Palmetto Golf Club is an institution.
It was founded in 1892 and is the oldest, continually operated 18-hole golf course in its original location in the Southeast. That alone makes it special.
But Palmetto also is unique and cherished by many because of the way it celebrates its place in golf’s rich history. That history was on display Tuesday at the club’s annual meeting, when Palmetto’s longtime head professional and general manager Tom Moore was recognized.
Moore previously announced his plans to retire, and Tuesday evening was the chance for members, friends, family and more to share their appreciation.
“This is a special place, and these are special people,” said Moore, who has been at Palmetto since 1982 and had about 300 people come out specifically to see him Tuesday. “This is a big honor. I’m a little embarrassed because I don’t like to talk about myself, but the first 31 years I spent working here. Now I can sit back and enjoy the course with the people I work with and for.”
He was showered with appreciation, a video presentation and some nice gifts – including plaques and a monetary reward. He also was given a book full of letters sent by people chronicling his 30 years at Palmetto as well as their regards, including one from former Masters champion Ben Crenshaw.
“You’ve made Palmetto a lovely testament of golf from a bygone era,” Crenshaw wrote to Moore, who after more than three decades of service has become an institution himself.
He’s worked with 11 club presidents, three golf course superintendents and three business managers. Moore’s affectionately known as “Mr. Palmetto,” for his dedication to the historic course, its restoration and his commitment to growing its reputation globally.
“He’s a great ambassador for the club,” said Brooks Blackburn, who has spent the past four years working with Moore as golf pro and is his replacement as director of golf. “It doesn’t matter where I go around the state or world, everybody asks ‘How’s Tom Moore doing?’ He’s talked to so many people and knows so many people. Tom is Palmetto.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Joe Spencer, a former president of Palmetto and the media relations chair for the club’s signature tournament – the Palmetto Amateur. He spoke highly of Moore, especially in regard to building Palmetto’s profile.
“He’s been a positive and visible force for Palmetto, and he has grown our Masters week play to be a very significant asset to the club and the community,” Spencer said. “We always have numerous golf officials from amateur and professional organizations from across the world come to play at Palmetto during Masters week because they love the history and traditions of Palmetto. Tom is the gracious presence that always makes them feel welcome and wanting to come back. … He has a personal feeling for Palmetto and is steeped in the history of the club. He takes pride in it.”
Moore’s no stranger to golf’s history. Before coming to Palmetto, the UNC-Wilmington alum worked at some other notable courses. He started his career at Pine Lakes Country Club in Myrtle Beach before moving on to the Country Club of South Carolina in Florence and West Lake Country Club in Augusta. Moore only planned on a short stay in Aiken, but the history of the course that drew him in, kept him from leaving.
“I figured I’d stay two or three years and go to a bigger club,” Moore reflected. “But the more I found out about the place, the more I fell in love with it.”
It was Moore’s affinity for Palmetto’s place in history that led him to overlook some other issues.
“When Tom arrived in 1982, the course was not in very good condition,” Spencer said. “The membership was low and the financial condition was weak. But he clearly saw there was a lot of potential.”
Under his watch, Palmetto has undergone a significant face lift that has enhanced its nostalgic feel. Moore was at Palmetto as it installed an irrigation system, improved bunkers and greens, reworked all 18 holes to re-establish the signature of designer Dr. Allister MacKenzie, expanded the pro shop and added the heritage room.
All the moves have paid off – even if they weren’t always welcome at the time – as the club and course are thriving.
“I feel lucky to have come here when I did. It was always a great golf club, now it’s a great golf club in great condition,” said Moore, who downplayed his role in the improvements. “I’ve had a lot of great club presidents and boards, and I just did what they paid me to do. I’m lucky to have the opportunity to help restore this place to the glory it had.”
When he wasn’t working on the club itself, Moore was busy helping its members improve their game.
“He’s the dean of golf professionals in the CSRA,” said John Roy, a member and the co-chairman for the Palmetto Amateur. “I’ve been a member of seven clubs before this, and I have never witnessed anybody more dedicated and better at his job than Tom. He’s got good knowledge and is one of the most humble people in the golf profession.”
Moore has also been a strong advocate for junior golf. He’s supported the Hook a Kid on Golf program and has worked with numerous golfers who have become professionals; including Franklin Langham, Charles Howell III, Kevin Kisner, Alex Hamilton and Scott Brown among others.
“I’m a good teacher, and parents have let me have the opportunity to work with their kids,” said Moore, who’s as proud of the junior golfers that have gone on to college and pro careers as those who have gone on to be successes in other walks of life.
S.C. Sen. Tom Young is one of the players Moore tutored when he was younger and was on hand Tuesday to present Moore with a proclamation from the Palmetto State.
“I’ve had lots of kids go on with college scholarships, and I’ve also had many go on to other great things. What I’ve always done is made sure the fundamentals are strong. I can’t teach anybody to shoot 65, but I can give them the fundamentals to be able to do that.”
Between the course, the players, the pro shop and everything else, Moore has been very busy for the past 30-plus years. He’s renowned for his work ethic, usually taking only Christmas off every year as he spent an average of seven days a week at the club. Spencer estimated that Moore actually packed in 43 years of work in 30 years based on the average work schedule.
“He’s the ideal golf professional, and he’s put in the time,” said Blackburn who knows he’s got a lot to handle fully taking over the day-to-day responsibilities. But he’ll still have Moore to lean on. Moore is moving from his office to one upstairs at Palmetto, where he’ll serve as pro-emeritus starting Jan. 1. “He doesn’t give advice often, but when he does you listen. He’s a solid, classy golf pro, and I admire and look up to him.”
“Now it really is a dream job,” said Moore, who plans on doing some traveling during his working retirement. With all the friendships he’s made and the bonds he’s forged through the years, Moore has lots of people asking him to visit. He said he plans to do just that and play lots of golf, when he isn’t driving around in a flashy red corvette he recently acquired. The way he talks about the car sounds vaguely familiar.
“It was something I saw listed, and I got a deal I couldn’t refuse. I’ll probably only keep it two or three years,” said Moore, who could end up holding on the sports car until it’s a classic, just like Palmetto. “I’m very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work here because it is a special place in golf history.”
Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than a dozen years after graduating from Syracuse University.
Staff photo by Noah Feit Retiring Palmetto Golf Club general manager Tom Moore laughs as he speaks to a crowd of about 300 spectators on hand for a ceremony held in his honor at the club Tuesday.×
Staff photo by Noah Feit Retiring Palmetto Golf Club general manager Tom Moore speaks to a crowd of about 300 spectators on hand for a ceremony held in his honor at the club Tuesday.×