Driving up to Bishopville Country Club, just minutes off Interstate 20 at Exit 116, visitors are greeted by a sign that identifies the course as the "Home of Tommy (Two Gloves) Gainey."
Gainey, South Carolina's latest PGA Tour sensation, and a 2012 Tour winner, did indeed grow up playing the course, which first opened in 1969. But Bishopville Country Club is a far cry from the mostly-flat, uninspired country layout that Gainey remembers from the past - and that's a good thing.
Since Donald and Tammy Brown purchased the course this past September, the Ed Riccoboni design has undergone a major, four-month renovation. Some $250,000 was poured into the golf course - three ponds added, more than 500 trees removed, fairways widened - and the result is a challenging but enjoyable treat for its small membership as well as the general public.
"It made sense (to buy and upgrade the course) for a couple of reasons," says Donald Brown, who also owns Carolina Piping and Rigging, a Bishopville construction company. "We owned all the equipment, so we could do all the work rather than contract it out.
"But we also like to give back to the county and the people here, the businesses here. We wanted to keep the golf course because there's not a lot in this county" in terms of recreation amenities.
The couple knows their community, having lived in Bishopville for 18 years. In fact, Tammy Brown is a native whose family-run furniture store in town is a 40-year tradition; Donald, a self-described "Army brat," spent his teen years in Dillon.
Brown says the construction project was a labor of love, with some 15 workers going "seven days a week" from the date of purchase until around Christmas to finish. The Browns hired Florida architect Robert "Cowboy" Scott, a one-time colleague of such design notables as Jack Nicklaus and Pete Dye who had refurbished nine holes at nearby Governors Run, to head up the renovation. Brown and other local players also offered input.
Much of the work was done to improve the course's aesthetics - a total of 82 palm trees were added along nearby S.C. 15 - but strategic concerns were also addressed. To counter the flat terrain, mounding was added along a number of fairways and particularly next to and behind greens, giving players some depth perception on approach shots.
Before, Brown says, "every fairway looked like a runway - dead flat. We had to break that up some." The extensive reconstruction left some still-ragged spots, but Brown expects the grow-in to be complete by mid-spring.
At the dogleg-left, par-4 ninth hole, a new pond now guards the turn toward the green, one of three ponds "we added for the looks," Brown says. A long stretch of water guards and defines the left side and approach at the 10th, and water is in play on Nos. 6 and 16, too.
"It's a healthier golf course without all the trees, because more sunlight can get to the greens," Brown says. Roots which also were a hazard to players are gone, too.
Two of Brown's favorite holes, the par-5 sixth and par-4 17th, are better because of the changes. The former, with its back-to-front sloping green guarded by a pond on the left, has more space to miss on the right now, plus mounding to prevent shots rolling into trees, while the latter, a straightaway 380-yarder that demands a tee shot both accurate and long (otherwise the approach to the elevated green is semi-blind) has mounding around and behind the green to keep shots in play as well.
A favorite stretch of holes are Nos. 14-17, known as the "Devil's Elbow," features several narrow, mounded and multi-tiered greens. No. 14, a par-3, is particularly difficult to hit the green, while No. 15 is a risk-reward par-4 that can be driven but has out-of-bounds left.
Expect Gainey, who bought a home in Hartsville, some 20 miles away, to again be an off-season regular. "He's probably played it a half-dozen times" since the renovation, Brown says.
Gainey, and others, might not recognize their old stomping grounds. For sure, though, they'll enjoy it. For information and/or tee times, call (803) 428-3675 or go click here.