There is one patch of land at Musgrove Mill Golf Club, near the 11th tee, where the woods thin out just enough and golfers can catch sight of cars and trucks whooshing by on South Carolina Highway 56, headed south toward Cross Anchor, or Pauline, or maybe all the way to Spartanburg. Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay designed the course to be rustic, natural, a daylong escape, and wherever those vehicles wind up, the sounds they hurl toward the turf is a surprise after a couple hours of solitude.
“This is the only place you can hear any traffic,” superintendent Will Holroyd says. “It reminds you of what you don’t want to go back to.”
Holroyd is lean and quick, his Bean Boots laced, his face covered in a thick mustache. He knows everything one person can know about these 315 acres because he is the only superintendent in the history of the course. Musgrove Mill opened in Clinton, South Carolina, almost equidistant from Atlanta and Charlotte, in the fall of 1988. Holroyd arrived in 1987.
Generous with his time, he will tell you that the course is rich with dogwoods and cedars, oaks and walnuts, and that the Penncross bentgrass greens are originals. He will tell you that he regularly spots deer, beavers, wild turkeys and wild pigs on the grounds. Occasionally, he might spot a bobcat or a coyote, or a bald eagle. He will tell you that the Enoree River is both his “greatest asset and biggest headache.” He will tell you there are 21 fans dotted around the course — he describes them as “game-changers” for the turf — and that 15 holes need some sort of air movement.
And he will tell you that at least one person — and, most likely, many more than one — has described the place as the “Pine Valley of the South” — a reference to both its rugged beauty and its nearly constant challenge. “We’ve opened it some, softened it,” Holroyd says, “but we’ve never made it easier. It’s a penal course.”
Jeff Tallman, the director of golf since 1996, likes to tell the story about when a member approached him and expressed their wish that the course was just 16 holes. “My score would be a lot better,” Tallman remembers the member saying. “Well, which two holes do you have a problem with?” Tallman asked. “That’s the problem” the member responded. “It changes every time out.”
Holroyd will also tell you about the unique schedule he developed for his maintenance crew. Out of necessity, he splits the team into weekday and weekend staffers. The six full-time crew members and one full-time mechanic work Monday through Friday mornings, with weekends starting at 10 a.m. Fridays. The part-timers work Saturdays and Sundays, free to do whatever they want the rest of the time.
Most of those part-timers are students, which also requires Holroyd to shuffle project schedules around school calendars and holidays. Aerification, for example, is scheduled for every Presidents’ Day. “And if we get washed out that day …” Holroyd says. He trails off, not wanting to consider a late-February downpour. “If I can stay another 35 years,” he says, “I might be able to straighten some of this out.”
Oh, and one other thing Holroyd will tell you. Before he arrived at Musgrove Mill, he worked out of state for a while. Holroyd, the 2017 recipient of the Carolinas GCSA Distinguished Service Award, values the industry infrastructure and support across the region. “Everybody in the Carolinas needs to move, at least for a year, to really appreciate what we have here,” he says. His last stop before landing at Musgrove Mill was at a course over in Tennessee that handled 50,000 rounds per year. “It was like a factory,” he says, “and it just about drove me out of the profession.”
Musgrove Mill is a little quieter, a little more reserved. Well, a little more reserved most of the time: At least two people have instructed family and friends to spread their ashes on the course — and one of them had his remains fired from a cannon.
“It shows the passion people have for this place,” Holroyd says. “I have that passion too.”
Matt LaWell is Golf Course Industry’s managing editor.