Milestones call for a party, and the South Carolina Golf Association has plenty to celebrate at its 90th birthday soiree on Sunday evening.
The organization that oversees amateur golf in the state got its start at an inopportune time — 1929 and the start of the Great Depression — and plodded along for nearly a half-century until the board of directors made an inspired move.
In 1976, the powers-that-be hired Happ Lathrop to become executive director, who will be honored for his dedication and service to the game at Sunday’s festivities at the Country Club of Lexington.
“I would work for less,” Lathrop says and laughs in explaining the board’s decision.
In fact, the SCGA started its amazing growth on his watch.
He took the job with a challenge to build the association, and he did just that. In the 40-plus years prior to his retirement in 2017, the SCGA grew from a one-person operation to a staff of 10, from fewer than 100 clubs to more than 300, from 11,000 individual golfers to more than 70,000 and from assets in the $50,000 range into the millions.
In addition, he provided the leadership in junior golf development, which he calls his proudest accomplishment. The program not only produced PGA Tour players but also introduced countless youngsters to recreational opportunities, developed a scholarship program and provides grants to minority and disadvantaged youth.
The SCGA conducts numerous competitions — 21 statewide championships, 71 one-day events, 10 USGA qualifiers, seven 40-plus tourneys plus qualifiers in the Drive, Chip and Putt program.
The celebration “ties in with the SCGA Junior Championship, which is coming ‘home’ to Lexington this year,” said Biff Lathrop, who succeeded is father at the SCGA helm. The junior tourney, set Monday-Wednesday, will be played at Lexington for the 32nd time in its 61-year history.
“It’s incredible the growth the association has made through the years,” Biff Lathrop said. “We’ve added four-ball and mid-amateur tournaments and we have all age-groups — from juniors to super-seniors — covered. The junior schedule has tournaments almost every week.
“A lot of outstanding people have played a role in the association’s development. Members, volunteers, participants ... so many have been involved.”
The SCGA’s mission involvs promoting, preserving and serving the game of golf and the statistics tell a story of success.
“We’re going to have a fun evening,” Biff Lathrop said. “A lot of our champions, board members and contributors will be there. We’re going to celebrate and relive our past, and we’re going to look into the future. We have a lot of possibilities going forward.”
If the achievements over the next 40 years match those of the past 40, the sky’s the limit.
“That’s what we want to do,” Biff Lathrop said. “We want to keep building.”
Chip shots. Golden Hills pro Steve Larick (Lexington) and amateur Kevin King (Bluffton) earned berths in the U.S. Senior Open in qualifying at Wexford Plantation. Pro Marion Dantzler (Orangeburg) is first alternate. ... The Flora Golf Gathering, which benefits the school’s golf programs, will be held June 17 at Columbia CC with former state champions Will Murphy and Mary Lagare Augustine the guest speakers. Call coach Robert Dargan (803-414-5311) for details and entry information. ... The SCGA Junior Championship returns to its home of many years, the CC of Lexington, beginning Monday. The 54-hole event will be played for the 32nd time in its 61 year-history at the Lexington layout. The field of 159 includes Gene Zeilger (Florence), No. 2 in the state junior rankings, and Drayton Stewart (Charleston), who will join the Clemson University team in the fall. ... State players in the U.S. Open: Dustin Johnson (Columbia/Coastal Carolina), Kevin Kisner (Aiken), Lucas Glover (Greenville/Clemson), Kyle Stanley (Clemson) and Sam Saunders (Clemson)