When you think of the pleasures of small-college football - the intimate stadiums, the crowds of loyal alumni strolling across a tree-filled campus, a crisp fall Saturday watching true student-athletes - you're thinking Presbyterian College. There's nothing quite like a visit to Clinton's Bailey Stadium to see the Blue Hose play ... though the experience has changed in recent years.
For decades, Presbyterian - PC to its fans - played in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics' (NAIA) South Atlantic Conference. And each year, the Blue Hose faced nearby arch-rival Newberry College on Thanksgiving Day in a battle for the Bronze Derby - as good a small-college tradition as you could find anywhere.
But in 2007, looking to upgrade its football program, PC departed for the the Big South Conference of the NCAA's Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). Now the Blue Hose face off each fall against instate Big South foes Charleston Southern and Coastal Carolina, and this fall played Georgia Tech of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Still, it remains a cozy college environment. And no trip to PC is complete for golfing fans without a round at one of several nearby courses - most notably The Links at Stoney Point in nearby Greenwood.
While Lakeside Country Club in Laurens and ultra-private Musgrove Mill (east of Interstate 26 but still in Clinton) are occasionally accessible, it's hard to find a better challenge than Stoney Point, a public 1990 Tom Jackson design. Particularly daunting are its slick MiniVerde Bermuda greens, which can drive players to distraction with their speed and dramatic undulations.
Head professional Kevin "Scratch" Whitehead, a Virginia native whose wife is from Greenwood, moved to Stoney Point from Charleston, where he worked at Kiawah's Ocean Course. A $5 million renovation in 2010 took a solid layout and made it special, he says.
"We've done a lot of changes to some holes, and aesthetically we added 7,000 azaleas and 10,000 plantings total," Whitehead says. "Plus on the back side of No. 2, we took down trees that blocked views of Lake Greenwood. The look of the course, that's what folks talk about." Other notable changes include stone walls fronting the greens bordered by Lake Greenwood and a pond and waterfall at the sixth hole.
Among regular visitors are plenty of Blue Hose football fans every fall. "We see an increase then, and outside play is up on Saturdays," Whitehead says. "Typically rounds are down when South Carolina and Clemson are home, but when they're away, that helps." The course also draws from the PC student body, faculty and a number of coaches from all sports at the college.
The result is upwards of 30 percent of Stoney Point's play comes from outside the club's membership, around 10,000-15,000 rounds per year. "We have quite a few come up from Columbia (during football season), folks that never have played here before," Whitehead says.
The pro's favorite holes include the "semi-short" par-5 second hole, which requires a second shot over a pond to the green (and a new, "Hogan-style" stone bridge); the par-3 13th hole with azaleas framing the green; the temptingly short par-4 15th, a dogleg right with bunkers guarding the right side - "you've got to carry those to green the fairway, and it demands accuracy," Whitehead says - and an elevated, two-tier green that can incur three-putts; and the downhill par-4 18th, which demands a 250-yard carry over a pond on the right side in order to save 40-50 yards into the green.
After a round, the clubhouse has a veranda facing onto the first and 10th tees and the 18th green, a great spot for lunch. And if you play a late-afternoon round, you'll hear "Amazing Grace" played over the course loudspeakers around 7:30 p.m. (6:30 p.m. after EDT ends). "The new owner wanted that," Whitehead says. "He has business in the Pebble Beach area and got the idea from Spanish Bay."
That might sound a bit West Coast chic for the Presbyterian crowd, but it makes for a fun golf experience. The small-college vibe can wait until kickoff.