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THIS AND THAT: A golfing treasure in the midst of downtown

October 13, 2018

I discovered it when I was 13. Who knew that in downtown Aiken, just a couple of blocks from the post office at that time was a golf course?

Of course, lots of people already knew that, but for a youngster about to embark on a lifelong love of the game, this was a remarkable find. One Saturday, my dad with a couple of his sons in tow drove down Highland Park Drive and parked the car. We got out, and as we descended the stone steps, before us was the first fairway of a golf course.

We went down to the clubhouse where Dad bought a used set of golf clubs, and we walked out as the newest members of Highland Park Country Club. The country club had the 18-hole golf course and a swimming pool – the perfect place for kids to spend their summer days.

I can still recall the first day that one of my brothers and I teed off on the first hole. Never having played golf or taken lessons, it was a self-teaching moment. My tee shot went all of 90 yards, the first of nine strokes on that hole.

To show that I could be consistent, I took a 9 on the second hole. Then came the dreaded third hole, a par 5 back then. I lost a ball, dropped another into the only water hazard on the course and recorded a 17. I did and still do count every stroke.

The next hole is an uphill par 3 that I bounced back with a bogey 4. When the final putt dropped on the last of the nine holes we played, I tallied an 86.

Through junior high, high school, college and beyond, Highland Park was my home course. With a layout meandering through old Aiken neighborhoods, it became as familiar to me as my own backyard. In those days, the challenge of the course was to find grass in the fairways and on the greens. The course was hard, fast and unforgiving. But it was fun, and it was the one I knew.

Fast forward a couple of dozen years and under the ownership of Jim McNair Jr., Highland Park Country Club became the Aiken Golf Club. For those of us who had played the course since childhood, the layout that Jim produced is nothing short of miraculous. The fairways are lush and the greens are a putter’s delight, rolling true with each stroke.

Not a long course by modern standards, Aiken Golf Club provides opportunities for short hitters like me and challenges for those who hit the ball much farther. A missed fairway can spell trouble. A missed green can be disastrous.

I don’t play the game as often as I once did, and I enjoy all of the courses in the area where I tee it up. Still none of the other courses provides me with as much pleasure as a round at Aiken Golf Club. Maybe it’s a mix of what it was and the transformation to what it has become. Maybe it’s the recollection of the 17 on the third hole, or perhaps it is just the knowledge that I am playing golf within a drive and a nine iron from the heart of town. Whatever the reason I still consider that my home course.

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My oldest grandson turned 17 this week. Carter lives in Fort Mill, where he is a high school junior. It’s hard to fathom that he is on the verge of adulthood.

Happy birthday, Carter!

* * *

Piper is our SPCA rescue dog, a lab-rat terrier mix. She gets antsy any time storm clouds begin brewing and is a veritable wreck when the wind blows, thunder rolls and rain falls.

With the arrival of Michael this week, my wife and I decided to sleep in the downstairs bedroom just in case blustery winds sent a tree into our house. We were amazed at how calm Piper was throughout the night. She slept in the dog bed we took for her and never whimpered, whined or hid beneath the furniture.

Like many in Aiken, we were spared from major problems. The electricity stayed on, and the trees stayed upright. An afternoon with rakes and carts cleaned up the majority of the backyard, and another afternoon will take care of the rest.

Pictures from Florida showing unimaginable devastation should give us all reason to pause and be thankful that our problems only dealt with a few downed limbs and pine needles. Keep those in the Florida Panhandle in your prayers as they deal with the arduous task of rebuilding.

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