Golf is always a part of the South Carolina experience, but in the fall it's college football that dominates the sports scene. Still, most of the state's football-playing colleges and universities have found ways to combine great golf with great Saturday games and pageantry.
The ultimate in small-college football is a crisp fall weekend at Gibbs Stadium, where the Wofford Terriers enjoy a facility built by their late-summer guests, the NFL Carolina Panthers. And to round out the complete Upstate experience, there's nothing like a late-Friday or early-Sunday round of golf at one of more than a half-dozen courses within 30 minutes of the Wofford campus.
So which one to choose? Wofford golf coach Vic Lipscomb ticks off public-access options: The Creek, Woodfin Ridge, Three Pines, Village Greens, the Gary Player-designed River Falls, Greer Country Club and Cherokee National in nearby Gaffney, all on his go-to list (full disclosure: Lipscomb's team practices at private Country Club of Spartanburg).
Then there's Willow Creek in Greer, where head professional Kurt Vogel - he previously worked at The Cliffs Valley course near Greenville - takes his Terriers ties seriously. And so Wofford ticketholders each week find a voucher in their ticket materials - a "Terrier Token" - for discounts at Willow Creek.
To be fair, "we do that with (Southern Conference rival) Furman, too," Vogel says. Clemson fans also are welcome, and South Carolina fans, too - even if Vogel is a Tennessee fan. "I bleed the other orange," he says, laughing.
"No question, we get a lot of play from (Wofford fans), but football can have a derogatory effect on golf, depending on the times of games," Vogel says. "If Clemson is home, it has an effect. And if both (Clemson and Wofford) are playing at night, we have a huge day."
In fact, Clemson's schedule is a factor on football weekends all across the Upstate - even as far away as Spartanburg. Willow Creek, Vogel says, sells clothing and other merchandise with logos of all the state's favorite teams.
"(Football) helps business, and when the teams are winning, people's attitudes are better. Eight of every 10 who play here are football fans ... and seven of those eight are USC or Clemson. Both are having good seasons, so that helps."
He laughs again. "I just wish I could figure how to get the schedule-makers to play ALL the games at night."
Still, there are enough of those - plus gorgeous fall weather - to drive business.
As for the course, built in 1995-96 by Greenville-based Tom Jackson (who also created South Carolina's award-winning state park courses at Hickory Knob and Cheraw), Vogel calls it "really playable, more so that the average course built during that time." Laid out on an old peach orchard, Willow Creek recently hosted a qualifier for the S.C. Amateur, "and the course held its own for a 6,900-yard layout from all the way back," Vogel says.
Willow Creek has bent-grass greens, "one of the few semi-private courses that still do," he says. With gentle slopes and elevation changes typical of the Blue Ridge Mountain foothills, the course is popular with locals, too, as evidenced by its 40,000 rounds played each year.
Conditions are "really good" and the prices, while at the top end for public golf, are "not prohibitive," Vogel says. "That's why we have so many rounds played, and we don't want to squelch that." A large, well-appointed clubhouse adds to a "private club member for a day" feel.
The signature hole is the par-4 14th, a 380-yard (back tees) dogleg left that Vogel has dubbed "Action Jackson" in honor of the architect. "The tee shot is a narrow one, not too long but you've got to drive it to a plateau with mounds sloping right-to-left," he says.
"The second shot plays about 150 yards to a green set 20 feet up in the air, perched above you. I think it's one of our trickier holes, but there are no secrets out there. Tom (Jackson) has done some weird stuff, but this is not that. Yeah, it's got a funky landing area that pitches and rolls ... and if your second shot is short, it can come 50 feet back down the hill."
He laughs. "OK, it's the weirdest one; it's demanding."
Not so demanding that golfers don't keep coming back. That includes Wofford football fans and fans of all stripes. Vogel welcomes everyone ... just not into his Volunteers-themed office. "I've got to be ‘politically correct' - except in there," he says.
So far, his patrons don't object. For information and/or tee times go to www.willow-creekgolf.com.