ACC and Old North State Club Partner for the 2006 Men's Golf Championship
April 17, 2006
By DAVID DROSCHAK
NEW LONDON - Officials at the Old North State Club considered hosting the ACC men's golf championship for the first time in 1995 a slam dunk. Heck, it was a good way to show off some real estate to prospective buyers and get publicity for the Tom Fazio-designed golf course.
Few realized at the time what a solid marriage the club and the event would produce.
"You feel like an old man when you see some of the boys that are now PGA Tour superstars and Ryder Cup guys," said Old North State Club director of golf Tom Ducey.
The 2006 tournament on April 21-23 on the shores of Badin Lake will mark the 10th time the top-ranked private golf course in North Carolina will host the ACC men's championship, including the last five years.
It's now considered the "unofficial" permanent site of the ACC's men's golf championship.
"I never thought we would have kept it for 10 years, but now it's just hard to imagine it going anywhere else," Ducey said.
"Some other people have approached us about hosting the men's tournament, but the vote of the coaches is we want to stay right here as long as the Old North State Club will have us," added Georgia Tech coach Bruce Heppler.
The first champion in 1995 was a guy by the name of Stewart Cink. Tim Clark also won at the Old North State Club. So did Jonathan Byrd. And stars of the future like D.J. Trahan, Bill Haas and Troy Matteson have also shined here recently.
"Boy, the time really has flown by," said Clemson head coach Larry Penley. "Part of that is the anticipation and excitement of coming here every year. This is one place I really, really look forward to going."
"It's really cool to look through the PGA scores and see all the players who played here," said Old North State resident and long-time volunteer Glenn Miller. "It's really neat to say, `Hey, I knew that kid and he was a neat guy."'
Heppler said the 10-year run has also helped with what he believes is an important part of ACC golf history.
"We've created a place where everything is the same year after year so when you shoot your score you can look back and see what a Bryce Molder or a Lucas Glover did," Heppler said. "More conferences are trying to do what we've done in the ACC."
The Old North State Club was also the first college tournament to post electronic scoreboards, even before the NCAA Championships furnished them for the players and fans.
"We didn't run around trying to figure out who had the best college tournament," Ducey said. "But we tried to be the best and we were thinking outside the box."
The genesis of the men's tournament actually begin in 1994 when the Old North State Club hosted the ACC women's championship. The men's coaches began overhearing how great the venue was and became curious. It also didn't hurt that former Georgia Tech coach Puggy Blackmon lived next to Ducey growing up.
"That was a good hook and connection to get us going," Ducey said. "Puggy came by and said, `Wow, what a great place.'"
Still, Ducey was uncertain how long the club would host the event.
"It took me a couple of years to get over the coaches saying, `What a great place, what a great place,"' Ducey said. "When I started hearing it from the players it became real.
"Some of those golf coaches don't hold back any punches," added Ducey. "When they said, `Man, don't touch a thing, we want a lifetime contract,' I knew they were sincere."
Like many who have played at the Old North State Club, Penley loves reminiscing about past competition on and off the course. It was here that Penley's Clemson team overcame an eight-shot deficit in 2003 to beat Wake Forest by one shot, propelling a group that hadn't won a tournament all spring to the national title.
Penley also smiles when he remembers Irishman Richard Coughlan's first fishing trip on Badin Lake.
"He caught a catfish and it scared him to death," Penley said of one his former two-time All-American. "I had to stop him because he was ready to grab it and those whiskers were about to pierce him. We would have been playing with four golfers the next round instead of five."
Part of the charm of the Old North State Club for the schools is the down-home feel. Once inside the gates, players stay in private residences instead of cramped hotel rooms, and can practice golf until dark if they want by walking to the range. Fishing on Badin Lake is also a favorite activity, as is just relaxing in the beautiful surroundings after a tense round.
Heppler makes waffles with ice cream and chocolate syrup for his players every year in the evenings, something he did when he spent time in South Africa.
"That's my treat for them." the Georgia Tech coach said. "They really seem to enjoy it.
"You know, everybody is around each other here," Heppler added. "If you have bad chemistry it's a bad thing, but if you have good chemistry then it's extremely positive."
Then there is the golf course, a layout that knifes its way in and out of the shores of Badin Lake and has three of the best finishing holes in the state.
"It sure adds a lot of drama," Penley said of Nos. 16, 17 and 18. "No lead is safe. It takes a lot of courage to play those last three golf holes."
The 2005 champion, Ryan Blaum of Duke, won by eight shots with three birdies in three days on the tough par-4 16th hole. The senior returns to defend his title in April.
"I don't see how you can't play that golf course and not like No. 16, just with the backdrop of the lake and the narrow fairway," Blaum said. "That's my favorite hole out there."
The risk-and-reward par-5 18th hole on Badin Lake may be the most scenic on the course, and also has decided its share of ACC champions in 10 years.
"Most of the teams that have won here have played No. 18 very, very well," Penley said.
Whether win or lose, all the players leave with an experience they won't soon forget.
"The course is always in immaculate condition and it's ranked second in the state to Pinehurst No. 2," Blaum said. "That tells you all you need to know about this course."
The tournament is open to the public and admission is free. The Old North State Club is located off N.C. 49 about 25 miles south of Asheboro.