To paraphrase a quote that’s widely — and wrongly — attributed to Mark Twain: Golf is a long walk spoiled. These days, though, you get an entirely different perspective when you stroll Greenville’s renowned links, home to a sizable clubhouse of PGA professionals.
“We’ve got a good golf town and good golf courses, not to mention the climate’s obviously a big factor,” says Charles Warren, 45, an eight-year PGA pro and three-time winner on the Nationwide Tour; he was inducted into the South Carolina Golf Hall of Fame in 2018.
“Maybe we don’t have the concentration of pros like Jupiter, Florida, or Sea Island in Georgia,” says Ben Martin, 32, who turned professional in 2010 and has played all over the world. “But, typically, guys out on the tour all know and love Greenville from coming here.”
While Martin considers Warren a key influence for the “under-45 crowd,” Warren puts veteran professional Jay Haas atop Greenville’s motivational leaderboard.
“At the end of the day, Jay moving here kind of was the first domino that started everything,” Warren says. “I think we can thank Jay for that, but it is pretty amazing how many good players are in Greenville related to professional golf.”
For his part, the humble Haas credits junior programs for seeding the fairways with the next generation of great players. After all, as he writes in a South Carolina Junior Golf Association feature article, he was weaned on one in his native Belleville, Illinois. (These days, his son, Bill, 39, is a PGA pro with 57 Top 10 career victories.)
In fact, asked about one of his favorite memories, Jay Haas doesn’t mention the picture accompanying his April article. In it, he’s posing with Tiger Woods and former President Bill Clinton at the 2008 Presidents Cup, where he served as the non-playing assistant captain. He also didn’t mention that he co-founded and helped design the course at Greer’s Thornblade Club.
Instead, the winner of 18 PGA Tour Champions tournaments says one of his proudest moments came when the South Carolina Golf Association named an annual junior award after him.
Greenville golf’s senior statesman mentions in his article that he shot his first par when he was around 13 years old — the same age as one of Greenville’s latest up-and-coming phenoms, Tip Price.
Price, who was playing a tournament in Florence, South Carolina, squeezed in some time for a fraternally jovial Zoom session in mid-June. He joined Warren, Martin and Mike Maness, 39, who played and caddied professionally for more than a dozen years before investing in the CamCaddy, a product that helps golfers improve their games.
Maness echoes the others’ comments about the pro-am collegiality here in Greenville: “If I need anything, I know they’d be there, and I just think that says leaps and bounds about, one, the type of people we have here but, two, just the bond we all created through those years.”
Then a chip shot: “For Tip, that’s something to look forward to, as well.”
At age 11, Price had already played at the storied Augusta National Golf Club. At the Georgia home of the iconic Masters, Price participated in the 2018 Drive, Chip and Putt Championship.
“We were there pretty early,” he says of the legendary — and legend-making — links, “and we got to look at the whole course, and there were no spectators. It was just green. It was the prettiest thing I’ve gotten to see.”
Price is among some 250 members of Greenville Country Club’s junior program, where Karl Stefka is head golf professional at Riverside, one of GCC’s two championship 18-hole courses. He calls Price a junior star at the club.
Stefka also credits Augusta’s proximity to Greenville as an inspiration-magnet.
“I think a lot of these people grew up watching the Masters on TV, and a lot of golf professionals that played Augusta may have some connection with this area, like Jay Haas,” he says. “It’s just kind of a hotbed. I think with the quality of the golf courses and, obviously, the weather makes it a rich environment to kind of get these kids.”
Haas scores the final conversational putt: “In South Carolina, you’ve got beach courses, you’ve got the mountain courses and everywhere in between. We’ve got a lot of variety here, and I think people realize you’re pretty fortunate to enjoy it.”
Top golfers from or living in Greenville
Selected area golf courses
The PGA website lists more than two dozen courses, driving ranges and 3-par links within 15 miles of downtown Greenville. Here’s a sampling of those clubs with in-house PGA pros.
The Cliffs Valley
Holly Tree Country Club