Golf is always a part of the South Carolina experience, but in the fall it’s college football that dominates the sports scene. Still, most of the state’s football-playing colleges and universities have found ways to combine great golf with great Saturday games and pageantry. Each week this fall, we will profile the teams and the courses in our “Go(lf) Team!” features.
For many alumni and fans of South Carolina State football
, a home-game weekend is not complete without a round of golf at Hillcrest Golf Club
. With most of the Bulldogs’ games at Oliver C. Dawson Bulldog Stadium being played during daylight hours, Sundays are popular for getaway rounds.
There is more to the S.C. State-Hillcrest connection, though, than convenience of location. The school and the golf course are joined by history, both good and bad.
In 1968, Orangeburg
and its historically black college made national headlines with the deaths of three S.C. State students during a civil rights demonstration, forever after known as the Orangeburg Massacre. Then, later that year, school president M. Maceo Nance took the first steps to creating a public golf course that would serve both blacks and whites.
Nance that fall visited Elizabeth City (N.C.) State, where he saw a golf driving range built on school property. Nance didn’t play golf – he would later become an avid player – but he knew that S.C. State students and other blacks in the community had to drive to Columbia or Charleston to find a place to play then (these days, the city’s private Orangeburg Country Club accepts members of all races).
“The more I thought about it, the more I thought (a public course) was an excellent idea,” Nance, now deceased, said in 2000. “I was interested in ways to improve the community (and) that wasn’t easy then for S.C. State to do.”
Nance approached Orangeburg’s city manager, Bob Stephenson, about creating a recreation facility that would help bring together and heal the racially divided town. He offered to lease S.C. State’s 150-acre dairy farm to the city for 50 years at $1 a year and turn the land into a joint city-school complex, with tennis courts, baseball and softball fields – and a golf course.
“The property still belongs to the school,” says Jake Fogle, an Orangeburg native and head professional since 2003. “The women’s golf team practices here and they host a tournament here each year.”
Fogle has been on the Hillcrest staff for 16 years and is only its fourth head professional. In fact, he says, “This is the only (golf course) I’ve ever worked.” His best round there is a 7-under 65 – “many, many years ago when I played much golf,” he says with a laugh.
Now in its 40th year – the course opened in 1973, with Gov. John West hitting the ceremonial first shot – Hillcrest was designed and built by popular architect Russell Breeden. Besides local players, the 6,722-yard, par-72 course lures travelers with billboards along nearby Interstate 26.
Interestingly, the course opened the same year that S.C. State alumnus Willie Jeffries arrived, taking over a struggling Bulldogs football program and making it a small-college powerhouse. In two stints (1973-78 and 1989-2001), Jeffries compiled a 179-132-6 record and was voted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2010.
Jeffries, now retired from coaching, serves on the course’s golf commission, as does his successor at S.C. State, Buddy Pough, an Orangeburg native and avid golfer.
With a front nine that winds through pine forests and a more-open back nine, Hillcrest features rolling terrain, a number of elevated greens, and water on five holes. The signature hole is the par-5 15th, which requires two solid shots to reach the dogleg right, then a precise approach to a mounded green with water left, right and long.
“It’s a risk-reward hole, where you can take a chance (of reaching the green in two shots) at a birdie, or you can make bogey or much worse,” Fogle says. The par-4 17th also is a gambler’s hole, allowing players to play safe off the tee or try to drive over as much of the lake as they dare to set up a shorter approach.
Hillcrest bills itself as one of the state’s top municipal courses, but it is more than that: over four decades it has become a gathering place for families and youngsters playing baseball, softball and tennis as well as golf. With attractive rates ($25 weekdays, $29 Saturday-Sunday, including cart) and room to miss on many fairways, Hillcrest is a favorite of vacationers to the nearby Santee Cooper area.
And during football season, especially since Pough’s teams have won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) two of the past three seasons, Bulldogs fans consider it the perfect ending to a memorable weekend. “A lot (of fans) stay over and play (Sunday) before they head back home,” Fogle says.
For S.C. State alumni with long memories, Hillcrest is not just part of a return to their alma mater. It’s also part of their school’s history – a golf course to call their own.
For information and/or tee times, call (803) 533-6040 or click here
S.C. State’s remaining home schedule:
Nov. 10 – North Carolina A&T, 1:30 p.m.
Nov. 17 – Savannah State, 1:30 p.m.