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Taking Camden CC to school

USC to host inaugural Camden Collegiate Invitational

Posted: October 14, 2014 9:47 a.m.
Updated: October 15, 2014 1:00 a.m.
Photo provided by USC SID/

USC JUNIOR WILL STARKE blasts out of a sand trap during a tournament last spring. The 10th ranked Gamecocks will host 14 other programs from throughout the region in this in their final fall tournament to be played over the Camden Country Club.

Golf, for better or for worse, has turned into a power game. Players grip it and rip it in this era in which thinking one’s way around 18 holes has almost become a thing of the past.
The philosophy has filtered down from the PGA Tour to the collegiate ranks and to junior golf, as well.
Then, there are courses like the Donald Ross-designed layout at the Camden Country Club. The venerable facility on Knights Hill Road harkens back to the day when a premium was placed on virtually each shot as players tried to set up the best approach to the small greens.
For college golfers who have become used to playing on 7,000-plus yards of wide open space courses, this weekend’s inaugural Camden Collegiate Invitational at the 6,400-yard Camden Country Club could well be a real eye-opener for the 15 teams which will come to play the Camden Country Club for the two-day, 54-hole tournament hosted by the University of South Carolina.
The event, which will also include Appalachian State, Charleston Southern, Coastal Carolina, Davidson, Elon, Francis Marion, Furman, Gardner-Webb, High Point, Presbyterian, Radford, USC Aiken, USC Upstate and Wofford, will see the collegiate golfers playing 36 holes Saturday with the final 18 set for Sunday. Fans will be admitted for free both days.
The idea of bringing a college tournament to Camden has been tossed around for several years by USC head coach Bill McDonald and his friend and CCC head professional and former Gamecock golf team captain, Matt McCarley.
Known as the longtime, if not permanent home to the Carolinas Golf Association 4-Ball Championship, the Camden Country Club has hosted a variety of amateur and professional events in its 92 years since the course itself was opened in 1922. This will be the first time a college team event will be played here.
“Most of the courses they play are the modern golf courses,” McCarley said of college players. “For them to play a golf course which is close to 100 years old is a different experience for them. Camden is so unique with the difficulty around the greens; it will test the short games whereas most courses don’t do that nowadays.”
The Gamecock players, who have all played at the Camden Country Club in the past, may well have a home course advantage come this weekend. McDonald anticipates what should be an interesting weekend on the links for his team’s final tournament of the fall season.
“We have 11 Division I golf programs in the state of South Carolina and one of the best D-II programs in the country in the University of South Carolina-Aiken,” he said during a pre-tournament visit to Camden last week. “I wanted to start a tournament that was more or less centered around those schools, as a base. That was the premise.”
McDonald has guided USC to winning or sharing a dozen team tournament titles, including the 2007 NCAA West Regional. In 2013-14, the Gamecocks enjoyed one of the most successful seasons in school history. Carolina won three tournament titles, set the school record for scoring average (287.46) and matched a school record with nine top-five finishes, including a school-record seven-straight top-three finishes during the regular season.
The Gamecocks began their postseason run with a fifth-place finish at the SEC Championship and then earned their second-straight NCAA Championship berth with a fifth-place showing at the NCAA Eugene Regional. Carolina went on to record its second-highest finish at the NCAA Championship, claiming ninth at Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, Kan.
Individually, two Gamecocks also won medalist honors, as current senior Caleb Sturgeon took home the Badger Invitational title and Will Starke won the Seahawk Intercollegiate. Junior Matt NeSmith earned second-team All-SEC and first-team PING All-Southeast Region honors, while f junior Will Murphy earned All-America honors with his tie for 15th finish at the NCAA Championship.
“I’m anxious to see how these kids play the course,” McCarley said. “Obviously, with Carolina ranked number 10 in the country and with a couple All-Americans on the team, I’m anxious to watch them play.
 “You are going to have some of the top players in the country here and a lot of them hit it a long way, but their short games are good as well. This place will really test your short game.”
Camden will expose a players’ strengths and flaws, something which McDonald said is one of the reasons why his team uses the Camden Country Club as one of their qualifying and practice round sites.
“It drives them crazy but they love it, at the same time,” McDonald said with a smile when asked his players’ reaction after playing a round at Camden. “I’m in my ninth year at Carolina as head coach and (the Camden Country Club) has always been used for qualifying and for practice. It has created the most separation for our team when we come over here.
“Anything under par is really good here. I think our guys look at it as always being a challenge, especially if you get a little bit of wind and, if you get the greens tricked up.”
A former golf standout himself and a member of the Georgia Tech Athletic Hall of Fame, McDonald cast a Cheshire Cat-like grin when asked about today’s young players getting the chance to play one of his favorite courses for 54 holes.
“It’s a unique venue with a lot of history and a great design. It’s a great test of golf and it’s the toughest 6,400 yards that I’ve ever played,” he said.
“We play at Palmetto (Golf Club in Aiken) in the spring and I tell people that this (Camden Country Club) course is a flatter Palmetto, to some degree. They don’t see this a lot, the ‘old school, control your ball, stay below the hole’ type of golf course. The courses we play are a thousand yards longer so, the game has turned into a game of distance and, speed and power, as everybody knows. This is more about finesse, thinking and strategy. It will be different, but it will be a good challenge for them.”
The Camden Collegiate Invitational was pulled off after years of McCarley and McDonald trying to find an opening on USC’s schedule. With golf tournaments and schedules being made out years in advance, officials at the Camden Country Club bided their time until an opening occurred. McCarley hopes this will be the start of an annual event at the club.
“We’re very excited about it. It’s the first college tournament that we’ve ever had at the country club,” said McCarley who also coaches and Camden High boys’ and girls’ golf teams. “We hope to grow it as the years go on. Our members have been great to let us have this event on the weekend.
“It’s also very exciting for me, after my dad having played there and I played at Carolina. Bill and I have been close friends for a long time. They’re doing a great job with the program. Their players come to play here, off and on during the year, and I gotten to know them and have worked with some of them when they were junior golfers. I’m looking forward to being around that college atmosphere here at the club.”
While the NCAA Tournament comes at the conclusion of the spring portion of the schedule, McDonald said what makes college golf unique is having two seasons. The fall campaign, he said, counts in terms of wins and losses and, as evidenced by USC’s being ranked 10th nationally, in national golf polls. But without the specter of the national championship tournament at the conclusion of the fall season, McDonald can get a better grasp on his players’ development as well as putting together a rotation for the spring.
“We’ve played a very difficult schedule this fall and we’ve been fortunate enough to have played at a very high level,” he said of a campaign which started with a seventh place finish at The Carmel Cup in Pebble Beach, Calif., along with tournaments in Georgia and Tennessee.
“You have a couple goals in the fall: You want to establish yourself and get off to a good start as a team. You also want to give some of your younger guys the opportunity to play and build your depth. That’s a little bit of what we’ll be doing (this) week.
“The fall is always a little condensed and a little bit of a grind in the sense that the kids have been playing all summer and then, they roll back into school and we’re right back at it. We played three tournaments in four weeks right after classes started.”
While McCarley and McDonald both demonstrated patience in bringing the Camden tournament onto USC’s schedule, the only thing left to make this weekend a success is something which is well out of their hands.
“The way we commit to tournaments in college golf, so far in advance, it’s taken a little bit of time to get it all into place,” McDonald said of the chance to stage a tournament at the Camden Country Club.
“We’re excited about it and looking forward to the event … it will be a fun event. Hopefully, the weather will be good because I know the golf course is great.”

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