When Zeus Inc. founder and owner Frank Tourville – shortly after purchasing Orangeburg Country Club in 2009 – hired architect Richard Mandell to refurbish the 1961 Ellis Maples design, his “wish list” was pretty simple.
“He told me, ‘I want the best gosh-darn golf course in South Carolina,’” the Pinehurst, N.C.-based Mandell said with a laugh. Except, he added, Tourville didn’t say “gosh darn.”
About the same time, Tourville commissioned Orangeburg architect J. West Summers, whose firm, Summers & Associates, designed and built the original clubhouse nearly a half-century earlier, to renovate and improve the structure. Tourville’s instructions for that job were – if not as blunt as with Mandell – in the same vein.
“Mr. Summers loves to say that when Mr. Tourville came to him about the design, he said, ‘I want you to make it more beautiful,’” said Mary Watford, the club’s membership and private events recruiter. “(Tourville) said, ‘You tell me what you need, and I’ll make it work.’”
Nearly seven years later, the course and clubhouse results continue to earn praise, most recently from the South Carolina Golf Course Ratings Panel, which this weekend announced Orangeburg Country Club as one of the state’s “Best Value” golf properties for 2016 during the panel’s annual awards banquet at Isle of Palms.
OCC captured “Best Value/Private Club” honors, its fourth Golf Panel award in three years. A year ago, the club was selected as one of the state’s two “Best Renovations/Restorations,” and in 2014 Orangeburg’s par-5 18th hole was named the best finishing hole in the Midlands. Also that year, the club earned a spot in the panel’s “South Carolina’s Top 50 Courses” rankings at 45th.
Other facilities earning “Best Value” awards are the Raleigh, N.C.-based McConnell Group, owners of Musgrove Mill near Clinton, The Reserve at Pawleys Island and Myrtle Beach’s Grande Dunes Members Club, for “Private Group”; Pawleys Island’s Caledonia Golf & Fish Club and True Blue, which shared “Public Club”; and The Legends of Myrtle Beach, owners of five courses, for “Public Group.”
The Golf Panel also named its biennial Top 50, with Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course, site of the 1991 Ryder Cup and the 2012 and 2021 PGA Championships, at No. 1 – a spot it has held since 2012. Hilton Head Island’s Harbour Town Golf Links finished second, improving from fifth in 2014.
The “Best Value” designations, based on voting by the Golf Panel’s 128 members (players, coaches, media and golf-industry insiders), recognize properties that offer members or visitors top-quality golf and facilities while also taking into account price considerations. It’s not about the cheapest golf, but golf that players believe is a good deal for the money.
With a membership of 460, Orangeburg Country Club offers amenities – food and beverages, pool and tennis facilities, dining and practice area – that rival larger clubs in larger cities. “We believe Mr. Tourville has built a quality of product that meets a very high standard,” Watford said, one “that’s competitive not only in South Carolina but all around the nation.”
The 28,000-square-foot clubhouse’s 2009 renovations included a 20-30 percent increase in the structure’s “footprint,” most of that in the dining room and the Green Room, a glassed private-party area. The club also upgraded its locker rooms and the grill room, and built a new golf pro shop.
It all starts with the golf course, which panel raters compared favorably with some of the state’s top private clubs and even coastal resorts. Mandell updated greens, bunkers and tees, and created a clean, manicured look that the club’s staff maintains. Wrote one panelist: “The consistent condition of this course, coupled with the fees, make it an unbelievable value.”
Another value factor is the club’s non-resident memberships, for those living at least 30 miles from Orangeburg. OCC has 177 non-resident members who pay dues of $125 a month.
“We get business people who travel I-26, and use their memberships for business entertaining,” Watford said. “We have lunch and dinner and banquet services, so those members either entertain with those things and golf, or they just live close enough to travel here and enjoy it.”
The course also permits limited outside play through Santee Cooper Golf and Golf Santee, bringing in tourist dollars that help the club’s bottom line.
David Lackey, OCC’s director of golf, said dues and outside-play rates are designed for the local economy. “Our management understands we’re not Charlotte,” he said. “We looked at the price points and not pricing ourselves out of this market.”
Visitors are often surprised by what they find, though, Lackey said. “We get a lot of play from word of mouth, and a lot of (out-of-town) players come for the first time and say, ‘We knew where you are, but we didn’t expect to see what we’re seeing now,’” he said. “We feel like our quality of facilities is so nice, we’d fit in anywhere.”
Ratings panelists agree. “They stick out in my mind because they have all the amenities — beautiful course, club house, pool, tennis and food — and monthly dues are pretty low just because they’re not in one of the metropolitan areas of the state,” one wrote.
Added another: “Membership is very reasonable for a great course that would charge much more if (located) in the Lowcountry.” Members, too, are happy because, even with improvements, dues did not go up from 2009.
Marion Moore, a local Realtor and club member since 1975 – he also played at the club as a youngster when his parents were members – calls the club’s transformation since 2009 “almost unbelievable. It’s hard to put into words.
“The conditioning of the club, day in and day out, is magnificent. I go to supposedly higher-end courses, and I don’t enjoy them, the food or the course, as much as ours. The main thing is, this company (Pin High Visions LLC, a division of Zeus) is dedicated to excellence. They won’t do something if it’s not excellent.”
Moore added with a laugh, “I almost don’t want to tell anyone about it, so it won’t be too crowded. I’m a fan, and they know it.”
He’s not alone. Just ask the Golf Course Ratings Panel.
Bob Gillespie is a former senior sports writer for The State and former sports editor for The Times and Democrat. He lives in Columbia.