Jeff Connell landed the job of assistant superintendent at Florence Country Club in the fall of 1995 and loved the weather. Accustomed to harsher winters in his native Kentucky, he performed his duties in shorts until the New Year.
But spring and summer provided a harsh introduction to the Palmetto State climate. Temperatures soared and, he says now, “I thought about going home.”
Luckily for golf in South Carolina, Connell adapted, settling in the Midlands and working his magic on and off the course.
Besides Florence, the Northwoods Golf Club, Columbia Country Club and Fort Jackson Golf Club have benefited from his agronomic expertise. Equally important, the game as a whole has benefited from his volunteer contributions.
Long story short: his passion is golf, the life lessons the game teaches, and finding ways to make the sport prosper.
“It’s not about me,” Connell said. “That’s what the game is.”
Connell, who now oversees the conditioning of the 36 holes at Fort Jackson, took on another challenge on the first of the year. He became president of the South Carolina Golf Association.
“He brings real energy to our board,” said SCGA Executive Director Biff Lathrop. “He is full of ideas and thoughts.”
Connell is no stranger to administration. He served on the board of the Carolina Golf Course Superintendents Association for eight years, including one term as president, and joined the SCGA board in 2010.
Its mission is focused on growing the game, especially in junior programs; the pursuit of projects such as the organization’s search for a new headquarters to replace Irmo’s cramped offices; and, he said, “a few other ideas we might want to pursue.”
After taking office, Connell contacted every member of the SCGA Board of Directors for their input, and the calls reinforced what he knew about Board meetings: “There are a lot of very smart people with a lot of good ideas on the board,” he said. .
Chuck Green, his boss at Florence CC and now the Quixote Club in Sumter, urged Connell to get involved in service to the superintendents association. Working on conservation measures with legislators led to an association with Charlie Roundtree III, who referred Connell to the SCGA.
“(The presidency) is not about me,” Connell said. “It’s about getting and keeping people involved in a great game. Golf teaches so many lessons and offers so many opportunities. Golf provides a foundation for life.
“Play (competitive) golf and you will be on your own. There is no hiding of your scores. Golf is just different from team sports. You grow and build relationships. Only a handful of professionals will succeed (PGA Tour), but the lessons learned in golf are the lessons of a lifetime.
Growing the game from the ground up has long been a priority for the SCGA. Thus, the association is placing increasing emphasis on the junior golf initiative led by Justin Fleming, a program dear to the new president.
New this year is a junior level of competition to provide a competitive avenue for development and advancement to major tournaments.
“Before, we had to turn away maybe 80 kids from big events,” Connell said. “Now these youngsters can compete, improve and earn points that qualify them for bigger events.”
The organization’s Forty-Plus series has been a resounding success and the tournaments are oversubscribed. “It hurts to turn players down,” Connell said. On the drawing board, plans focus on players in their twenties. “Working age guys,” he said. “There’s a real need to find a place for them to play competitively.”
There are other projects under consideration since his days on the board, and he will present a myriad of ideas to discuss.
“Without a doubt,” Lathrop said. “Call it passion. Call it energy. He goes, goes, goes. I got a message from him at 7 o’clock this morning.
“What works? What can be improved? Is there a different way of doing a particular thing?” Connell said, firing questions with machine gun speed. “The SCGA is in great shape. But let’s make it bigger, better. My goal is that it’s all about the game.”
Chip shots. Canceled for the past two years by coronavirus protocols, the South Carolina Junior Golf Federation’s Columbia Golf Ball returns to the schedule on April 7. Fundraising to support junior golf will take place at USC’s Pastides Alumni Center. For more ticket information, call 803-732-9311. . . . PJ Maybank (Cheboygan, Michigan) won the boys’ title and Macy Pate (Winston-Salem, NC) won the girls’ division at the Sea Pines Junior Heritage in Hilton Head Island. . . . In the spring season-opening tournaments, the USC men finished seventh at the Puerto Rico Classic, the Clemson men placed fifth at Nexus Collegiate in Nassau, Bahamas, and the Clemson women shared fourth place at the Tulane Classic in New Orleans. The USC women, ranked third nationally, begin their spring season Sunday at the Moon Golf Invitational in Melbourne, Fla.