“Billy Mantle Lane” likely piques the interest of folks that see the street sign for the first time in the Harbor Club golf community in Georgia on Lake Oconee. Even a casual sports fan would ponder the street name’s inspiration. There are Hall of Famers, and then there’s another level of mythological one-name legends like Jordan, Ruth, Brady and Mantle.
The New York Yankees are measured by one thing — championships. And no other sports franchise has been more successful than the team famous for pinstripes. The Yankees are 27-time World Series Champions, the St. Louis Cardinals are a distant second with 11. And when the lights were brightest, Mickey Mantle was a savage in the box. He is the all-time World Series leader in home runs, extra-base hits, walks, RBI, total bases and runs scored. The Mick appeared in the World Series 12 times, winning seven. And after an 18 season First Ballot Hall of Fame career, Mantle returned to Yankee Stadium in 1969 for his #7 jersey retirement ceremony. The sold out stadium roared for 10 minutes in a rare display of admiration. Mantle appeared embarrassed as the standing ovation went on for eight minutes and then turned the corner for an even louder, more deafening raucous.
All that and Mantle felt like he left a lot on the table. He sat down with Bob Costas for a personal and powerful conversation in his Harbor Club condo in March 1994. Mantle bought a place there in 1991, he gambled with the boys on the golf course and fished Lake Oconee. Unbeknownst to him at the time — he was near the end of his life. A candid man, he expressed regret for 40 years of hard drinking and admitted he could have been a better father and family man.
“I was not a good father. I wasn’t ever there for my kids like my dad was for me,” Mantle confessed.
John Matney, Harbor Club owner was there when Costas visited, “That interview happened on Bob Costas’ birthday and Mickey made sure we got in nine holes before they sat down. And I remember Mickey was wearing a Harbor Club golf shirt and he asked the cameraman to make sure to get the logo in the shot. He was nice about that kind of stuff.”
Billy Mantle, namesake of Billy Mantle Lane, was the youngest of four sons by Merlyn and Mickey. He was just 36 when he passed away from Hodgkin’s disease and years of substance abuse. At the time of Billy’s death, Mickey had just received treatment for alcoholism at the Betty Ford Clinic. Matney and others at Harbor Club decided to remember Billy by naming a street after him.
“We just wanted to do something nice for Mickey after Billy had passed, but other people got involved and the dedication ceremony became a huge event,” Matney laughs. “The Governor of Georgia came and proclaimed it Billy Mantle Day. It’s still on the books to this day, it was all incredible.”
Admirers called Mantle “The Commerce Comet,” he could run like the wind and was from the small town of Commerce in northeast Oklahoma. Mantle’s greatness made grown men stutter, but he was just one of the guys at Harbor Club. He’d throw down a lawn chair and crack a cold beer like a local at neighborhood block parties.
Matney remembers Mantle as a humble, good man that cared for others when no one was watching. Mantle once watched a truck driver run off the road and hit the Harbor Club guard gate. Mantle feared the truck driver might get in trouble or lose his job so he took care of it.
Mantle hosted the first of a few Mickey Mantle Charity Golf Classics at Harbor Club in 1991. The Club would donate the facility at no charge and every dollar raised benefitted disadvantaged children in the area. Mantle hosted similar fundraisers since the mid-70’s at Loma Linda Country Club (now Eagle Creek Golf Club) in Joplin, Missouri and at Shangri La Resort in Afton, Oklahoma.
Not long after the Costas interview, Mantle received a liver transplant the following spring and died a few months later on August 13, 1995. Mantle confided to Costas, “I still need to get with em’. I need to tell them [sons]I love em’. Maybe I do, in the back of my mind feel like I’ve let everybody down some way or other.”
Mickey Mantle’s story is one with a happy ending because his harsh self-assessment reveals a changed man — a remorseful man. It’s a tragedy too because he didn’t get more time to fulfill those promises.
Anyone can tee it up at Harbor Club where Mickey Mantle roamed, it’s a semi-private facility about an hour west of Augusta National. In a state loaded with quality golf courses, it’s one of the better tracks in Georgia. Green fees start at $59 right now — Masters week rates climb to $199 before 3 p.m., $169 after 3 p.m., $169 for groups of eight and $149 for groups of 12 or more. The Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish design touches Lake Oconee on six holes and skirts four creeks. The par 72 golf course plays 7,048 yards from the tips with a reachable par four on both sides. It’s a nice place to settle a Nassau, Bingo Bango Bongo or game of choice — just like #7 did.