Column: Chalk Mine course an asset for Aiken County

·3 min read

Sep. 10—The big, bold headline in the Aiken Standard on Aug. 22, 2016, proclaimed a new partnership between the First Tee and USC Aiken to build a joint facility that would benefit both entities.

According to that front page article, the 9-hole practice facility, driving range, putting green and clubhouse would cost $3.17 million and would take approximately one to two years.

On Sept. 8, 2022, the Aiken Standard ran a front-page article on the ribbon-cutting ceremony held for the Chalk Mine 9-hole course and facilities for the First Tee of Aiken and USCA.

It took six years and a few days, but the wait was well worth it.

Many good people worked long and hard to raise the private funds used to build the facility. The "More Than a Game" campaign was co-chaired by Bill and Sandy Tucker and John and Paige Tiffany. Tony Allman, the First Tee's board chair, was heavily involved, as was Executive Director Heidi Hoffman.

The original plans were for an outside firm to build the course, but local golf course owner Jim McNair Jr. stepped in. He and his fellow "Amigos," Gary Frazier and Brent McGee, carved a beautiful short course out of an abandoned chalk mine.

When the announcement was first made, USCA's leadership included Dr. Sandra Jordan as chancellor and Randy Warrick as athletic director. They've both retired from the school now. The one constant at both announcements was Michael Carlisle, the school's longtime golf coach.

Dr. Daniel Heimmermann, USCA's current chancellor, reiterated the desire to "introduce a women's golf team over the next few years."

Hoffman talked about how the First Tee would be able to expand its offerings, which focus on character education.

Rep. Bill Taylor, representing the Aiken County Legislative Delegation, raved about the facility that is just west of the university's Convocation Center.

"Something out of nothing. That's hard to do," he said of the 40-acre property. "Kids who aren't even born yet are going to use this facility."

And that's the real beauty of the First Tee program. Through golf, one can learn many valuable life lessons.

Liz Stewart spoke about her late husband Ray Jewell. The clubhouse is named in his memory; he was an avid golfer and Stewart once organized a surprise birthday party for him that included a sizable donation to the fundraising effort.

Stewart said Jewell would often say if you wanted to find out about a person's character, play a round of golf with him or her. That would tell you much about the person.

At Wednesday's ceremonies, I saw many familiar faces. I was reminded of my first introduction to the game at Highland Park Country Club. I saw many people I had written stories about or covered through golf. And I shook hands with a number of people who have been friends because of our connection through golf.

Long before USC Aiken became a golf power and won three national championships, I helped fill out the team there. I often joke that I met two of the requirements: I owned a set of golf clubs, and I had decent grades. Many of the guys who played on that team, even though they were from other places, put down Aiken roots.

Golf can be a game of a lifetime. I've been trying to master it for more than four decades, and my only regret is that I didn't start earlier.

The Chalk Mine and the facilities for the First Tee and USCA will be an asset for Aiken County for decades to come. I can't wait to check back in a few years and see what the headlines say.

Thanks for reading.