Prentice's impact shaped local golf

Columbia Country Club golf pro Chris Sparrow watched Charlie Prentice strike balls on the practice range and marveled at the smooth, flowing swing.

"Absolutely amazing for anyone," Sparrow said, then added the kicker. "Charlie was in his 80s and still had a picture-perfect swing."

Prentice, Columbia Country Club's long-time pro, had more than a great golf swing. He had the gift of communication and service, and friends and colleagues remembered the positive impact he made on their lives after learning of his death Friday at the age of 87.

"A father figure to me," said David DuPre, who converted the lessons he learned from Prentice into four South Carolina Amateur championships and a place in the State Golf Hall of Fame.

"He got me started in the golf business, and he taught me how to be a pro," said Bobby Howard, a long-time pro and club owner on the Columbia golf scene.

"He was such a great influence and teacher," said Norman Flynn, the retired pro at the Country Club of Lexington.

Prentice's days in the Columbia golf community date to the 1950s at old Ridgewood Country Club, the forerunner of Columbia. Harold Hall, an amateur golfer and pilot, had met Prentice at a tournament in Alabama and recommended him to the Ridgewood board.

He was a club pro who could really play the game. He qualified for the PGA Championship and startled the golf world by beating Tommy Bolt in match play. He made the U.S. Open field and competed on the PGA Tour in his earlier years.

Flynn said Prentice liked to tell the self-deprecating story of one of his PGA Tour ventures. He sought club authorities to ask if he could get time off to play on the West Coast swing.

"He would say, 'They never got back to me, so I took off,' " Flynn remembered. "He said he played January through March, 'then when I got back, nobody asked me where I had been. They didn't miss me at all.' "

He liked to laugh at stories like that. He also liked to teach.

"My parents would drop me off about 7:30 in the morning during the summer, and he taught me the game," DuPre said. "I really respected him, and he was more than a teacher. He was as good as any golfer I have played with. When I went into the Hall of Fame, it was more special because Charlie was in there, too."

Flynn saw the same side of Prentice. Early in his career at USC, Flynn was playing at old Ridgewood and Prentice told him to call if he needed help.

"I hadn't been around many pros then, and he really helped me," Flynn said. "Between him and Melvin (Hemphill, late pro at Forest Lake), I had two great teachers. Even today, every time my swing gets out of whack, I think back to Charlie and his swing and how he taught me. Besides that, if I needed advice on my career, he would tell me what I needed to hear."

Until his health began to decline within the past year, Prentice remained a fixture around Columbia Country Club. He would hit balls on the range, play a hole or two before playing cards in the locker room.

"He was one of the good guys," Howard said. "He's the type who will really be missed."