“Some guys on the S.C. State staff said, ‘Let’s go out to the golf course,’ and I said, ‘Go out to the golf course? What are you going out to the golf course for?’ Pough says with one of his characteristic chuckles. “They said, ‘You’re going to play (because) we’re going to play.’ Of course, I just kind of followed them out there.”
They went to Hillcrest Golf Club, Orangeburg’s city-run public course built on a former S.C. State-run farm, and it didn’t take long for Pough to get the bug. “I hit one shot – actually, I tried to hit a whole bunch of shots – but I did hit one, and that feel of the ball coming off the club properly is what hooked me,” he says. “I think that’s what hooks everybody.”
Thirty-six years later, he’s still hooked. “From that point on,” he says, “I always wanted to play.”
When he wasn’t coaching, that is.
The past decade, Oliver “Buddy” Pough, 59, has become a hometown legend as head coach at S.C. State, which plays in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, formerly known as Division I-AA. The Bulldogs were 7-4 in 2011, but won 10, 10 and nine games from 2008-10, earning three NCAA playoff berths and winning or sharing the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title each of those seasons.
“Legend” isn’t a label they just toss around at S.C. State. Pough followed his former coach and College Football Hall of Fame member Willie Jeffries, a daunting task for most. But Pough has relied on his old coach as a mentor, even becoming a popular speaker and joke-teller in the Jeffries tradition.
He doesn’t mind making fun of himself, either. Pough has a lineman’s physique, and laughs about playing golf while a young assistant coach at O-W, whose colors are maroon and orange.
“That must’ve been some kind of real sight, me in a pair of orange (coaching) shorts,” he says of his golf attire then. “I must’ve been something – and it must not have been pretty.”
Before returning to take over at State, Pough coached at Keenan (Columbia) and Fairfield Central (Winnsboro) high schools, winning a state title at the latter. He was hired as an assistant at the University of South Carolina and worked for another legend, Lou Holtz, a job that had a few golf perks.
“We were sitting around the office one afternoon and as luck would have it, (Holtz) was looking for someone to go play,” Pough says. “He said, ‘Hey, let’s go play Augusta National,” where Holtz was a member, “and I said, ‘What!?’ We went over and I knocked it around with him. I probably shot 100, the usual. But it was fun.”
Golf still is fun – when Pough has time. “As I’ve gotten farther along in the coaching business, the clubs have gotten farther and farther back in the closet,” he says. “I probably ought to be using them more now, because I’ve got access to as good a golf places as I ever had in my life.
“I’ve been all over: Hilton Head places, Myrtle Beach places. It’s just that you don’t have the time to do what you really want to do, and should do. You don’t take the time, which is probably the biggest mistake of all. When you look back on it, you’ll regret not taking advantage of those opportunities.”
Not bad for a guy who a guy who had to be dragged to the course to play the first time – and hasn’t looked back since.
Bio: Played football for Orangeburg-Wilkinson High and South Carolina State. Coached at O-W, S.C. State as assistant, at Keenan and Fairfield Central as head coach; assistant to Brad Scott at Lou Holtz at South Carolina; became head coach at S.C. State in 2002.
Highlights: Won or shared three MEAC titles (2008-10); record in 11 seasons at S.C. State is 83-33 overall, 64-15 in MEAC play. Twice named MEAC coach of the year.
Where I play: “Right now, this (Orangeburg Country Club) is my favorite in South Carolina. But Hillcrest is a lot of fun; I actually learned to play there. I’ve played all the courses around Columbia: Northwoods, Cobblestone Park, LinRick. Persimmon Hill in Saluda was always in good shape, and I played Hickory Knob (in McCormick), that was a lot of fun.
“In Myrtle Beach, I’ve played the Dunes Golf & Country Club, all those courses around Litchfield Beach – The Reserve Club, True Blue, Caledonia. In Charleston, I’ve played Wild Dunes and the Kiawah courses, plus Shadowmoss, Patriots Point and Dunes West. I used to be the golf coach at (S.C.) State, so we played all over: Palmetto Club in Aiken, Midland Valley, Houndslake – just all over. South Carolina has got as many great golf courses as anyone anywhere, I think.”
Where I eat: “We most come here (Orangeburg Country Club), the food is fabulous, they’ve got a special touch. I like Dianne’s in Columbia, Garibaldi’s and California Dreaming. I’ve been to Mr. Friendly’s in Columbia, too; we use one of their recipes out at (Buck Ridge Plantation, an Orangeburg hunt club). In Charleston, I like all those restaurants, (especially) Peninsula Grill.”
What I do for fun: “It’s just the two of us (Pough and wife Josie) at home now, but we used to go to Litchfield every year and spend a week in some of Jimmy Smith’s properties on the beach. We’d go to Fripp Island, spent some time there; that was always a big Gamecocks place, and they’d have a big outing over there after National Signing Day (for recruits). I’m a big beach guy.”