The Old Friends Invitational, an annual summer golf tournament at Paw Paw Country Club
, once drew some big names in sports. Such former National Football League luminaries as Atlanta linebacker Tommy Nobis, Baltimore receiver Don Maynard and the irrepressible Alex Hawkins, former University of South Carolina star and ex-Colts’ running back, often took part – most at the invitation of the late Julius B. “Bubba” Ness, S.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice.
The tournament doesn’t draw quite that “A” list nowadays, but a couple of former Gamecocks quarterbacks, Blake Mitchell and Stephen Garcia, have been known to tee it up at the 6,683-yard, par-72 course, built by prolific architect Russell Breeden in 1981. The past three years, with renovated Tif Dwarf Bermuda greens and an automatic irrigation system in place, Paw Paw has become a relatively hidden gem that’s worth finding.
Tom Cornforth, former South Carolina golf team member (1979-84) and Paw Paw’s head professional since 1996, loves his course. “It’s a great layout, with not a lot of straight holes, and good greens,” he said. “By today’s standards, it’s relatively tight, but at the same time, we’ve cut down 1,500 trees in the past 10 years, so it’s not like it used to be for tightness.”
With several lakes and large, undulating greens, Paw Paw is challenging but fun for all levels. Its signature par-5 16th hole, which plays 517 yards from the back tees, requires a tee shot over a lake with a lone pine tree in the middle of the fairway catching an inordinate number of balls. Those who successfully negotiate that shot can then reach the narrow, well-bunkered green in two shots – maybe.
Cornforth says there is no listed course record – he recalls how professional and current Wofford golf coach Vic Lipscomb once shot a 62, though the round wasn’t posted – but he knows his course can withstand top players. Cornforth and old USC teammate Steve Liebler, a former PGA Tour player and winner of numerous S.C. and national amateur events, recently played Paw Paw and “as good as Steve is, he shot maybe 1-under.”
Most of the clientele is local, with players driving to Bamberg from Charleston to take advantage of the bargain rates. Monday-Friday, 18 holes with cart will set you back $29 (walkers pay $14), and nine-hole rates are $17 ($10 to walk). Weekends, the price goes up only to $34 with cart ($20 to walk), with nine holes running $19 and $12.
The best deals are for seniors ($21 weekdays with cart only) and those with a full day to play: All-day rates run $35 weekdays, $39 weekends – an especially good deal during summer months. Check the website
for specials, too.
Paw Paw once did 17,000 rounds a year but gets 13,000-14,000 now, a falloff Cornforth attributes to the poor economy. The only deterrent to tourist play, he says, is that “there are no hotels in Bamberg, so you’ve got to stay in Orangeburg
or make it a one-day trip here.” For those who make the trek, the rewards are un-crowded fairways and a genial, small-town vibe.
“More than anything, I try to make folks feel at home and relaxed,” Cornforth, 50, says with a laugh. “We’ve got kind of a country atmosphere; it’s a great course to come play, drink some beers afterward and have fun.”
For information and tee times, call (803) 245-4171 or click here