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Florence’s Legacy: The People’s Pro

Terry Florence never made it on the PGA Tour and that may have been everyone else’s good fortune. In a game built more on the people who play and teach it than on the Sunday afternoon television stars, Florence was everyone’s friend. When Florence, 63, died March 4 in Charleston, S.C., finally losing a six year fight with cancer that had eaten away his body but not his spirit, he left a legacy of joy and generosity as great as any trophy he could have won playing golf. “Each of us is a better person from the time we spent around Terry Florence,” Joe Rice, the owner and inspiration behind Bulls Bay Golf Club in Awendaw, S.C., said in a letter to the club membership after Florence’s death. Pro golfers and golf professionals are different species. Florence was a consummate golf professional. He made the game better for others with a smile, a swing tip or a story while playing blackjack in the evening. Florence understood the monumental difference in listening to others rather than talking about himself. There are plenty of numbers to quantify how good Florence was as a player. He won the South Carolina Open twice; was a four-time South Carolina PGA champion; played in four PGA Championships and two U.S. Senior Opens. He was honored by the Carolinas PGA for his work as a professional and as a merchandiser. He is a member of the South Carolina Golf Hall of Fame and the Carolinas PGA Hall of Fame. But numbers and trophies never defined Florence. Style and personality, as comfortable as a hammock, did. “He touched a lot of people,” said Reid Nelson, who worked with Florence at both Wild Dunes and Bulls Bay. When he missed getting his Tour card by a single stroke in 1974, Florence and his wife, Hope, decided to leave the chase to others. Florence returned home to Charleston, went to work at the city’s municipal golf course and became as much a part of the Lowcountry golf culture as shrimp and grits are to local menus. “When I first moved to Kiawah Island years ago, I played golf with Terry a couple of times and I said, ‘Why aren’t you on Tour?’” said Hart Brown, the head pro at the Country Club of Charleston. “He told me about the time he tried Q-School and missed by a shot. “He was the best-playing club pro I’ve seen in my life.” When Hurricane Hugo hit the Isle of Palms in 1989, its center making landfall near the oceanside 17th and 18th holes at Wild Dunes’ Links Course, a decade of work and development on a top-100 course was destroyed. Florence, who helped guide the resort’s creation, was devastated by the damage. Approaching his 50th birthday, Florence left Wild Dunes with an eye on trying the Champions Tour. About the same time, Rice, a Charleston-based lawyer, had the idea to build Bulls Bay on a sandy patch of flatland alongside a tidal marsh a few miles north of Charleston. Florence told Rice he was going to give the senior tour a try but he’d like to be involved at Bulls Bay. The more they talked – Rice is one of the lawyers who won a $240 billion settlement against tobacco companies 15 years ago – the more they realized they had a shared vision. Bulls Bay is a true golf club, a place with wide fairways and no tennis courts. It was created to cater to people who love golf and the special things – like emergency nines and friendly matches – that come with it. A beautiful idea was brought to life and made richer because of Florence, who also got a taste of the life he passed up, playing in several Champions Tour events, making the cut in both U.S. Senior Opens in which he played. When Florence was diagnosed with liver cancer six years ago, he joked to a friend saying, “That was never on my radar,” a reference to the smoking habit he struggled to kick. A scan revealed brain cancer as well but Florence kept going through treatments, therapies and experimental drugs. “He never let it show,” Rice said. “He kept apologizing to me for not being at work. I told him to come when he could.” To honor Florence, Rice helped create the Terry Florence Golf Scholarship managed by the Coastal Community Foundation. The scholarship will be awarded to aspiring golfers who embody “the character and the dedication that drove Terry.” When Brown learned his friend was sick, he decided to play golf with Florence every Monday thereafter. They did it rain or shine, teeing it up at Bulls Bay, playing matches, telling stories and sharing the time that was slipping away too soon. The Monday rounds stopped earlier this year. “My goal was to get him out and we did that for six years,” Brown said. “He didn’t want sympathy. He felt he could beat this and I knew golf was the best thing for him. It was pretty cool.” So was Terry Florence.


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