By: Mark Haseldon, Morning News
FLORENCE, S.C. — This is a big week for Florence Country Club, and the folks there aren’t making any bones about it.
When the SCGA Amateur Championship Presented by McLeod Health tees off there Thursday, it will mark the first time since 1983 a golf ball has been struck in that tournament at FCC.
The club and its members are embracing the opportunity, head golf pro Steve Behr said.
FCC certainly is no stranger to hosting SCGA events. Each October, the SCGA Super Seniors is played there, and the John Orr junior leadership camp hosts about 50 kids for a weekend each November.
But the SCGA Amateur, the association’s “crown jewel” event each year, has had a long hiatus from FCC.
SCGA Executive Director Happ Lathrop said Florence and other older clubs have somewhat been the victim of the golf club explosion in South Carolina in the 1990s, which saw the establishment of courses like Colleton River Plantation (Bluffton) and The Reserve Club (Pawleys Island).
“We tried one time years ago to get a 10-year cycle going for clubs to host the Amateur, but it didn’t work out,” Lathrop said. “Then in the 90s, they started building such fine clubs like Colleton River. You’ve had so many great golf courses open up.”
But as it turned out, all it took was an invitation. Ben Ziegler, an FCC member who has a seat on the SCGA board of directors executive committee, played a key role in getting the tournament back to FCC, Lathrop said.
“He asked me one day how long it had been since we had played it in Florence,” Lathrop said. “I told him it had been a long time. He said, ‘Well, you ought to come here.’”
The rest is history.
Lathrop said the enthusiasm from the FCC staff, club and membership made a difference, as well as the golf course itself.
Lathrop praised the efforts of course superintendent Dru Clark for getting and keeping the course in shape.
“We don’t have to worry about whether the course is championship caliber,” Lathrop said.
“We have a lot of good members from there playing in our tournaments and they seem excited to have us,” Lathrop said. “It’s been around a long time, there’s a lot of history. It has held more state amateurs than any of our clubs. This is an opportunity to go back and relive history.”
Like Lathrop said, Florence Country Club and the SCGA Amateur do have plenty of history together.
This will be the ninth time the tournament has been played at FCC, which was built in 1924.
The SCGA Amateur was played at FCC in 1934, 1942, 1951, 1956, 1962, 1966, 1974 and 1983.
Florence native James Clemmons Jr. won the 1956 event, and Florence native Billy Womack won in 1962 and 1966.
“History is important for us when we’re picking a venue for this,” Lathrop said. “Florence deserves this. Sometimes a club just deserves to have a big dance at their club and if anybody does, it’s FCC for the way they’ve supported us.”