Jul. 12—The site has been walked countless times over the last few months — and years — as work has been done on the joint facility for the USC Aiken golf program and the First Tee of Aiken.
A project years in the making started taking shape, a vision finally becoming a reality.
What's made it really feel real for First Tee executive director Heidi Hoffman has been to see it put to use by First Tee participants and USCA golfers.
Tuesday was another big step forward in the form of a soft opening, as community members had the opportunity to walk the grounds and see the practice facilities and the Chalk Mine nine-hole par-3 course.
"It's an honor to be involved in the process and really just a dream come true," said Hoffman. "I just think of all of the people years ago that had this in mind and had the perseverance and the grit to just really see this thing all the way through. It was a lot of years of a lot of hard work, and we are just thrilled that we're near the finish line."
The Pacer golfers have been practicing at the new facility for a few months now, and some First Tee participants have been able to come out for some limited programming.
"It's amazing to see the kids out here, and to see the university team practicing really makes it real," Hoffman said. "... It's been fun to talk to the team a little bit, get their thoughts. They seem to enjoy it. Our kids are thrilled. It's just a really unique facility here in Aiken. We're excited for community members to come out and use it, to play the course, and we're excited for the growth of First Tee Aiken."
While the facility is the new home of USCA golf and the First Tee, there are opportunities for others to play. USCA faculty, staff and students can play for $15 per nine-hole round ($20 for each guest), and First Tee board members and participant families can play for the same rate.
There are also community and corporate membership opportunities, with all fees going toward maintenance of the Chalk Mine.
"For us, for First Tee Aiken, we're so lucky to partner with the university," Hoffman said. "First Tee Aiken is not going anywhere. USC Aiken's not going anywhere. We just really think we can build on the rich history and success of both programs, USC Aiken men's golf and First Tee Aiken. The partnership with the university allows us to be able to bring education students, marketing, business students over, internship opportunities. The long-term stable future is really critical to us."
The Chalk Mine was completed several months ago and has already made the rounds on social media, thanks largely to a YouTube video by pro golfer George Bryan IV that has been viewed 137,000 times since January.
"The uniqueness of the short course is really a true test of the short game of a player," Hoffman said. "Really, here we're now dictated by daylight hours, so we have opportunities with programming to expand to provide outreach opportunities for church groups, the YMCA, other organizations that serve youth. We'll be able to bring kids in on busses, drop them off, take them to the driving range, practice areas, onto the golf course.
"We see it is a feeder for some of the bigger courses in Aiken, really developing the game and creating future members of local golf courses in Aiken. We aren't an 18-hole full course, so our kids are going to need other opportunities, so we look forward to partnering with the other local golf courses who have been very supportive to us. Start them here, and filter them into Aiken."