There is a patch of land at Musgrove Mill Golf Club, near the 11th tee, where the woods thin out just enough and golfers can spot passing cars and trucks on South Carolina Highway 56, heading south towards Cross Anchor, or Pauline, or maybe up to Spartanburg. Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay designed the course to be rustic, natural, a day-long escape, and wherever these vehicles end up, the sounds they launch towards the turf are a surprise after a few hours of solitude.
“It’s the only place you can hear the traffic,” said the superintendent Will HolRoyd said. “It reminds you of what you don’t want to go back to.”
Holroyd is thin and fast, his Bean Boots laced up, his face covered in a thick mustache. He knows everything a person can know about these 315 acres because he is the only superintendent in the history of the course. Musgrove Mill opened in Clinton, South Carolina, almost equidistant from Atlanta and Charlotte, in the fall of 1988. Holroyd arrived in 1987.
Generous of his time, he’ll tell you that the course is rich with dogwood and cedar, oak and walnut, and Penncross’ bentgrass greens are quirky. He will tell you that he regularly sees deer, beavers, wild turkeys and wild pigs on the property. Occasionally, he may spot a bobcat, coyote or bald eagle. He will tell you that the Enoree River is both his “greatest asset and his biggest headache”. He’ll tell you that there are 21 fans dotted around the course – he describes them as “game changers” for turf – and that 15 holes need some sort of air movement.
And he’ll tell you that at least one person – and, very likely, many more than one – has described the place as the “Valley of the Southern Pines” – a reference to both its rugged beauty and its challenge. almost constant. “We opened it up a bit, softened it,” says Holroyd, “but we never made it easier. It’s a criminal court.
Jeff Talman, the director of golf since 1996, likes to tell the story of a member who approached him and expressed the wish that the course had only 16 holes. “My score would be much better,” Tallman recalled. “Well, which two holes do you have a problem with?” Tallman asked. “That’s the problem,” replied the deputy. “It changes every time.”
Holroyd will also tell you about the unique schedule he has developed for his maintenance team. By necessity, he divides the team into weekday and weekend staff. The six full-time crew members and one full-time mechanic work Monday through Friday mornings, with weekends starting at 10 a.m. Friday. Part-timers work on Saturday and Sunday, free to do what they want the rest of the time.
Most of these part-time employees are students, which also forces Holroyd to change project schedules based on school calendars and holidays. Airing, for example, is scheduled for each Presidents’ Day. “And if we get swept away that day…” Holroyd said. He walks away, not wanting to contemplate a downpour at the end of February. “If I can stay another 35 years,” he says, “I might be able to sort out some of that.”
Oh, and one more thing Holroyd will tell you. Prior to coming to Musgrove Mill, he worked out of state for a time. Holroyd, the 2017 recipient of the Carolinas GCSA Distinguished Service Award, appreciates the infrastructure and industry support throughout the region. “Everyone in the Carolinas has to move, at least for a year, to really appreciate what we have here,” he says. His final stop before landing at Musgrove Mill was at a Tennessee course that handled 50,000 laps per year. “It was like a factory,” he says, “and it almost drove me out of the profession.”
Musgrove Mill is a little quieter, a little more reserved. Well, a little more reserved most of the time: at least two people asked family and friends to scatter their ashes on the course – and one of them had his remains fired from a cannon.
“It shows the passion people have for this place,” says Holroyd. “I have that passion too.”
Matt LaWell is editor of Golf Course Industry.