When Kelley Hester was hired by Greenville's Furman University in 2012, she knew what was expected of her: rebuild the once-proud Lady Paladins golf program. But then, that was nothing new for the former Georgia player and coach, who has been rebuilding women’s college golf teams most of her coaching career.
In 2016, it’s the same story at Clemson, where Hester was hired as the women's golf coach. "Clemson has the resources to build something special," she says.
Indeed, Hester’s previous stops were at SEC members Arkansas and Georgia (five seasons each), where she produced top-20 golf teams and such outstanding players as Stacy Lewis, a one-time No. 1 LPGA player, and Silva Zamora, the NCAA’s 2011 player of the year.
Hester says Clemson’s situation is “probably a lot like everywhere I’ve been: For whatever reason, the program was not where it should be. My path is to help built it, mend relationships (with players), help change the culture. It’s what I’ve always done in the past. I don’t know if I love doing that, but life keeps putting me in that situation.”
One personal benefit: Hester and husband Trey (the couple has a nine-year-old daughter) won’t have to move from their Travelers Rest home. “My husband has a good job, so I’ll be making that drive to Clemson every day,” she says, laughing.
Besides “a great core group of talent” to work with, Hester says Clemson’s traditional powerhouse men’s team, led by veteran coaches Larry Penley (three decades-plus at his alma mater) and assistant Jordan Byrd (a Furman graduate), is a major bonus.
“Larry and Jordan have been all on-board to help,” she says. “I’m excited to be around their program. They’ve had a lot of success with South Carolina players and have put a large number of those on the (PGA) Tour.”
Hester’s expectations are to do something similar with Clemson’s women. It’s a new town and a new school – but the same task she’s been doing for years.
Hometown: Macon, Ga.
Bio: Four-time letter-winner at Georgia (1993-96), member of 1993 and 1994 SEC champions; began UNLV golf program; coached five seasons at Arkansas and five seasons at Georgia; coached at Furman University, 2012-16.
Highlights: Southern Conference coach of the year and conference championships, 2015 and 2016; led Furman to 20th-place NCAA finish, 2016; produced Southern Conference players of the year, 2015 and 2016; led Georgia to five NCAA Regional appearances, finishing 10th (2008) and 15th (2009) nationally; players include Arkansas’ Stacy Lewis (former world No. 1) and Georgia’s Silva Zamora (NCAA player of the year, 2011).
Where to play: “I think golf in the Upstate is wonderful, and we’ve played quite a few courses (Furman golf team). The Reserve at Lake Keowee is a wonderful facility, and we had access to The Cliffs at Mountain Park. Furman University Golf Club is a wonderful public course, and I’ve been involved with an LPGA girls golf club there to help grow grassroots-level girls golf in South Carolina."
“I think a hidden gem is Crosswinds in Greenville, a par-3 course where we took our Furman teams; it’s wonderful for all levels of skill, and has some of the best greens in Greenville. At Clemson we have the Walker Course, which hosts a lot of junior golf. I’ve walked it several times but haven’t played it yet; just walking it was a challenge.”
Where to eat: "My husband (Trey) and I live in Travelers Rest, so we like the Swamp Rabbit Brewery there; it’s a great place to hang out. So is Shortfield’s, a Travelers Rest sports bar. And there’s a new sushi place there, Sushi Yama. Travelers Rest is an up-and-coming area."
“In downtown Greenville, we like Smoke on the Water, which is right at Falls Park and a great representative of what downtown is about. They have wonderful barbecue; my husband likes their pimento cheese burger, and a nice ice cream place, Spill the Beans, is right there, too, and afterward you can take a walk on the suspension bridge. We also like Nose Dive, which has small plates and dinner options and is a great place to decompress after work. They have good beers and a well-rounded menu."
What to do for fun: “My husband is a competitive bass fisherman, so he loves Lake Hartwell and is learning about Lake Keowee; any time on the water is a good time. I like to ride bikes in early morning on the Swamp Rabbit Trail with our nine-year-old daughter. We’ll stop at the Swamp Rabbit Grocery about halfway between Greenville and Travelers Rest to get provisions for our adventure. And we’ve spent a lot of time on the Furman campus, which is beautiful. A lot of people who aren’t associated with the university also enjoy the lake and the trails there.”