7th Annual Clemson Women’s Golf Invitational
by Chuck DeCarbo
It’s not in the forecast, but it will be raining golf balls at the end of March. After a one-year hiatus because of the pandemic, the Clemson Women’s Golf Invitational has returned to The Reserve at Lake Keowee.
The seventh-annual event will tee off on the recently renovated Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course from March 26-28, with 18 teams competing for the title.
Unlike years past, the teams will not be staying with host families, and the playing format has also changed.
“We will be playing in fivesomes, with each team competing by themselves,’’ said Clemson Coach Kelley Hester. “We typically play in threesomes, with three different teams competing together. In an effort to cut down on volunteers for safety reasons, we decided to allow the players to ride in carts.’’
“Playing in fivesomes will be fun, I think, and something we haven’t done before,’’ said Furman Coach Jeff Hull. “It is a great event all around, and Kelley is a great friend and mentor so I like to support her.’’
The format change was nothing Reserve Head Pro Jeremiah Graham couldn’t handle.
“As a golf professional, we spend hours, days, weeks executing all of our club events,’’ said Graham. “The Clemson Invitational is the epitome of planning and execution of a golf tournament on a high scale. The planning and execution of these events are always a thrill.’’
The field features three teams ranked in the Top 20 and 10 in the Top 50, led by No. 5 Virginia. Other than Clemson, Michigan State and the University of North Carolina-Wilmington have never missed the event.
Kent State is one of four teams participating for the first time, along with Maryland, Notre Dame and Old Dominion. All but Kent State were scheduled to play in last year’s event.
“I’ve heard awesome things about the event,” said Kent State Coach Lisa Strom. “I’m just excited for our team [ranked No. 11] to be competing in a great event with a lot of top-ranked teams. Kelley and Heather [Clemson associate coach Heather Bowie Young] will no doubt run a first-class event.’’
The 54-hole event will give the course a chance to showcase its recent renovations of bunkers and greens.
“The bunkering aspect of the renovation was especially critical and has provided an elevation in both playability and overall aesthetic value,’’ said Reserve General Manager and chief executive Tim Boeve. “Of course, the updated warm season grassing on the putting surfaces was also a key component to the renovation and will provide ideal conditions for years to come.’’
“The greens look great and are putting fairly true to be so new,’’ said Hester. “It may take a while for the greens to become more receptive, but overall, I think they are ahead of where I thought they might be at this time.’’
The renovations began shortly after last year’s event was canceled and were finished by Labor Day weekend.
“The Reserve always does a great job of making us feel welcome,’’ said No. 19-ranked Virginia Tech Coach Carol Robertson. “We all look forward to playing the course.’’
Playing golf has been one of only a few activities that has grown during the pandemic.
“Golf seems to be one of the businesses that has boomed during Covid,’’ said Hester. “I guess with the ability to stay open and be outside, folks are more comfortable playing golf than other activities.’’
“Covid has provided both opportunities and challenges in the golf world,” said Boeve. “The Reserve has seen more golf activity since February and we look forward for this trend to continue throughout the year ahead.”
Aside from fivesomes riding in carts, the format will also include shotgun starts at 10 a.m. March 26-27 and 9 a.m. March 28. There will be a practice round on March 25 beginning at 9 a.m.
“I can’t wait to host teams again at The Reserve and for the returners to see the changes on the course,’’ said Hester. “But I think the members will still enjoy having 17 other teams from all over the United States here at The Reserve to watch some great golf.’’
“The Reserve has had a long history of hosting top-level golf events,’’ said Boeve. “And we feel this collegiate event aligns perfectly with our desire to enhance lifestyle.’’
Boeve was the head golf pro when the event started. That duty now belongs to Graham.
“Our members take great pride in hosting this event, continuing a long-standing relationship with Clemson University and the women’s golf program,’’ said Graham. “It is truly humbling seeing our members volunteer time and work together to execute such a great event.’’