David Lauderdale

Golfers celebrate 35 years of practical jokes

Grover Scomer is at best an asterisk in the annals of golf literature.

He was a minor character in Dan Jenkins' 1974 humorous novel, "Dead Solid Perfect."

But once a year, the introspective Grover steps out of the shadows and onto the links of Hilton Head Island, occasionally even the fairways.

The fictitious character is the mascot and "chairman" for the Fall Classic Invitational Golf Tournament, a very real gathering of characters from the Upstate city of Greenwood.

They're here this week for the 35th consecutive year. What began as a golf weekend for four guys without their wives turned into something more in 1976. The field doubled that year, then doubled again the next. The Fall Classic was born, and over the years, they've played most local courses, visited most restaurants and enjoyed the music of the Headliners, Target and the Simpson Brothers.

Now they've settled into a group of 12. They rent two houses in Palmetto Dunes Resort and play four rounds on the Palmetto Dunes courses. They compete for an individual championship and the team-play Grover's Cup. It's like the Ryder Cup, except it's named for a mascot chosen, as one Greenwood golfer put it, because Grover was a free spirit and "his mind wouldn't let him become the golfer he could've been."

But in truth, golf is little more than an asterisk when compared to the memories the men have built here in a get-away that now stretches across half their lives.

After their wives, children and grandchildren, nothing thrills them like their trip to the Lowcountry.

"Looking forward to it each year, we're basically like a bunch of little kids going to a picnic or a circus or something," said Leland Vaughan, a retired Greenwood banker and now general manager of The Plantation Course at Edisto Beach.

They pull practical jokes, do comedy skits and relentlessly point out each other's shortcomings. They have an opening-night banquet in a private room at Alexander's Restaurant. Saturday night will bring the awards banquet, with its golden dolphin trophy, when the losing team treats the winning team to the finest food and drinks they can find.

Also here are brothers Lynn and Wilbur Hodge, who both played football for the University of South Carolina; Mat Self, whose family firm owns Palmetto Dunes and whose father, the late textile magnate Jim Self, was an early investor in Sea Pines and built the first golf course on Hilton Head; Sonny Carson, the tournament coordinator who signs all correspondence, "Wishing you a long walk with your favorite putter, with regards, Grover;" Gary Hall, a retired manager with Greenwood Mills; William Tinsley, an attorney; Bruce Lawrence, a sales executive; John Scurry, an attorney whose family has owned land and businesses in this community for many years; Aubrey Swofford; and Lang Foster.

The Fall Classic may seem like an asterisk on an island that greets 2 million visitors a year. But it's not.

"It's friendships that many people have never experienced," Vaughan said. "How do you place a value on it?"

Perhaps only a free spirit like Grover Scomer could understand.