“Oh, Orangeburg? I love that course,” Ron from Peterborough retorted. “I come down with my golf buddies in the fall, and we always play Orangeburg. It’s one of our favorites.”
Maybe Ray Kinsella, a.k.a. Kevin Costner, was right. If you build it, they really will come. And if you’re talking golf, as opposed to baseball, they will come a long way.
Frank Tourville, who purchased the struggling club on May 19, 2009 for the princely sum of $1, has proven that the mystical storyline from “Field of Dreams” can be more than the emotional seed for a Hollywood movie. In Orangeburg, S.C. – where the population of the entire county doesn’t crack six figures – Tourville has and continues to prove that if you build it, they will, in fact, come.
Or in this case, if you rebuild it, they will come.
Tourville, now in his 80s but still the ever-active and dynamic owner of Zeus, Inc. , a world leader in the production of polymer tubing used in everything from medicine to aerospace, rescued the former Country Club of Orangeburg from impending bankruptcy at a time when the club membership had slipped below the 300 mark and both the course and clubhouse were in serious need of some TLC.
Almost immediately, Tourville began pumping millions of his own dollars into the facility, hiring noted Pinehurst architect Richard Mandell to restore the integrity of Maples’ design. By Halloween, when it re-opened for play, the course had been completely reworked – tees, fairways, roughs, bunkers . Yet to Mandell’s credit, he never put his ego ahead of Maples’ creativity.
In other words, the newly refurbished Orangeburg Country Club was still the gem the late Donald Ross protégé had created back in 1961. Only now, it’s better – better conditioned, better maintained and better suited to the modern game.
For evidence of Mandell’s devotion to Maples’ original design, look no further than the greens. Already the first east of the Mississippi to sport Champion Bermuda (one of the latest strains of ultradwarf hybrids) before Mandell was brought in, the putting surfaces at OCC were well known as being some of the best in the state, if not in the region.
But they were small. Shrinking mowing patterns had robbed the greens of roughly one-third of their initial size. So, using 1963 aerial photos, Mandell restored the greens to their original footprints, pushing the total putting surface area from just under 82,000 square feet – roughly 4,500 per green – to 122,881 square feet or more than 6,800 square feet, on average.
“We massaged the greens to fit a bigger area and adjusted things to soften slopes for modern green speeds,” Mandell explained. “Once we connected all those things, I think they’re the best greens complexes I’ve ever done.”
While the golf course restoration is impressive in and of itself, Tourville didn’t stop there. To complement the work done on the course, he directed a complete facelift of all club facilities, including the expansive practice range and short-game area, tennis courts and pool area. Then, "to pull the room together," as a decorator might say, the benevolent owner transformed a dated and unexciting clubhouse into an elegant, yet comfortably inviting “home” that members are proud to show off to their guests.
How much has Tourville spent making OCC into what it is today – a course whose reputation has spread far beyond the sandy pine barrens of South Carolina? The actual number has never been disclosed, but several close to the subject estimate it to be well into seven figures.
Why did the man known to so many as Mr. T reach so deeply into his own pocket to rescue a club that was nearly $1 million in debt, not to mention sinking farther and farther into disrepair, and spend millions to turning it into the gem it is today? The answer to that question is much easier to pinpoint.
Tourville, who has lived in a home adjacent to the fourth fairway since relocating the headquarters for his multinational business from New Jersey to South Carolina in the early ’80s, once told a local reporter, “The last thing I wanted to do was get into the golf course business. But I didn’t want a cotton field in my backyard, either.”
But don’t let his outward pragmatism fool you. Inside Tourville, there is a sense of community pride and philanthropy that burns as intensely as his desire for excellence. And if you can’t put a measuring stick on that yourself, just ask Mandell about the marching orders he was given upon being awarded the job of restoring the course.
“He said he wanted ‘the best goddamn golf course in South Carolina,’” Mandell vividly recalled. “I found out pretty quickly that Mr. T doesn’t do anything second-class.”
What does all this mean to the traveling golfer? After all, the name is Orangeburg Country Club, overtly implying this is a place for members and their guests, right?
Yes and no. Orangeburg is most certainly a private enclave for its members, a place to enjoy a first-class golf course worthy of the most skilled players but accommodating to players of widely varied abilities, a club whose overall facilities belie the small-town rural Americana setting it graces.
But because of its affiliation with two area golf package groups – Santee Cooper Golf and Golf Santee – Orangeburg Country Club is available to a limited number of traveling golfers. And those who discover OCC by taking advantage of this access portal almost unanimously return to the club again and again.
According to Director of Golf David Lackey, one group of vacationing golfers insisted on playing OCC three times during a single six-day visit to the area. He said it was because of the quality of the course and its facilities, but first-hand experience has proven to this writer that the hospitality of the club’s staff – from the pro shop to the grillroom and beyond – adds just as much to the OCC experience as course conditions. Lackey and his colleagues give new meaning to that “member for a day” feeling that every traveling golfer appreciates.
For more on Orangeburg Country Club, go to www.orangeburgcc.com. Or to book a golf trip that affords access to the club whose reputation is rapidly spreading throughout the golf world, go to either www.golfsantee.com or www.santeecoopergolf.com. Who knows? You might just run into Ron from Peterborough.