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Home Course: Larry Penley

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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The problem with listing the accomplishments of Clemson golf coach Larry Penley is that the list gets very long and unwieldy in a hurry.

So let's stick with the highlights, starting with the Tigers' 2003 NCAA Championship, which also earned Penley college golf's Dave Williams National Coach of the Year honors. Add the 2009 U.S. Open Championship (and two other titles) won by former Tiger Lucas Glover, and the five PGA Tour victories by Columbian Jonathan Byrd, including the 2011 Hyundai Tournament of Champions. And don't forget all those touring professionals who still call Penley on a regular basis (they call him "Larry" when they do), including Glover, Byrd, D.J. Trahan, Kyle Stanley, Charles Warren, Ben Martin and, this year, 38-year-old PGA Tour rookie Tommy Biershenk.

Oh, and don't forget Penley's membership in the Collegiate Golf Hall of Fame, the S.C. Golf Hall of Fame ... and, perhaps his favorite honor, the recent completion of the Larry B. Penley Golf Building at Clemson, which houses the Tigers' men's team and, starting in 2013, Clemson's fledgling women's team.

You see where this is going? When you've been one of the nation's top golf coaches for nearly three decades - 2011-12 is his 29th season in charge - while winning a staggering number of Atlantic Coast Conference crowns and NCAA regional titles, it'd be easy to become blasé. Not Penley, who just turned 53 and figures he's likely to be around for a long time.

The current season is shaping up as another good one. Corbin Mills, who won the 2011 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship, plus McCuen Elmore and Crawford Reeves, headline a potent lineup - and not just strong but deep, with 8-10 players vying for the five-man starting lineup.

"I like our depth, and our three freshmen (Billy Kennerly, Stephen Behr and Hayden Garrett) are the biggest reason for that," Penley says. "They're going to be tremendous players for us, and they've added a lot to us in a short period of time."

That trend likely will continue, since Clemson has another powerful freshman class in 2012-13, headed by Leesville's Cody Proveaux, the reigning AJGA National Player of the Year. "There's no such thing as too many (players)," Penley says. "I've been at the other end of that spectrum and it's no fun. I'd rather have too many on the bench. Disgruntled? There's always an answer to that: Play better."

Penley and wife Heidi have created a tradition of golf and family at Clemson, and the annual Tiger Golf Gathering, which has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and draws dozens of former players, is testament to that. Even Reeves' fall absence because of a hairline back fracture didn't dampen the coach's enthusiasm.

"Crawford was in a lot of pain as late as Christmas," he says. "He had as a good a year (2010-11) as Corbin, and I expected him to establish himself as one of the best amateurs in the country. But we've got him back now, and we're a different team with him in the lineup."

Penley laughs. "It's going to be a lot of fun," he says. As his record indicates, that's generally the case for Clemson and its history-making coach.

Hometown: Dallas, N.C.

Bio: First-team All-ACC as player in 1980-81; Clemson assistant coach 1982-83, head coach 1983-present; seven-time ACC coach of the year; seven ACC team titles; won NCAA title in 2003. In early March, Penley's 2011-12 Tigers team captured the 15th USC-Aiken Cleveland Golf Intercollegiate at Aiken's Palmetto Golf Club. That gave him his 62nd career win, second in tournament wins by ACC coaches only to former Wake Forest coach Jesse Haddock. Fittingly, the victory came on one of Penley's favorite courses (see below).

Highlights: Won S.C. Amateur Championship in 1987 and 1988, S.C. Mid-Amateur Championship in 1990 and Carolinas Mid-Amateur Championship in 1992. His players have won 10 PGA Tour titles, two Ben Hogan Awards (college golf's top player), two U.S. Public Links Championships (Trahan, Mills), one U.S. Amateur title (Chris Patton) and an NCAA individual title (Warren).

Where I play: "Two of my favorites in the Upstate are The Reserve at Lake Keowee, for what they do for us, the great facilities, tremendous golf course; and Boscobel, which might surprise you if you haven't played there in 10 years. It's got the best greens in the Upstate next to the Reserve, just fantastic, very slopey and fast. That all helps us, makes better - and yeah, I sort of say that through the eyes of a coach.

"Chanticleer is a close third on that list, always great shape, a challenge; the hole locations can get dicey unless you play there a lot - and we don't, maybe once a month, where we play Boscobel and The Reserve 1-2 times a week. But it's still by far one of my favorites.

"Away from home, I love the Palmetto Club (Aiken); I'm old school, and it's great golf. You've got to control your ball off the tee and around the greens. (USC Aiken golf coach) Mike Carlisle has a tournament there and does a great job. It's just a great golf course. (In the Midlands), I've always been partial to Camden Country Club, the only true Donald Ross (-designed) course in South Carolina. Our guys need to know how to play that course.

"On the coast, it's hard to beat The Dunes Club in Myrtle Beach. That's where I won my first State Amateur Championship, so I've got a lot of strong feelings for it, it's still a phenomenal golf course, a great layout, and it demands so much of every club in the bag. I won my other state amateur in 1988 at (Kiawah's) Turtle Point; I haven't played it once since then, but I remember the greens were fantastic."

Where I eat: " The Peddler in Greenville has probably the best steak you can imagine. There are a lot of high-priced places in Greenville, but The Peddler, day in and day out, has the best steak for the lowest price. There's Weinacker's, between Clemson and Seneca on Lake Hartwell; great seafood and prime rib. And Pixie & Bills right here in Clemson is really good.

"The Blue Heron in downtown Clemson has the best seafood around, tremendous, and probably the best burger. On Thursday nights they have "Burger and Brew Night" where they take all the steaks and grind them into burgers, and it's just $8. That's fantastic. That's where most of the younger (Clemson) coaches go. And they have sushi, which I'm learning about; if I eat it, it's there.

"I like the Banana Cabana at the Isle of Palms, where they've got Buffalo oysters: fried oysters covered in Buffalo wings sauce, they're to die for."

What I do for fun: "The past few years I've gotten into sporting clays, which is sort of like golf with a shotgun. It's wide open, crazy. I go to The Clinton House in Clinton; it's just two miles from Musgrove Mill Golf club. That's my favorite place to shoot, just an hour and 15 minutes from Clemson.

"And right now, the trout are biting at Lake Jocassee. We go to Devils Fork State Park, where Duke Power built the cabins, and we stay in those. It's not 18 miles from my house. I went twice last week, and me and seven buddies are going there this week for a three-day fishing trip."

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.