By Bob Gillespie
ORANGEBURG, S.C. – In a golf course architecture career spanning nearly 20 years as his own boss, and including work on 50-plus courses – some while apprenticing under Dan Maples and Georgia’s Dennis Griffiths – Richard Mandell has heard plenty of requests/directives from the people paying his fee.
The Pinehurst designer says he doesn’t recall any quite like what he heard from Orangeburg businessman Frank Tourville.
“He said he wanted ‘the best … golf course in South Carolina,’ ” Mandell said, laughing. “I found out pretty quickly that ‘Mr. T’ doesn’t do anything second-class.”
That was in mid-2009, when Tourville – founder and chairman of Zeus Inc., manufacturers of polymer tubing for medical products and wiring/engineering work, including Boeing airliners – met with Mandell to discuss restoring Orangeburg Country Club, a 1960s Ellis Maples design. Four months and an undisclosed amount of Tourville’s money later, the result was a spectacular success.
Completed around Halloween of 2009, the course features lush Bermuda fairways, dramatic bunkering and Champion Bermuda greens (the first in South Carolina) with quickness and undulations, plus a host of upgraded amenities – a “palatial” clubhouse, pool area, tennis courts, driving range and short-game practice area – beyond what most communities this size (13,196 in 2016) can boast.
“It had been run down for a few years, getting little attention,” Mandell said. “The superintendent (Tom Green) was struggling with resources. But we recognized that the course had great ‘bones,’ and you don’t screw with those.
“It had lost some of its bite, but the course has great variety – long and short (holes), doglegs left and right, straight – all that was in the routing. We just wakened it up (and) put some teeth back in it.”
Tourville acquired the former Country Club of Orangeburg on May 19, 2009, after the 50-year-old facility – its membership down by half to about 300 members – had come within days of bankruptcy.
“The last thing I wanted to do was get into the golf course business,” said Tourville, whose home is off the fourth fairway. “But I didn’t want a cotton field in my backyard, either.”
The 83-year-old bought the course for $1, assumed some $800,000 in debt and pledged to spend $1.5 million for capital improvements over a three-year span. Then he – and Mandell – did much more. Mandell declines to disclose the exact amount.
“We did a lot more than $1.5 million,” he conceded. “As (Tourville) got into it, we had things we needed to finish, and he wasn’t going to let it be (inadequate).
“I will tell you we addressed what needed to be, but we were smart with things,” Mandell said. “He’s prudent with his money, and so am I.”
Case in point: Mandell decided not to rebuild the course’s push-up greens to USGA specifications “because there was a better solution for putting,” he said. “A lot (of owners) insist on that, which is why (some renovations) are so expensive. But these greens were good.”
Good, but small. Using 1963 aerials, Mandell determined the greens had lost a third of their surface area over the years. Mandell, Green and Augusta-based Course Doctors restored the original dimensions, going from 81,775 square feet of putting surfaces to the current 122,881 – “almost a 50 percent increase,” Mandell said.
“We massaged the greens to fit a bigger area,” he said, “and adjusted things to soften slopes for modern green speeds. Once we connected all those things, I think they’re the best greens complexes I’ve ever done.”
Mandell said working with Tourville – who built a once-small company into one of the polymer tubing industry’s innovative leaders – was energizing. “He’s definitely a visionary,” the architect said. “He puts the right people in place. He’s demanding, but he knows how to get the most from people.”
The result is a strong re-addition to the S.C. Midlands, which get less attention for golf than the state’s coastal and mountain regions. Membership is up (to around 450) and the club is pushing for out-of-town members, offering sweetheart monthly dues and no initiation or food/beverage charges.
“If (Tourville) can get where it’s making money each year, that’s what he’s looking for,” said Dan Hydrick, a club member and friend of the owner. “They say you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but he disproved it.”
Added Marion Dantzler, a native and longtime mini-tour player: “I’ve played some nice courses around the country, and (Tourville has) given not only Orangeburg but South Carolina a championship golf course in this little town … This is as good as any I’ve played.”
Mandell appreciates that assessment. “Mr. T gave me the resources and the trust,” he said. “I hope he’s happy with it.”
Tourville grins when asked. “If we hadn’t (bought the club), Orangeburg wouldn’t have a golf club,” he said. “So we did it – and we did it right.”
In his mind, at least, he got just what he asked for from Mandell.
Bob Gillespie is a former newspaper golf reporter and freelancer living in Columbia, S.C.