Our editor, Miriam, asked me about doing a story on the famous gathering spot, Cliff’s Bar, at Highland County Club. I agreed it was a worthy subject. Now the bar is handsome with its oak panels and custom design, but the naming of the bar after longtime Highland employee Cliff Newman is the real story.
My parents joined Highland in the early 1950s and I feel like I have been a member most of my life. Sandee and I joined the club in 1972 after college and just after starting my insurance career. I can’t remember a time I didn’t know Cliff. He raised a lot of us Highland brats in the late 1950s and early 1960s, as it was the daycare center for our working parents back then. We went out early in the morning and played golf and then went to the swimming pool. At that time, it was a small club and there was not a snack area so we would go to side door of the bar where Cliff worked and would harass him for soft drinks, peanuts and crackers. He was always accommodating and we all liked him. Later on, I worked in the men’s locker room several summers for extra cash when I became a teenager. During this time I came to know all the employees and Cliff stood out as the leader among them.
We became such good friends over the years that Cliff came to our wedding and also came to my son Bob’s funeral in 2006. When he retired, I led an effort to raise money because the club had started an IRA a little too late to make much difference for his retirement. The response was unbelievable due to the sheer fact that everyone loved Cliff.
Cliff saw a lot of things during his 40 plus years at Highland. Some of the most humorous involved men that were all great friends and loved to play practical jokes on each other. The late jokesters were Julian Hutaff (Coca-Cola family) and Jack Parks (founder of Parks Building Supply). They pulled jokes on Walker Bender (Bender’s Drug Store owner). Cliff would be dragged in on many of these jokes as an unwitting partner.
One day, the friends were discussing an old cigarette brand of Picayune, which was noted to be very strong. The company stopped making them at the end of the Eisenhower administration. Mr. Hutaff knew this, but he kept ribbing Mr. Bender that they were still made and he maintained, “If they still made Picayune’s then Bender’s Drug Store would be selling them.” Hutaff traveled a lot in his job with Coca-Cola and stopped at an old country store deep in the back woods of South Carolina and found several packs of the extinct cigarette. He got with his practical joke partner Parks and discussed how they could “set-up” their good friend Bender. This is where Cliff came in the scheme.
In those days, there was a cigarette machine in the bar and Cliff had the key to it. They asked Cliff to put the packs of cigarettes in the machine. After golf one afternoon, the friends were all having a cold one at the bar. The two schemers started the conversation about the cigarette still being made and Bender was adamant they were not made, sticking with his earlier statement. Then Hutaff made a friendly wager with Bender that they were still made, setting the trap. Soon as the wager was made, Hutaff flipped Cliff a quarter (that was the cost of a pack in a machine then) and asked, “Please go get Mr. Bender a pack of Picayune out of the machine.” It was in plain sight in the bar and everyone saw him go put the quarter in the machine and pull the handle where the Picayune’s were stored. Out popped the pack and Walker Bender was completely flabbergasted by what he just witnessed. After a few minutes of total exasperation by Bender, the schemers finally told him the truth and they all had a great laugh.
We now would call those the “good ole days.” Cliff had many more stories, but some of them could not be told in print.
Cliff was a fine man and a great friend to my family for nearly 50 years. We loved Cliff and he loved us. He is greatly missed.