by Bill Hensley
Aug. 26, 2013. Few people can claim two interesting and colorful careers like Norris Clifton of Sugar Mountain. The tall, friendly Clifton served 24 years in the military. He did two tours in Vietnam and was awarded two Bronze Stars for meritorious service. He also saw duty in Europe, South Korea, Hawaii, Alaska and the Pentagon; once chauffeured General Curtis LeMay; rode in a Thunderbird fighter plane; met his future wife in Germany and served lunch to a U.S. President.
Later, as one of the nation’s best known club executives, he was general manager at two prestigious clubs, the Dunes Club in Myrtle Beach, and the Grandfather Golf and Country Club in Linville. He was at Grandfather for 21 years, retiring in 2009.
“My careers were widely diverse,” he said. “Yet my Air Force duty taught me how to be a successful club manager.”
Clifton explained that a good portion of his military service involved being on an inspection team that reviewed military clubs to ensure they met a long list of requirements.
“After spending several years working in and around clubs, I learned all phases of a club’s operations from food and beverage to accounting to personnel. When I retired from the Air Force as a Master Sergeant in 1975, I looked immediately to continue my career as a club manager.”
A native of Hampton, S.C., Clifton joined the Air Force after attending nearby Clemson University. He was assigned a number of duties before becoming a club inspector who traveled to numerous foreign assignments. For having the top ranked officer’s club in Europe, he was honored with a flight in a Thunderbird team’s jet.
“It took me two days to catch my breath and stop shaking,” he said.
When General LeMay’s regular driver broke his leg, Clifton volunteered to assist the Air Force Chief of Staff for a five-week period.
“That was a most interesting and educational assignment,” he said.
One of his most surprising ventures was being asked to serve an unexpected visitor to an officer’s club.
“Much to my amazement, the guest was President Nixon,” he said.
But his favorite overseas experience was meeting his future wife at a military base in Germany. “The minute i saw her, I knew I wanted her to be my wife,” Clifton said. He and the former Anke Tiemann have been married 41 years with two adult children, a son and a daughter.
Making friends with a popular club manager in Texas was a fortunate break for the airman.
“During the course of my career, I met Red Stegar of Houston’s River Oaks Club who befriended me. He became my mentor and urged me to retire from the Air Force and come into the club business. He helped me get a job in Crowley, Texas and that got me started.”
Clifton moved from Crowley to Bryan-College Station, Texas, and was then offered a job at the Spartanburg Country Club back in his native state. After two years he was called by the Dunes Club in Myrtle Beach and was hired after a lengthy interview that involved a number of club members.
“I thoroughly enjoyed my four years at the dunes,” he said. “It is a great club with great facilities and a long list of outstanding members.”
Clifton had planned on staying at the Dunes for a long time but an executive search firm called in 1987 and said that he was under consideration for a top-secret position at a major club. “The interviews went on for months before I finally found out that the club was Grandfather. Then I made two or three trips to the club for a variety of interviews.”
Clifton was hired in 1988 and stayed at the club until his retirement 21 years later.
“Grandfather was a most happy part of my life,” Clifton stated with pride. “It was a real pleasure to serve such a fine club, and we accomplished much by working together in a friendly, yet business-like environment.”
During his tenure, Grandfather built a new clubhouse, a new beach recreational facility and established a unique environmental program that effectively saved thousands of native Hemlock trees. And the famed golf course was consistently ranked in the nations top 100 courses.
“And it was all within the budget,” Clifton said with a smile.
At Grandfather, the noted general manager directed a program that served more than 500 members. He led a staff of 180. “One of the most satisfying aspects for me was producing a satisfied membership.”
Now in a happy retirement, Clifton, 78, escapes the problems and pressures of military and club management career by playing golf a few times each month, working out at the Avery County YMCA and by being active in a number of community activities. He is a member of the Sugar Mountain Village Council and attends the Sunday Chapel by the Lake at Grandfather, which he helped organized. He has missed greeting attendees and pouring coffee for them only twice since 1996.
But his most enjoyable activity is working on the yard of his spacious home at Sugar. Since retirement, Clifton has become an avid horticulturist and built his own greenhouse. His one-acre lot is a showplace of colorful flowers, plants, shrubs and trees. “I take pride in my yard,” he said. “I spend most of each day working out here and in my tool shed. It is quite a thrill to see new things grow and be beautiful, and to work with my hands. To me, this is heaven.”
Clifton said that throughout his career his motivation was a fear of failure. “I never wanted to fail at anything, so I worked hard to be successful in every phase of my life and my career.”
Needless to say, his fear was never a problem.