It's entirely fitting that The Walker Course in Clemson first opened on Oct. 5, 1995 - right in the middle of the Tigers' football season (an 8-4 record and third-place finish in the Atlantic Coast Conference that year, by the way).
Since then, a round of golf at the 6,911-yard, par-72 course - situated in the heart of campus, a stone's throw from 81,500-seat Memorial Stadium - has become a traditional part of the home-game experience for many Tigers fans and the occasional opponent's fans. When to play, though, is almost always dictated by kickoff.
"Typically, and this depends on the opponent, but the Friday of a home game, we'll do 200 rounds," vs. a normal 150-160 rounds, says Brent Jessup, The Walker Course's head professional since 1999. "As for game day (Saturday), it depends on what time kickoff is, and that's gotten to be a battle, since TV controls that, usually with a 7-10-day window.
"A lot of folks are on pins and needles, waiting to see if they can get in a round."
For the Tigers' 2012 home opener vs. Ball State with its 12:30 p.m. kickoff, Jessup and his staff booked 60 early-morning players going off double tees (Nos. 1 and 10) up until around 8 a.m. "After that, nothing," he says with a laugh. That's no surprise given the Tigers' 10-4 ACC Championship season in 2011 and their 26-19 win over Auburn to open this season.
"If you're not a football fan, though, this is the best time to be here," Jessup says. "You can practically have a private course to yourself, from an hour before kickoff until after the game." Of course, he adds, "the challenge is to find a way to get players here with the game traffic," much of which goes right past the club entrance.
Having an on-campus golf course was a decades-long dream at Clemson. Tigers golf coach Larry Penley, who enrolled as a student in 1977 and has run the nationally-ranked program since 1983, says "I never thought I'd see it" until it happened in 1995. "It was extremely exciting," he says. "We had a place to hang our hat and call home, to put our trophies. That was a really special time."
Designed by D.J. DeVictor and built for about $5 million, The Walker Course - as you'd expect given the surrounding foothills - features rolling terrain, tree-lined fairways and significant elevation changes, not to mention five holes playing along Lake Hartwell. The course's signature hole, the par-3 17th hole, features a green with four surrounding bunkers that create a replica of the school's "Tiger Paw" logo.
Clemson's 2012 home schedule has seven games, including important ACC dates vs. Georgia Tech (Oct. 6) and Virginia Tech (Oct. 20). Two back-to-back weekends of road games take place in late September and late October-early November before three straight home weekends to finish the year.
"We focus on doing fall aerification when the team is away those two weeks in September," Jessup says, "so the course will be fully recovered by the time they come back."
"We're kind of rolling the dice on Sundays," Jessup says, laughing. "A lot of folks book rounds, but it depends on Saturday's outcome. If the Tigers win and everyone parties a little longer, we'll get an uptick. And by Sunday afternoon, the students who decide not to study are back on the course."
If there's a better way to kick off a football weekend than that, Clemson fans haven't found it yet. For information, call (864) 656-0236 or click here.