The 62-year-old native of tiny Cope, S.C., does remember sitting on a 5-gallon bucket, six-pack of Budweiser at his side, a 12-gauge shotgun in his lap. He was shooting at doves one day in 1999, amid the remains of a drought-browned, recently bush-hogged cornfield, when it struck him.
“I thought about that movie “Field of Dreams” and kept hearing that theme in my mind,” Kilgus said. “Then I looked down in the valley where the sixth hole is now.
“I walked in and told (wife) Len, ‘I know what I want to do. I’m going to build a golf course.’ And she said, ‘What?’ We rode out to the bucket and she looked in the valley and said, ‘You might have a good idea there.’”
A dozen years, a sizable chunk of change and many long, hard hours of labor later, Kountryside Golf Course is what Kevin Costner might’ve envisioned if he’d made “Tin Cup” before “Field of Dreams.”
The 5,922-yard, par-72 course, built on 180 acres of pines-lined fairways and featuring water on seven holes – including the par-4 10th, which demands a tee shot over the pond that also serves as the course’s driving range (“floating range balls,” Kilgus says) – is about 20 miles from Orangeburg, the nearest town of any size. Yet despite being a homemade course built by a man who has played golf once in his life, in a poor economic environment no less, Kountryside is doing fine, thank you.
In fact, it has what only a few other South Carolina courses can claim: a Golf Channel moment.
The Kilguses needed four years to build their front nine (it opened in 2003) and another four to get to 18 holes (2007); two friends offered their bulldozers, between construction jobs, to clear the land in exchange for property on the course. “That’s why it took four years,” Kilgus said. Not long after the back nine was done, The (Orangeburg) Times & Democrat newspaper did a story on the course.
That ran on a Sunday. On Tuesday, Len Kilgus answered the phone and discovered Golf Channel reporter Rich Lerner was en route from Orlando, Fla.
“They got here at 1:30 p.m. and left at 8:30 p.m.,” Bobby Kilgus said. That was in November 2007; in December, Golf Channel aired the results in three six-minute segments over a Thursday-Friday-Saturday period, along with video from Harbour Town Golf Links and Mount Pleasant’s RiverTowne Club.
Talk about a shot in the arm. Soon, players from nearby Denmark, Orangeburg, Bamberg, St. George and elsewhere came to play. Many return regularly, paying $22 ($14 for nine holes) every day. “Why should I punish people for playing weekends?” Kilgus said.
The club has 40 members and gets about 130 rounds of play each week – “not bad for a golf course in the middle of nowhere,” Bobby Kilgus said. It’s enough, he says, for him to have recouped his investment and paid for the course’s equipment.
The fairways are 419 Bermuda with TifEagle hybrid greens, which are surprisingly quick. While overall length is modest, four par-4s play at or close to 400 yards. Par-5 holes are reachable (none more than 472 yards), but the course plays longer due to a number of uphill holes.
The back nine features three potentially drivable par-4s (300, 304 and 333 yards), but none are pushovers. The 349-yard 10th has a 160-170-yard carry over the corner of a lake; eventually, a pontoon boat will carry golfers and carts across, but for now players face a long drive around the water.
The course record of 68 (twice) is a mere 4-under par. “This little golf course – it’ll kick your (butt),” Bobby Kilgus says proudly.
On the clubhouse wall, the Kilguses display an autographed photo of Golf Channel announcer (and Myrtle Beach native) Kelly Tilghman – “I’d rather have seen her than Rich Lerner,” Bobby Kilgus says, grinning – next to a framed copy of the original newspaper story. A flat-screen TV shows replays of the Golf Channel episodes.
Kilgus still doesn’t play golf. He doesn’t hunt or fish much anymore, either. “I do 90 percent of the (maintenance) work,” he said. “Eighteen holes doubled my work.”
But he doesn’t mind. How else would the Kilguses have entertained a visitor from Ireland in “the middle of nowhere?"
“This man saw us on Golf Channel and had family in Tennessee,” Bobby said. “He told his wife, I’m going to the U.S. (in 2008) and go to Kountryside.” The reason? The man’s last name is Cope, same as the nearest town.
Kilgus didn’t envision such moments while sitting on that bucket, shooting doves and drinking Buds. The rest, though, is pretty much the way he figured on.
For tee times/information, click here or call (803) 536-5888.