Instead, Downs one day in 1965 told his bosses he wanted to retire and take his 401(k) "back to South Carolina to build my golf course," Judy Downs Schaftner says, sitting in the clubhouse at her late husband's creation, Carolina Crossing Golf Club in York.
Downs didn't just want to own a course. Carolina Downs, as it was originally named, was his design; he took five years to build the first nine, opening in 1970, with the second nine completed a year later. With its tight, tree-lined fairways, demanding slopes in the fairways and small, elevated greens, the course was his passion until 2004.
When Downs was afflicted with Alzheimer's, his wife sold the course to the Penton Group, which renamed it. "I owner-financed it so I could stay at home with Gerald and have income," Schaftner, 63, says.
But after her husband's death in 2009, the new owners defaulted, she took it back, and then sold it again. Then this February, she foreclosed on the second ownership group, and now she's back in the golf course business.
"It's a hard thing to lose your spouse," says Schaftner, who remarried. "I didn't think I could (run a golf course) without him, which is why I kept selling. But when you don't get paid, you don't have a choice." The course will remain Carolina Crossing, she says, because "they put up too many signs and it'd cost too much to replace them."
Gerald Downs left behind a lush green legacy. Carolina Crossing, typical of courses in the York area, has rolling hills and thick forests lining its fairways. While the Penton Group shortened it (from nearly 7,200 yards to its current 6,155), the layout remains a tight, challenging design, with seven lakes in play and a five-some of difficult par-3 holes, highlighted by the downhill, water-guarded 171-yard 13th.
A particularly daunting stretch comes at the par-4 fourth and fifth holes, both narrow and requiring precise tee shots (the first is a dogleg left, the other a dogleg right), followed by the par-4 seventh - the No. 1 handicap hole at 431 yards - with another tough dogleg left.
The uphill, par-5 ninth features a narrow gap between trees off the tee, and an uphill approach to an elevated, bunker-guarded green. The dogleg-left 10th has a blind tee shot over a creek and up to another elevated green.
"If you're not in the fairways, the rough can be quite difficult, it's so thick," says Schaftner, who played golf before quitting due to a back injury. "I think we have the best fairways in the area," with 419 Tifton Bermuda and 319 Bermuda greens replacing the former, hard-to-maintain bent grass surfaces.
Schaftner confesses to some tough economic times in recent years, but a loyal membership of about 60 and regular public play spurred by competitive rates ($33-$38 for 18 holes, senior rates of $28-$35, and deals for juniors and walkers) allows her to keep it going. She has even entertained the occasional celebrity.
"(Former University of South Carolina and Philadelphia Eagles defensive back) Sheldon Brown likes to come here, where no one bothers him and he can just play," she says. In the clubhouse bathroom, two of Brown's Outback Bowl jerseys hang on the wall - surrounding a "For Clemson fans only" sign.
It feels, in other words, like a locals/family place. It has been that in fact, for nearly a half-century. For more information, call (803) 684-5878 or visit www.carolinacrossinggolfclub.net.