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Home Course: Tom Jackson

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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South Carolina's Tom Jackson
Tom Jackson

Tom Jackson still loves what he's done since 1965 - building golf courses around the two Carolinas and nationally. The Greenville resident finds himself contemplating retirement more and more these days.

That's more a testament on the state of business in golf course architecture, though, than anything to do with his passion for course design.

"I started seeing the industry really change around 2008," Jackson says. "With the decline in real estate, and it being harder to borrow money from banks, it changed the dynamics for new development. With some many of those in trouble, the bottom dropped out, and it's had an impact on the golf business."

Indeed, The Golf Foundation reports less than 20 new courses built in the U.S. in 2013, while nearly 200 courses closed, many being converted to housing property. Jackson understands: "It's an expensive game, and the demographics of families are changing - parents follow kids' sports, kids are glued to Xbox and other games - and that leave less time for (golf)."

Still, he says, "I enjoy my work so much. It's been an inspiration to me for 45 years. Nowadays, I'd love to have one nice project a year." Much of his work is renovating existing courses (including his own) and smaller projects, such as a practice and training facility for Limestone College at Cherokee Country Club in Gaffney.

Jackson got into golf course design after earning an architecture degree in 1965, mostly because "my father was a wholesale florist and I didn't want to spend my life inside a hot greenhouse." Building golf courses "seemed like a perfect way to get outdoors."

He sent out 35 resumes and got one answer - but it was from iconic Robert Trent Jones, who hired him to work building courses in Puerto Rico. Later, he worked for George W. Cobb before striking out on his own in 1971.

For years, he worked in partnership with his sons - Tom III ("Ridg") and Reece - but both have moved into other jobs, while their father keeps his hand in where he can. Having built more than 100 courses, including about 45 in South Carolina, his legacy is secure; it's more about sadness at seeing his craft struggle.

"I hoped to pass the company on to (his sons)," Jackson says. "I wouldn't want to spend seven days a week on it anymore - but I do love the business."

Hometown: Westchester, Pa.; lives in Greenville.

Bio: After finishing college in 1965, started in golf course design working for famed architect Robert Trent Jones Sr.; later worked for architect George W. Cobb; began Tom Jackson Golf in Greenville in 1971; worked with sons Tom III ("Ridg") and Reece before scaling back his business in the slow economy.

Highlights: Named to Carolinas Golf Hall of Fame in 2007; designed and built nearly 100 courses in the Carolinas and Kansas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania; top S.C. courses include The Cliffs at Glassy, first of The Cliffs courses in Upstate, and Mount Vintage Plantation near North Augusta, former host of an LPGA tournament.

Where I play: "I play most of my golf on my courses because I'm always welcome when I walk in door (laugh). I did the two (S.C.) state parks courses, Cheraw and Hickory Knob, and those are wonderful facilities for public. I also like playing at Carolina Country Club in Spartanburg, the Links O' Tryon, and Willow Creek, and any of The Cliffs courses. My wife and I live at Pebble Creek, so I play a lot here, too."

Where I eat: "Our favorite restaurant in Greenville is the Open Hearth in Taylors. We also like the Augusta Grill, which is downtown on Augusta Road and is very nice. The Nantucket Grill is good, too. We also love to eat at P.F. Chang's, and High Cotton and Rick Erwin's, both down in the West End, are both excellent. We also like to eat at Soby's. These days, downtown Greenville has 90 or more different restaurants, anything you want from bar food to high end."

What I do for fun: "We're both big-time sailors and we like to sail on Lake Hartwell. We used to keep a 25-foot Capri and raced it. It was small enough to fit on a trailer, big enough to get the family on. You'd have a three-person crew, and we sailed out of Charleston and Florida, but we got tired of that and sold it. We also used to ski, but since I had a double knee replacement, I don't do that anymore. We like to go to the Peace Center and the Greenville Little Theatre; Greenville is really a renaissance town now and we enjoy it. It's getting bigger but it's still small enough to see and meet people you know. I also hunt; we own land in Cross Keys in Union County, and 20 years ago I would go to Colorado to do some elk hunting and bear. It's in my blood, but that's one of those things I'm trying to get away from. I don't want to fall in a rocky area and hurt my knees again."

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.