In the 1980s, Furman University established itself as a small-college football powerhouse, winning an NCAA Division 1-AA national championship and finishing as the national runner-up. Those glory days still draw legions of purple-clad fans to the school's Paladin Stadium each fall to cheer on their team.
But a decade before its success on the gridiron, Furman was known for its national championship in another sport: women's golf.
In 1976, future LPGA Hall of Famers Beth Daniel and Betsy King led a team from the small, Baptist-supported school to the national tournament and topped Tulsa, led by another hall-of-famer, Nancy Lopez, for the title. Today, a visit to the Furman University Golf Club is not complete without spending time in the clubhouse gazing at the Wall of Fame, where photos of 18 All-Americans and 17 LPGA and PGA players who passed through the Greenville school hang proudly.
"The younger generation don't know much about those (players) in 1970s and 1980s," says Kyle Stam, head professional for two years and a golf course employee for 10, "but those who lived here, who went to school here, always come in. They ask, ‘Do you see (Daniel, King, Sherri Turner and other former players) often?' They want to see where they played."
During football season, the roughly 7,000-yard-long course - less than five minutes from Paladin Stadium on the campus' northern perimeter along U.S. 25 Alternate - draws extra alumni mostly for two weekends: Parents Day and homecoming. Because the Paladins play mostly day games - and because other locals are usually headed to Clemson on Saturdays - "it's not very busy out here if those two are at home," Stam says. "If it's a night game, we'll get a lot of play in the mornings."
That doesn't mean, though, that fall weekends aren't perfect for golf at the course, designed in 1955 by architect Richard Webel and Walter Cosby, superintendent of greens at the famed Greenbrier Hotel and Golf Resort. Indeed, when the Paladins (and Clemson) football teams are on the road, the crisp weather and fall colors make a perfect backdrop for 18 holes at this upstate classic layout.
Since 2008, players also have enjoyed a beautiful renovation by architect Kris Spence, who rebuilt the course's greens, bringing drainage up to USGA specifications and resurfacing with Champions Bermuda to replace bent grass that was more susceptible to summer heat and infestations. Spence also beefed up the course's bunkers and redid the irrigation system.
Stam says the new greens "make this a much tougher golf course. It's a really good test for the golfers," including members of the Furman men's and women's teams.
The result also has been "a huge success with our year-round conditions," Stam says. "We're able now to keep our green speeds consistent; before, you had to let the bent grow long in the summer."
Open to the public as well as to members and Furman University students and staff, the course averages 32,000 rounds a year, with about 60 percent of play by visitors and school staff.
Spence, based in Pinehurst, North Carolina, and with several other Carolinas renovations (Lake Toxaway, Sedgefield, Camden) to his credit, is best known for his treatment of classic Donald Ross courses, and the redone Furman course reflects that. Its former greens featured push-up, "turtle-back" construction, elements that were retained in the reconstruction.
The best example is the short (161 yards) par-3 eighth hole, which "is very difficult since we rebuilt it," Stam says. "It's almost a rounded green with a small landing area, so you've got to hit it to the middle," or else see balls roll down shaved slopes into several surrounding bunkers. Stam also likes the long (469 yards), dogleg-left par-4 13th, "our most challenging one" of a string of difficult par-4s.
Besides its greens, the course is characterized by thick stands of pines along many fairways, and rolling terrain with considerable elevation changes.
As does the school, Furman University Golf Club exudes a friendly, intimate ambience that elicits strong loyalty in its grads. "Especially at homecoming, a lot of alums come back, especially since the (renovation)," Stam says. "They want to see that, and they enjoy the better conditions.
"We also hear ‘I'm looking forward to coming back'-from the regulars and also from (fans of) other schools."
Those visiting fans don't necessarily look forward to a game at Paladin Stadium. A round at Furman's historic course is more likely to leave them with fond memories.
For information, call (864) 294-9090 or go to https://www.furmangolfclub.com/.