September 12 – A new 9-hole golf practice facility near USC Aiken is nearing completion.
The project, a joint venture between USCA and First Tee of Aiken, covers 40 acres and includes the above nine holes as well as driving ranges, short game areas and putting greens for each unit. There will also be a building that will provide toilets as well as class and office space for first tea.
The grounds on Robert M. Bell Parkway near the USC Aiken campus will serve as the home of First Tee and a practice room for the university’s golf program.
Tony Allman, First Tee’s chief executive officer, said the facility is slated to open “sometime in December,” though bulldozers didn’t start working in the countryside until last January.
Allman said initial talks around the project began in 2014.
“We really didn’t start fundraising until we did a bit more (due) diligence across the board,” said Allman. “We started fundraising in earnest in mid-2015.”
Originally, according to Allman, a traditional golf course architect was commissioned to design the course. However, a fulcrum was created to have the course designed by Aikenite Jim McNair Jr. At the time, however, the numbers weren’t right and the money wasn’t there for the project.
McNair owns and operates Aiken Golf Club and Cedar Creek Golf Club.
Last fall, Allman met McNair in his pro shop. Since the two had never met before, Allman introduced himself.
″ (McNair) said, ‘Tony, I’ll help you make this happen,’ “Allman said.” Those were his exact words: ‘I’ll help you make this happen.’ “
McNair brought some of his old friends together, according to Allman, and about four weeks later they came back with a handwritten suggestion that matched what everyone was looking for.
“The whole thing is a joint venture,” said Allman. “With them there really is no ‘me’ or ‘me’ – it’s a ‘we’ thing. We’ll all be successful out here. “
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Heidi Hoffman, Aiken’s director of First Tee, said the new facility will have some immediate benefits for First Tee.
“We are very excited about the opportunity to have the school programs (and) involve not only schools but other community organizations that we work with,” said Hoffman. “The YMCA is right over there, they can take the participants over. Many facilities that we normally take our staff to to reach the participants will now have the ability to take the children to that facility.” . “
“That is, I believe, one of the most rewarding components of what we can do beyond our traditional and core programs, these outreach programs,” Allman said. “We can take them to a whole other level.”
Another benefit will be the ability to reach more children with the move due to the increased space, Hoffman said. First Tee of Aiken is currently located at Houndslake Country Club, where it has been since 2010.
Describing this move point, Allman said, “We’re closer to the core population of Aiken County (at the new location). Closer to North Augusta, closer to downtown Aiken than our current location.”
“It can be open many times,” said Hoffman. “There will be an opportunity for evening programs. We’re talking to some companies about introducing lighting, maybe just for the driving range and putting green. So in the winter months we can run programs in the afternoon hours as we normally would. “