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College golfers will be put to the test at CCI tournament

Posted: October 22, 2015 1:09 p.m.
Updated: October 23, 2015 1:00 a.m.
Photo courtesy Charleston Southern Athletics/

CHARLESTON SOUTHERN’S AUSTIN JAMES played in the U.S. Amateur this past summer. He will test his skills in this weekend’s Camden Collegiate Invitational to be played over the Camden Country Club.

Matt McCarley watched as some of the best college golfers the Palmetto State and, in some cases, the country, had to offer walked off the Camden County Club’s 18th green shaking their head in near disbelief as to how such a short course could provide such a long round of golf.

In this age of “grip it and rip it” golf where designers put more emphasis on how long a layout is as opposed to the challenges presented by an array of unique short holes along with the occasional drivable par fives, the par 70 Camden Country Club offers golfers the chance to put their shot creativity to work.

If your short game is not good to go, it could be make for a long two days and 54 holes of golf at this weekend’s second annual Camden Collegiate Invitational (CCI) to be hosted at the Knights Hill Road facility. The University of South Carolina will again serve as the host program for the event which begins Saturday morning with 36 holes of golf followed by another 18 holes which will be played on Sunday.

Eleven Division I golf programs from South Carolina, along with Division II power USC-Aiken, Georgia Southern and Ivy League entry, Columbia University, have been entered into the event which takes the long hitters from the college ranks out of their comfort level.

Included in the field of players is Charleston Southern University’s Austin James, a 2015 U.S. Amateur qualifier, and 2014 South Carolina State Amateur champion Andrew Novak, from Wofford.

McCarley, a former USC golf captain and current Camden Country Club head professional, said his home course can humble the best golfer. That does not mean players will have to be dragged in, while kicking and screaming, to Camden this weekend.

“They love playing an old style golf course like this,” McCarley said. “Most of the time now, they are playing the more modern, 7,200-yard golf course. So they really like playing our course which is 6,200 yards long. You have to think and your short game skills really come in to play here in Camden, unlike most of the other golf courses they’re playing nowadays.”

In last year’s inaugural CCI, the host Gamecocks rallied from a seven-stroke deficit entering Sunday’s round to fire a five-under par 275 to beat Wofford by a stroke, 847-848.

Individually, then-Wofford senior Brannon Hudson waltzed to the title by shooting a 9-under-par 201 to win the tournament by six strokes. His Saturday afternoon round was a career-best 7-under-par 63. The next lowest score was posted by Hudson’s Terrier teammate, Jeremy Grab, who came in with a 3-under-par 207. Grab, a junior, teams with Novak to give the Terriers a solid one-two punch at the top of the lineup.

“We had one guy (Hudson) who really played well last year but besides that, par was a good score,” McCarley said of what, for most schools, is their final fall tournament. “It’s always interesting to see that length doesn’t always determine how good a golf course is. And we have one of the best golf courses in the Carolinas right here in our backyard.”

In all, only four golfers broke par during their stay in Camden which left many a player finding out that they needed to continue working on their short game. McCarley saw that first-hand.

“I think it did frustrate some of the players,” said the Camden native and Camden High head golf coach. “Camden always exposes the short game and with most young golfers, the short game is where their deficiency is. 

“To see them struggle around the greens here should be a good lesson to them and hopefully, it will make them go out and work more on their short game.”

USC players play several rounds per year at the Camden Country Club and this weekend’s event is a way of giving back to the club while also showcasing the strength of the junior golf program in South Carolina. The event has also allowed club members and golf fans in the community to see some of the nation’s best players and teams up close. 

“Hopefully, it’s inspiring the young kids here,” McCarley said of one benefit of hosting a tournament of this magnitude.  “And, hopefully, this will bring a lot of exposure to the next generation of golfers to our course. And I think our membership enjoys coming out to watch these college players play our course, as well.

“Our members have been great about letting us use the golf course for the weekend. We appreciate the members for letting us do this.”

While the players will play for titles, either team or individual, the real star of the weekend may well be the Donald Ross-designed Camden Country Club layout itself. McCarley said he expects the course to shine again this weekend while holding up against whatever the young crowd of golfers throws at it.

“What’s fun is to see how an old golf course like this, which is short by modern day standards, holds up against some of the best players in the Carolinas and the Southeast.”

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