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A number of golfers through the years have carded the former course record at Hillcrest Golf Club, which was a 9-under-par 63 until recently.

The names in that group include Ed Johnson, Marion Moore, Dr. Bob Varn, and Gregg Funderburk, who is now the golf pro/course manager at Hillcrest.

However, Kyle Bearden of Barnwell eclipsed all of those rounds at Hillcrest with a record 10-under-par 62 on a rainy day in December of 2018.

"That is truly the course record," Funderburk said. "With the (recent) expansion of the greens, the rest of them don't really apply.

"And he (Bearden) was playing from the correct white tees, since even the five we redid were in place and they were back and it was wet." 

Bearden took a long break from golf when the game started feeling like a job to perform well on the pro mini tour circuit a few years back.

He picked up a club again only when he wanted to revisit the enjoyment that originally drew him to the sport.

That led to a round on Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018, when he and some buddies paused their play for downpours a few times in their round at Hillcrest, only to see Bearden make a hole-in-one on his way to carding the 62 – with a 31 on the front nine and a 31 on the back nine.

It wasn't the lowest round he has recorded. That was a 61 in a pro mini tour event on the Red Fox Course at Foxfire Golf and Country Club in Pinehurst, N.C.

"The craziest part of the 61, it was the first round of a pro tournament, and I shot 1-over-par through 3 holes, but played the last 15 holes 12-under-par," Bearden said this past week. "It was insane."

Even so, the 62 for the Hillcrest course record is a most memorable round for the former Barnwell High School and Winthrop University golfer. The year 2018 brought some great golf experiences for Bearden. 

He shot a final-round 67 to claim a four-shot victory in the South Carolina Mid-Amateur Championship at Greenville Country Club’s Riverside Course back in October. His three-day total of 198 (15-under-par) was the SCGA Mid-Amateur Championship record, topping Todd White’s tournament total of 199 at the Oldfield Club in 2004.

So, setting the course record at Hillcrest in December was a great way to finish out a solid year of golf for Bearden, who works as a lumber shipping manager in Allendale County.

"I really just started playing amateur golf again halfway through this past summer," Bearden said this past week. "In 2013 I graduated (college). Wasn't sure I wanted to turn pro, but I did and played up and down the East Coast for about two years.

"In 2015, I put my clubs down for 8 months, and I didn't pick a club back up until the summer of 2016. I got back out with buddies, just to have fun. But, then I applied for reinstatement to get my amateur status back, and got it within a few months."

Bearden recalls carding a few 63s and 64s at courses around Rock Hill while he was playing for Winthrop, and he shot multiple 64s and 65s during pro events.

"But a 61 or 62 is special," Bearden said. Even more special when there are five witnesses there for every shot.

THE RECORD ROUND

Bearden came to Hillcrest to play a round with a group including former Clemson and pro mini tour golfer Jacob Burger, Justin Gillam, Chesley Hunter, Will Walker and Terry Kizer.

"We never play sixsomes, but it was rainy and they had six in their group; and I think the highest score in their group was 74, so that's a lot of good scores," Funderburk said. "Also, that meant he had a lot of good witnesses."

Bearden figured it would be just another basic afternoon on the course with some friends. 

"Justin, every now and then, will say 'we have a group teeing up, come play with us,'" Bearden said. "I try to get over there to catch up with friends; no range balls, just head to the first tee, get a couple practice swings and away we go."

Sunday, Dec. 2 didn't seem from the start to be a special round.

"I made par on 1 and 2, hit within a foot on 3 to make birdie, made birdie on 4, and we were off and running, but I wasn't thinking about it," Bearden said. "I've played plenty of rounds where I'll shoot 31 or 30 on the front nine and then fizzle out on the back nine."

Bearden ended up with five birdies on the front nine, including both par-5s (Nos. 4 and 6) and three par-4s (Nos. 3, 7 and 9). However, when the group finished No. 9 and headed to the turn, playing conditions began to change.

"It was raining, so we paused for a while before we started on No. 10," Bearden said, describing the group hitting tee shots before taking shelter for a time of steady rain. Then they continued play.

"Kyle hit his approach shot and got up and down from behind (the green) for par to probably save his round," Gillam recalls.

Bearden birdied No. 11 and then had the ace on No. 12. The flag on No. 12 was on the right half of the green, towards the back.

"It was pretty good downwind on that shot; so much so that I thought it would knock the ball down if I got it up," Bearden said. "I hit a 3-quarter shot with my 8-iron, and it came down and disappeared. I figured it flew the back of the green.

