Bob Gillespie



College Golf: Clemson’s Walker Course realization of a long-awaited vision

Posted 11/5/2011 6:49:00 AM

Mention “golf” and “Clemson University” in the same breath, and those who follow the college sport instantly think of championships: specifically, the 2003 NCAA Golf Championship won by the Tigers, led by future PGA Tour star D.J. Trahan. Clemson also has produced a U.S. Open champion in Lucas Glover (2009) and a five-time PGA Tour winner in Jonathan Byrd – all three products of the S.C. Junior Golf Association.

But for those visiting the beautiful campus located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains – whether for business or to see the top-10 football team play on crisp fall weekends – the most readily visible embodiment of that collegiate tradition is The Walker Course, home to both coach Larry Penley’s teams and a passionate membership of 353.

And that’s not to mention the hundreds of visitors who have enjoyed the 6,911-yard, par-72 layout designed by architect D.J. DeVictor since its opening to students, alumni and the public in October 1995. In 2009, Links Magazine chose The Walker Course – named for Col. John E. Walker Sr., 1926 Clemson alumnus and World War II medal-winner – 23rd on its list of the nation’s top 25 college golf courses.

“We’re able to do a lot of practice work there,” says Penley, in his 29th year at Clemson as head coach; he began as a student and golf-team member in 1977. “That’s how we use it the most now.” Though The Walker Course is short by modern collegiate standards, “it’s great for our guys to go out in the late afternoon, jump in a cart and play nine holes, hit a couple of balls off the tee, just be out on the golf course,” Penley says.

Built on the site of a former cow pasture, The Walker Course features sweeping elevation changes, five holes along Lake Hartwell including the iconic par-3 17th “Tiger Paw” hole (its green and four bunkers present a “paw” target for players) and excellent Crenshaw bent grass greens. Not to mention views of football’s Memorial Stadium, Doug Kingsmore Stadium (baseball) and other campus sights.

“Our mission is to provide a course for our students” – including those in the Professional Golf Management school, as well as horticulture, forestry and other related fields, who use the course as a hands-on lab – “and for the public,” says Brent Jessup, The Walker Course’s head professional since 1999. Annual rounds played ranges from 33,000 recently to a pre-recession high of 39,000, yet the course, thanks in part to upwards of 100 student employees, is almost always in excellent condition.

The S.C. Golf Course Ratings Panel in 2010 named The Walker Course as the best public-access course in the Upstate, “and that’s something we’re really proud of,” Jessup says. “We keep our members (many of them retired school professors) happy and put a good product out there.”

For those not blessed with 300-yard-plus drives, Clemson’s home course is a worthy adversary. That’s especially true for many of its members, who call it “senior friendly.”

Says Doug Kingsmore, a retired CEO and former Clemson baseball player: “If we were going to create a world class (golf) program, we needed our own course. At the same time, with several hundred professors retiring, we felt we needed a facility that would enhance living in the area, and the golf course would be one of those things that made it attractive.”

Claire Caskey, 89 and a retired English professor, says that “a lot of us had been pushing for a golf course for a long time.” He adds with a laugh: “I was very happy, too, because the only way I could afford a house on the golf course was to have them build the course across the street from me.”

Caskey doesn’t have far to go – three minutes – to enjoy The Walker Course. But no matter how far they travel to visit their alma mater, Tigers fans can enjoy the golf course and the neighboring Madren Center (conference center) and Martin Inn (hotel) – all the while knowing this is their place.

“When you come to Clemson, you see the (painted) paws on the roads and know you’re heading here,” Jessup says. “And when you walk into the golf shop, you get blasted with all the orange and white and purple.

“Then you get on the golf course, and it’s a fun course with two very different nines. If it’s not long enough for the college players, well, it can still be a challenge from the back tees. Our 8- to 18-handicaps enjoy it; it doesn’t beat you up.”

For information and/or tee times for The Walker Course, call (864) 656-0236 or click here.