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Extreme makeover: CCC edition

Project returning Camden CC to Donald Ross' original vision

Posted: June 21, 2012 9:42 a.m.
Updated: June 22, 2012 5:00 a.m.
C-I photo by Tom Didato/

MATT MCCARLEY, HEAD PROFESSIONAL and general manager of the Camden Country Club, stands at the second tee with the hole’s plastic-covered green in the background.

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It takes a keen eye and a deft touch when you decide to take on one of golf’s most revered course architects and tinker with one of his gems.
In 1922, the owners of the Kirkwood Hotel in Camden sought out former three-time U.S. Amateur champion Walter Travis to design and lay out a course on what was then a rather non-descript Kirkwood Links. The facility was located near the hotel. The new course would become what is now the Camden Country Club.
Travis’s course was marked by sand greens on which balls had true rolls as compared to most turf greens, at the time.
By the 1930s, sand was giving way to grass greens -- which were coming into vogue thanks to advancements in the field of turf management -- and Camden Country Club officials decided to join the growing trend. In 1939, the call was made to convert the facility’s sand greens to Bermuda grass.
The man Camden CC officials looked to when making the change was none other than Donald Ross, whose Pinehurst No. 2 has stood the test of time through the years as is one of the more venerated courses in the world. Ross took Travis’ design and played with it, giving Camden the trademark Ross crowned greens, complete with runoff areas.
When the revamping of the course was completed, the Camden Country Club became – and, still remains -- the only Ross-designed facility in the Palmetto State.
Now, 73 years after Ross first took on the challenge of re-sculpting the Camden Country Club, Chris Spence and his crew out of Greensboro, N.C., is bringing the course back to its former luster. For that to happen, it took both patience and funding from the club members who will be golf nomads until the course is ready to re-open in August, some nine weeks after work began to refurbish and reconfigure the course.
On a breezy late spring afternoon, Camden Country Club head professional/general manager and Camden native Matt McCarley, looked over greens which were covered by plastic sheets and several holes which were under construction. Rather than Camden, some of the scenes were reminiscent of the Brushwood Country Club in the final scene from the movie Caddyshack with newly carved out mounds of dirt awaiting the arrival of grass and/or sand to be placed atop and inside the bunkers, respectively.
“All 18 greens and our new practice green are covered up and are being fumigated,” McCarley said while standing next to the number one tee box and a few steps away from the adjoining practice putting green.
“Anything underneath there is going to be killed, that way, when we uncover them, we’ll do some fine-tuning and then sprig them two days later. Anything underneath there, any kind of disease or any kind of grass that you don’t want coming up into your new greens, will be dead in about two or three days. This is just a normal process when you are planting new greens.”
The purpose of the work is simple, McCarley said. The contours of the greens which were manageable 90 years ago are not good today. “They’re too severe with the grass and the speed of the greens nowadays,” he said.
When work is complete, the Bermuda greens will be replaced by Miniverde, which McCarley said is the best grass on the golf market and one which is now being used at several courses which host PGA Tour events.
Miniverde is a strain of grass which is being grown at Modern Turf in Rembert. The business is owned by Camden resident and club member, Hank Kerfoot, who McCarley said, has played a large role in helping with the remodeling of the course. When work is completed, players at the CCC will see an immediate difference once they get on the new greens which will be quicker than the former Bermuda surface.
While some of the contours of the greens will be eliminated, McCarley was quick to point out that the course will be kept as Ross intended it to be played. In this instance, the CCC will recapture several pin positions which were lost because of the severity of the greens.
“When it’s finished,” McCarley said of the project, “you will be able to use the whole parameter of the greens and it should make for more interesting shot selections into the greens.”
The par-70 CCC course has played at 6,350 yards. When work is completed, more than 100 yards in distance will be added to the layout as the club hopes to attract high-profile events such as the South Carolina Amateur and/or the Carolinas Amateur tournament(s) back to Camden.
McCarley said lengthening the course was made necessary by technology in the golf industry and bigger and stronger players making the courses shorter.
“Back in the 1920s, drives were going 200 to 210 yards. Now, it’s 300 yards. You have to adapt to modern technology,” he said.