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"But Jacob and I rode around back and I thought 'it's plugged or it's in the hole.' The ball flew right in the front edge of the cup, leaving a divot in front."

It was the third hole-in-one in Bearden's career, adding to the two he has at his home course, Sweetwater Country Club in Barnwell.

"We had to go straight to the bathroom shelter after 12 and sit for a while during the rain," Bearden said. "Justin said 'lets give it a minute,' and after about 10 or 15 minutes it slacked off.

"We went on to the 13 tee and 2 of us hit our tee shots, then we all went right back to the shelter with more rain falling. I said 'let's get out of here.' But Justin said, 'no, let's just wait it out.' Now I know what he's talking about. He is thinking course record. Everybody else had no problem staying."

The rain eventually slacked off and the group finished.

"We waited and I told him 'you've got to finish the round for the hole-in-one to be official, and I knew he was at 8 (under par) and close to the course record," Gillam said. "With as long as Kyle hits, he would be in good shape with the two par 5s left to play.

"I've seen a lot of 31s or 32s on the front nine, but when Kyle made the turn at 31, you knew he had a chance. It was about an hour-and-a-half worth of rain delays for us, but everybody was staying to play."

Bearden admits he didn't play great after the hole-in-one, but he played steady enough. He recorded a par, birdie, par and par from No. 13 through No. 16.  

"I didn't birdie either of the par 5s on the back nine," Bearden said. "I've never played those two 5s well anyway, so I just made pars, which was good enough.

"It drizzled on us on 17, but we were going to finish. I birdied 17, then hit a drive in the left rough on 18. With the pin on the back right, it was the perfect angle and I hit (an approach shot) within 15 feet. There was water all over the green. Everybody putted out, then I got my read and hit it. About 2 feet from the hole it catches a waterfall and veers to the right and lips out. I tapped in for par and the 62."

Sure, finishing with a birdie on 18 would have tied his personal-best score. But, making memories with good friends was more than enough to make the 62 special.

"The hole-in-one, of course, stands out," Funderburk said. "But him making birdie on 14, that long par 4, that's a good birdie in the rain.

"Tying a record is one thing, but setting a record is a whole different ball game."

Soon, there will be a plaque on display inside the Hillcrest club house, commemorating Bearden's milestone round.

"Scores of 67 or 68 you see here and there, and a 64 or a 65 is really playing well," Gillam said. "But a 62; I'll remember that round almost shot for shot for a long time."

GETTING BACK TO GOLF

Earlier in 2018, Bearden finished tied for 7th in the S.C. Amateur on Dataw Island Club's Cotton Dike course. He then played in the US Mid-Amateur Championship at Charlotte Country Club in September, where he missed the cut. But at the S.C. Mid-Amateur in October, according to him, "everything just fell together, then the whole summer got better."

It was different from when he turned pro and it was a job.

"It was just back to loving the game and enjoying being out on the course," Bearden said.

Bearden, who redshirted one of his five years at Winthrop and was an assistant golf coach for the Eagles for a year, made a promise to himself about his pro career.

"I told myself, if it got to where I didn't want to play golf and it felt like a legit job and I didn't like it, I would put the clubs away for a while," Bearden said. "I didn't touch a club for about 8 months, the longest break from playing the game I had taken since I was a kid.

"When I picked a club back up again, it was to goof off with some buddies and enjoy Saturday or Sunday afternoons, or play in captain's choice charity events from time to time. I really don't miss the pro part of golf, with the everyday grind. I just want to shoot a score and have fun."

PLAYING MORE IN 2019

Winning the S.C. Mid-Am event earned Bearden some invites for a few 2019 events. The last weekend in February, he will be in Tampa, Fla, competing in the Gasparilla Invitational, another mid-amateur event that is invitation-only. He also got an invitation to play in the Palmetto Cup.

"The Palmetto Cup matches top amateurs and mid-amateurs to play against top head golf pros from courses around the state," Bearden said. "It's just a fun 18 holes of alternate shot, then 18 holes of 2-man captain's choice."

Bearden plans to defend his title at the S.C. Mid-Am, along with playing in the S.C. Amateur and the Carolinas Mid-Amateur event, which pits top mid-amateurs from both Carolinas.

Other than that, Bearden said "I'll play those events and play about once a week or once every 2 weeks around here, in Barnwell, Aiken or Orangeburg.

"I enjoy teeing it up every single time out there. The game is fun again. Every time I tee it up, I know what I'm shooting for. I just want to keep rolling and hope to have another good summer."

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