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Hartsville Country Club

Bob Gillespie Bob Gillespie
Bob is a former sports writer at Columbia’s The State newspaper. He enjoys golf at South Carolina’s 350-plus courses, and after a round, sampling craft beers from the Palmetto State’s breweries.
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It's a sight you almost never see at a golf course: Six carts parked alongside the first tee as a dozen players prepare to tee off - as one team - in a captain's choice format.

The David Dorn Memorial Tournament is an annual August highlight at Hartsville Country Club. Begun in 1994 to honor the memory of a local youngster and populated in large part by family members, the Dorn Memorial, says head professional Matt Frye, is "absolutely incredible, a spectacle."

Picture 20 teams of a dozen players each - that's 240 players - not only making sense of all those shots in the fairways and on the greens, but wrapping up the fun-filled competition in about five hours. That takes a lot of golf carts.

"It started out as six-man teams, but now it's so big we do the 12-man teams," says Frye, who grew up from age 11 in Hartsville and returned as pro about two years ago. "It's gotten so popular that we had to cut off the entries. It's amazing, too, how quickly and smoothly it all goes."

If the first-tee carts lineup sounds like a NASCAR race on grass, it's no coincidence. When nearby Darlington Raceway staged spring and fall races on the Sprint Cup circuit, officials held a spring media golf tournament at Hartsville, where tales of drivers hitting shots over one another's heads still abound.

For the Dorn Memorial, Frye recommends signing up early; fields recently fill up so fast, Craig Dorn, David's father, tells Frye he may not bother to send out entry cards in the future. "Golf Channel did a special on it two years ago," Frye says. "It's kind of neat to get to play with all your golf buddies and not have to split up into foursomes." (Proceeds built the David Dorn Academy at the club's driving range, and fund four scholarships for Hartsville High and McBee High graduates.)

But you don't have to wait for next August. Hartsville Country Club - with the stamp of legendary architect Donald Ross, who laid out the front nine in 1926 - is open for public play. Frye says he gets calls from outsiders about the Ross connection, and the course plays about 25,000-30,000 rounds a year of visitors and its 300 members.

One you might spot, especially in the fall, is a regular who plays with golf gloves on each hand. That would be PGA Tour member Tommy "Two Gloves" Gainey, a native of nearby Bishopville and an honorary club member. On a recent Sunday, "we thought (Gainey) might crack the 60 mark" after a front-nine 28, Frye says, "but he shot 33 on the back ... with two bogeys."

Hartsville has another famous connection: PGA Tour hall of famer Tom Watson was a consultant on a mid-1990s renovation. "We use those names (Ross and Watson), but we're careful," Frye says. "We want folks to come and play us, but we don't want to be overrun, either."

That wasn't an issue on a recent weekend, the course busy but not jammed by players taking advantage of a Sunday morning discount ($28, with cart). The original front nine has trees along the perimeters but also generous fairways and small, well-bunkered and undulating greens. The back nine, added in 1949, ramps up the difficulty a bit. "It's completely different from the front, where you can mis-hit some shots and get away with it," Frye says. "The back nine is a lot tighter. It's like two different courses."

The par-4 sixth hole, listed as the No. 1 handicap hole, is a tree-lined dogleg right playing over and then along a creek that fills out into a pond near the green, which features a Ross-like drop-off at the back right. The par-3 11th hole (185 yards from the back tees, 157 for members) plays uphill to an elevated green, with water off the tee requiring a full carry. Perhaps the most photogenic hole is another par-3, the downhill-over-water 16th. Bulkheads front the green and three bunkers catch any too-long shots.

Frye gives his course points for its playability. "So many courses now are very lengthy with thick rough to combat technology, but this (course) is old-style, not as long," he says. "With the smaller greens, you have to be more accurate, but you're not hitting hybrids into every hole. I call it player-friendly; it makes you want to come back."

Upgrades to the Bermuda greens are scheduled beginning as early as next summer, with plans to resurface with heat- and fungus-resistant Mini Verde. "The greens need to be redone" for year-round benefits, Frye says, "but in the fall when we over-seed, they're very popular."

At Hartsville, there's the chance each August to tee it up with 11 of your good pals, or to watch Gainey wield his magic in the PGA Tour off-season. If you're just looking for fun, reasonably-priced golf - well, Hartsville has that, too. 

Bob Gillespie
Bob is a former sports writer at Columbia’s The State newspaper. He enjoys golf at South Carolina’s 350-plus courses, and after a round, sampling craft beers from the Palmetto State’s breweries.