“(Ross) put a lot of emphasis on the approach shot and having small crowns in the greens. We’re going to keep those crowns, but we are going to minimize them, a bit.
”Another one of our goals is to get the state amateur and the Carolinas Amateur back here. In order to do that, we had to gain some length because with the college kids hitting the ball 300 yards, the course has become very short. We’ve done that in some areas and we’re going to pick up between 100 to 125 yards in length which will make a big difference.
“We don’t want Camden to be known as a long golf course, but we do want it to be a little longer in length in order for it to stay competitive.”
Overseeing this massive undertaking is Spence. When searching for an architect to perform what may best be termed as “reconstructive surgery” on the Camden Country Club course, McCarley, course superintendent Denny Allen and club members were diligent in doing their research and their homework before selecting the right person.
After numerous days and hours of searching, all signs led to securing Spence and his team to take on the task, which began in mid-May. The number one priority for whomever was hired was to protect, if not enhance, the integrity of the course.
“Chris Spence is the number one Donald Ross redesign guy in the country. He has done a number of Donald Ross courses,” McCarley said of the decision to hire Spence. “We did a lot of research on him to make sure that we felt good about what he was going to do.
“He walked us though it and took me and Danny Allen out on the golf course a number of times and walked us through what he was going to do. We feel good that we’re keeping the course right there where Donald Ross intended it. And, at the same time, we’re trying to get the golf course to play the way he intended. In order to do that, we had to make some changes.”
For McCarley, who was the head professional at Prestwick Country Club in Myrtle Beach and at the former University Club in Blythewood before returning home to Camden, this is the first time one of his facilities has undergone an undertaking such as this. McCarley said he is in new territory with this project.
“It has been a very educational experience for me in going out there and working with Chris,” McCarley said. “This is my first experience with a golf course which is under construction. It is a big-time learning experience in watching what they are doing.
“Chris Spence is the best in the business and we’re fortunate to have him. We’re not taking any shortcuts with what we’re doing; that’s how much we think of our golf course here. I’ve learned a lot from this.”
While giving a tour of the course, McCarley pointed out work being performed as new bunkers are added to the fifth and seventh holes, the latter which will return to being a par 5 after being played at a par 4 for several years. On the back side, the 14th hole -- which runs parallel to the railroad tracks which separates the 13th and 14th holes -- will return to being a long par 4, like it was for more than 50 years. This will make the closing string of holes challenging to clubs members and tournament players alike.
 “Fourteen, 15, 16, 17 and 18 are picking up about 30 yards, as well,” McCarley said. “Our home stretch will be known as a very difficult stretch, which is what you want, especially when you are trying to hold championship tournaments, which is what we’re doing.”
Nearly all the funding for the improvements to the course have come from private donations from the members, most notably, McCarley said, Max Wood. It was Wood, McCarley said, who helped get the ball rolling on the improvements to the course.
“Our members take a lot of pride in the course. I can’t say enough good things about our members,” said McCarley, whose late father, Joe, was a longtime club member and a club champion.
“Our membership is very excited. Of course, they are champing at the bit for the course to re-open.”
With grass slated to be laid down this week, McCarley said the countdown to the re-opening of the course is within sight. And, while some might think that with the course under renovation it would allow a head professional to take an extended busman’s holiday away from the club, nothing would be farther from the truth.
McCarley said he is on the course nearly every day checking on the progress of the work. Inside his office, the former Camden Bulldog standout and two-time University of South Carolina golf captain is using this “down” time to tend to business matters, giving lessons at the driving range while also making calls to nearby courses in order to set up tee times for CCC members.
Once the course re-opens in August, McCarley said he expects to get back into his normal routine, but it may not exactly be business as usual in what are usually the dog days of summer.
“This place will be hopping that first day we re-open,” he said with a smile.
“I’ve talked to a lot of our members and even the ones who have gotten to where they haven’t been playing much golf; I think this is going to rejuvenate them. Hopefully, this will really stimulate things at the club and get things going up here.”








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