Columbia City Men’s Championship back at new and improved Northwoods

From 2015: Northwoods Golf Course, under new ownership, begins course improvements.
From 2015: Northwoods Golf Course, under new ownership, begins course improvements. The State file photo

The Midlands Chevy Dealers Columbia City Men’s Golf Championship returns to a course that has a rich history with the event, and pro Greg McBride predicts the players will be in for both a treat and a challenge.

The tournament that dates to 1936 will be played Thursday to Saturday at the Spur at Northwoods, a familiar course to the older players in the field that has been dressed up with numerous improvements — new greens the most important — under new ownership.

“A fun course to play that can be difficult,” McBride said.

Dillon Hite, a Lexington High graduate who will be a freshman on the Charleston Southern team this fall, returns to defend his championship against a field that includes a blend of youth and experience. Chief among the challengers could be 2016 champion Jarrett Grimes, a Northwoods regular, and 2012 winner Eddie Hargett, who recently played in the U.S. Senior Open and finished second in the city event a year ago.

“We have a good field,” tournament director Allen Knight said. “We have all of our 2018 champions back, and I expect players who play at Northwoods regularly to play well.”

In addition to Hite, 2018 division winners include Walter Odiorne (seniors), Jimmy Martin (super seniors), Carey Hite (legends) and Rohan Allwood (professional). Amateurs will play 54 holes with a 36-hole cut, and the pros will compete for two rounds with the champion crowned Friday.

Designed by P.B. Dye, son of famed architect Pete Dye, Northwoods opened in 1990 and played host to SCGA tournaments and USGA qualifiers in addition to the city men’s championship. But the club suffered during the economic downturn a decade ago and conditions deteriorated.

The McBride family sold the facility to a firm owned by Charleston attorney Joe Rice, in 2015, and the new owners set about making long overdue improvements.

The new greens — Sunday bermudagrass — represent the most significant piece of the puzzle, and Greg McBride, who remains the pro, hopes the city tournament is the first step to attracting higher profile events.

“We still have some things on our ‘to-do’ list, but we’re getting better all the time,” he said.

Those who have not played the Spur recently will need to reacquaint themselves with the severe undulations on the greens. “That the course’s defense,” said assistant pro Burke Cromer, who has won the city’s professional division nine times.

Familiarity will be important, McBride said, and he predicted strong performances from “guys like Jarrett Grimes, Jimmy Martin and Bernie Shealy who play here all the time.”

Joining Hite in the younger contingent will be Nic Poole, a former member of the A.C. Flora prep powerhouse who plays at USC Aiken. “He recently led the Festival of Flowers tournament in Greenwood after first round,” McBride said.

McBride recalls the tourney’s outstanding competition, but he has another memory that epitomizes the event.

“Mark Swygert won the city tournament, the State Amateur and had an outstanding career at Clemson,” McBride said. “One day during the tournament, I saw (11-time champion and former USC golf coach) Steve Liebler over in a corner talking to Mark about what to expect in his career. They all want to win, but this tournament is also a great learning experience for the younger guys.”

Chip shots. Rising sophomores Ryan Hall (USC) and Jacob Bridgeman (Inman/Clemson) have earned berths in the U.S. Amateur, Hall qualifying in Knoxville, Tenn., and Bridgeman claiming his spot in Huntersville, N.C. Trent Phillips (Inman/Georgia) is exempt into the championship set for August in Pinehurst, N.C. ... The Carolinas team, which included seven players from the Palmetto State, defeated the Virginias squad 75-69 in the Carolinas-Virginias team matches in Daniels, W.Va. South Carolina players included Gracyn Burgess (Lexington/Clemson), Jodee Tindal (Rock Hill/College of Charleston), Lea Venables (Simpsonville), Lea Anne Brown (Mt. Pleasant), Leigh Coulter (Hopkins), Karen Ferree (Hilton Head Island) and Jaune Pardus (Hilton Head Island).