Dahlonega, Georgia was the site of the first NCCGA Southeast Regional Tournament. The tournament was going to be my first NCCGA event and I was playing for the University of South Carolina Club team.
The trip up that Friday had not been a short one. But, we had made good time and arrived at Achasta Golf Club four hours after leaving Columbia, S.C. At the course, the local pro was nice enough to let us onto the range for a quick practice session before dark. We pounded balls into the dimming light until we couldn’t see our results anymore and then left to get some much needed food in a nearby town.
Dahlonega is far from the hustle and bustle of Atlanta, Ga. Sitting about an hour north of the big city, this quaint spot is a popular retirement community. Well, at least Achasta is for the older folk. Near the heart of the town lies a college, North Georgia College and State University. Despite this, downtown Dahlonega doesn’t feel like an area for the belligerent. It has more of an old country feel and is full of nice restaurants and local ma-and-pa shops. The place that caught our eye was Piazza.
Piazza is an Italian restaurant if you couldn’t tell from the name. The food was a bit expensive but definitely worth the price. Before dinner, I really didn’t know anybody on my team. I had been to the qualifier two weeks before but nobody that I had played with made the traveling squad. Over pizza and lasagna, we discussed how we made it to this point in our lives and what lead us to decide to be on the club team. None of us knew what the next day would hold but we knew how to prepare for it. With a fine dinner in our belly, we headed back to our hotel, the Holiday Inn Express.
At the hotel, we separated into two different rooms. We watched the final couple innings of the South Carolina-Clemson game and saw our Gamecock team come out victorious. It wasn’t very late yet and none of us had to wake up particularly early the next day. So we did what just about every team has done in a hotel, we brought in our putters and began a putting competition. The outcome wasn’t all that important but we still acted like it was the Masters of putting. We hit putts out of rooms and down hallways, occasionally hitting doors of other guests, to determine who was truly the best putter among us. The competition heated up when decided to hit through an obstacle and Nikos Pavlis – the team president and Regional Coordinator for the Southeast - made an eagle. Victory was his until he decided that we had to use the putter as a pool stick. This caused everybody to mess up, leaving me with an opportunity to catch back up to him and the rest of the guys. But before I could finish the hole, the hotel manager opened the door to the hallway to inform us that he had received some complaints. While this effectively ended the fun, Nikos made a good point - “I’m surprised we made it this far without anyone complaining.”
The tournament itself ran very smoothly. The first day, a couple guys teed off later and we stuck around to see what they would shoot. We were not particularly happy with our first round scores but knew we would have another chance to conquer the course on Sunday. We all went to dinner again that night and, luckily, the place we went to had a TV. The South Carolina basketball team surprisingly beat Kentucky and, of course, our baseball team once again beat Clemson. After dinner we stopped at Dairy Queen to get some dessert. Which, I would say, was the highlight of the weekend. Simply because its Dairy Queen and Oreo Cheesequakes are amazing.
The second round was a slightly better one for my team. We improved dramatically from the first day but, unfortunately, weren’t able to move up from 4th. Still, my Sunday was surely better spent on the golf course than in my dorm room. The weather started off dreary but turned into a beautiful day. The only way you can truly appreciate a day like that is when playing in a golf tournament. I teed off with two guys at 8:20, including my teammate Jim. It turns out that he caddied at Pine Valley over the summer, making over 10 grand working only 4 days a week. Oh and he has played Augusta National before.
By the end of the round, I also found out that another guy on my team was a best friend with Arnold Palmer’s grandson. And another guy was going to be vacationing where I lived, Hilton Head, the following week to go play golf.
Who would have known that all these people went to the same school as me?
Wesley Long is a student at the University of South Carolina. He can be reached via Twitter @RealWesleyLong.