved, and still loves, so much.

“I was newly married at 18, with children” – he and wife Gay eventually had six; today, they also have 17 grandchildren – “and I didn’t have the time to play,” he says. “I was working several jobs then, doing the normal family stuff.

“I took it up again at 30, but to be honest, my game has never been the same since I started back.” These days, he still plays to a respectable handicap of about 17.

Berry began his broadcast career working in radio in 1977. He joined WLTX-TV in 1990 as a general assignment reporter, reporting from Saudi Arabia on Fort Jackson and Shaw Air Force Base personnel serving in the first Gulf War. From 1994-96, he also anchored morning news for Columbia radio station WVOC.

Berry became WLTX-TV’s morning news anchor in 1998, and in 2002 moved into his current role as evening news anchor. He is also involved in a number of community service activities. And of course, he’s reacquired his love of golf.

The game has given Berry a lifetime of memories, but perhaps none more special than one from six years ago. “I’ve never had a hole-in-one,” he says, smiling wistfully, “but I got to see my father – Robert Berry Sr. – make a hole-in-one on Dec. 17, 2006. That was the last time he played Pocalla Springs, our old golf course.

“On his very last hole that day, he knocked it in. He was 66 at the time.” The elder Berry passed away earlier this year.

Chances are if you tune into WLTX-TV in the evening, you’ll hear Berry reporting the news – and, if the forecast is good, he might even talk about the weather. If it looks right for golf the next day, that is.

Hometown: Sumter

Bio: Began radio career in Sumter in 1977 and continued in that market until moving to Columbia’s WLTX-TV in 1990; became the station’s evening news anchor in 2002 and still co-hosts with Darci Strickland.

Highlights: Anchored Sumter radio station WBIZ coverage of Hurricane Hugo in 1989, when the station was the only one in the Midlands still on the air; he was cited by then-President George H.W. Bush for that coverage; won awards at WLTX-TV for investigative reporting, spot news and documentaries; serves as speaker for News 19 Choices program in partnership with the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, visiting local schools to encourage correct life choices.

Where I play: “Obviously, I’m partial to Beech Creek, that’s my home course and I love it. There’s the Country Club of Lexington, I love that course, love the layout. When it was open, it’s not any more, but Sumter National was a pretty decent course. Over in Manning, Shannon Greens for the money is a nice public golf course. They’ve done a lot of good things out there and the layout favors my game.”

Where I eat: “(laughs) The Chat-N-Chew in Turbeville is pretty good. Shealy’s Barbecue in Batesburg is excellent. And of course, Ward’s Barbecue in Sumter is excellent, too.”

What I do for fun: “Well, I’ve been to the Big Mo, the drive-in theater (in Monetta). It’s a family atmosphere and we always enjoy going over there. I’ve been to the beach, the mountains, but if I’m not playing golf, I’m probably out by the pool watching my kids swim; they love it. The beach is the beach, and I love Myrtle Beach – the heart of it more than North Myrtle Beach or, say, Garden City. I just like the lights, the busy season, I like the atmosphere there.”