“This is really exciting,” says Stephen Edwards. “If you can believe it, half of our players today have never played a competitive golf match – and we’re playing a really good team from a well-established club. I’m eager to see how we stack up.”
As a warm Sunday afternoon settles over picturesque Holly Ridge Golf Links in tiny Archdale, North Carolina, eight teammates from the fledgling Twilight Golf Club prepare to tee off against a formidable squad from Bermuda Run Country Club in their third interclub match of the season.
Apart from their inexperience at competitive golf, a couple of things set the Twilight members apart from the other four teams in their Carolinas Golf Association interclub pod. TGC members are not anchored to a traditional green-grass golf club, choosing instead to play out of a superb public course that has a strong affiliation with the national Youth on Course organization and a bristling new teaching academy.
Of its roughly 130 members drawn from the surrounding Piedmont region of the state, most are either public-course players who have never belonged to a club or newcomers to the game. “I’d say at least half of our guys have never had an established handicap index until now, and many have just taken up the game,” Edwards points out says as he watches new members Sammy Lucas (a financial adviser) and Cory Billings (a Baptist minister) tee off against their dapper Bermuda Run opponents. “From day one, our primary mission has been to bring guys like Sammy and Cory into the game, to expand the fellowship and community of golf. To say the least, it’s been very rewarding.”
The club was born during the dark days of the COVID-19 pandemic, which may in part account for its rapid growth as newcomers across the country have flocked to the game. In truth, Twilight Golf Club stems from one man’s surprise discovery of the game in 2009 that paved the path to his broader – and inclusive – passion for the game.
Asheville native Stephen Edwards was not a golfer during the summer before he completed his senior year at Wake Forest University in 2010. “Kind of on a lark,” he explains, “five friends and I decided that we really ought to spend a last great summer working and playing in Winston[-Salem] before our college days were over. It was really kind of a sentimental thing that turned out to be almost providential.”
“I realized what a great game golf is for community-building and bringing people together.” –Stephen Edwards
Over a valedictory summer of internships and part-time jobs, the college buddies took up playing golf at the twin city’s historic Reynolds Park, a tired but beautifully wrought municipal gem designed by Perry Maxwell in 1940. “We all grew up playing sports, but only two of us in the house had ever played golf. We all picked up clubs and started meeting out at Reynolds in the evening after work, to play nine holes and just have fun. We got hooked on the game. Over that summer, we fell in love with playing twilight golf in the evening – and the friendship that went with it.”
From such acorns, as the Welsh proverb goes, mighty oaks may grow.
After graduation, Edwards took a job in campus ministry working at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and met his future wife, McKenzie. “Everyone in Texas plays golf. So by that point I was playing the game on a regular basis and – must confess – was mostly fixated on improving my scores, as most newcomers are.”
A job in development brought Edwards back to his alma mater and Winston-alum in 2013, and when he became a father in 2016, the game took on a whole new perspective for him.
“Being a new father didn’t diminish my love of playing golf, but it gave me appreciation of the game and its social potential. Your life changes so much with children. That made my time playing golf with friends out at Reynolds Park even more special. I realized what a great game golf is for community-building and bringing people together.”
By the spring of 2020, Edwards was in the habit of taking 3-year-old son Griffin to the course in the evenings after work. “He would just ride along in the cart as I played. We would talk and I would hit balls and let him putt a little bit now and then. It was pretty special time for us both, especially when COVID suddenly shut down everything.”
As COVID summer came on in a locked-down America, that’s when a big idea came to him. With the Wyndham Championship unable to have fans on the grounds at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro that August, he set out to create a fundraiser for PGA Tour star Harold Varner III’s HV3 Foundation.
Varner, ranked 38th in the world, learned the game in a youth program at a Gastonia, North Carolina, municipal course. He created his foundation in 2019 to raise public awareness of the rising cost of entry and access in all sports – especially golf – which works closely with the Carolinas Golf Association and the national Youth on Course organization, providing financial assistance for equipment, after-school programs, instruction, camps, and various other avenues by which an athlete can cultivate his or her passion.
Shortly before the gallery-free tournament commenced, Edwards – an experienced fundraiser – arranged to hold a fundraiser at Reynolds Park for the foundation at 5:30 in the evening for 50 folks. “That was the limit by order of the governor,” he remembers. “Simply put, the idea was affordable non-competitive golf just to have fun and raise some money for a great cause.
“Next,” he jokes, “I had to find 50 people who would agree to come out to play and donate to the foundation.”
In some way, his timing couldn’t have been better. Varner was actually the Wyndham’s first-round leader that year, and the “Twilight Open,” as Edwards casually named it, was a modest success. “We had everything for seasoned golfers to people who’d never touched a golf club in their lives. We played in groups of eight-plus and walked in a late-summer thunderstorm. I don’t think anybody kept a scorecard. Some played only a hole or two. Others did a complete nine. Everyone had a great time.’
The Twilight Open raised $1,500 for HV3, which helped supply T-shirts and other golf swag for the gathering.
“It was supposed to be a one-time deal. But the overwhelming consensus was that we should do it again next year – and maybe continue the fellowship.”
By the next spring, Edwards invited 32 of his friends down to Pine Needles Resort in Southern Pines to play a 36-hole event he dubbed the inaugural “Twilight Invitational,” designed to kick off a newly formed Twilight Golf Club summer league at Reynolds Park. The cost of membership was a modest $40. By design, each club member’s dues cover the equivalent cost of one Youth on Course membership through the HV3 Foundation for a First Tee member in the Triad region.
Forty-five members joined the club for summer-league play in 2021, culminating in a second Twilight Open that drew 110 participants and netted a $5,000 check for the HV3 Foundation. By that point, Edwards and his cohorts Daniel Lebaron and Ben Lambeth had developed a club logo and a slogan that reads more like a mantra: “A fellowship beyond the game.” A fortuitous meeting with the state Tar Heel Youth Golf coordinator Bob Faub provided the club with a venue for its first club championship that September at Holly Ridge Golf Links, where Faub serves as the new director of instruction.
In January of this year, the club became an official Type-Two USGA member club through the Carolinas Golf Association and the next month staged its second Twilight Invitational at N.C. State’s Lonnie Poole Golf Course in Raleigh.
As a third summer dawns and the original weekly evening game at Reynolds Park commences, the club continues to attract golfers of all skill and experience levels from across the state at a brisk pace, with new chapters recently opening in Raleigh and Charlotte. Its membership seems to swell by the week, presaging an even larger contribution to HV3 come the third Twilight Open in August.
“From the beginning, I never envisioned this being anything formal,” Edwards muses as he and son Griffin, now a remarkably golf-savvy 5-year-old, watch the final TGC players tee off against their more experienced Bermuda Run opponents. “This has really been all about making new friends in the game and growing a community that can help others gain entry to golf.”
He concedes that the club’s inaugural season in interclub play has been even more fun and competitive than he imagined it would be.
“Since we’re the new kids on the block – in more ways than one – we’re pretty excited to be 1-and-1 on the young season. Today will be a big test, however. These Bermuda Run guys are really good, as they say about the (PGA) Tour. We might need a small miracle to pull off a win.”
Three hours later, Sammy Lucas, the new TGC member playing in his first-ever competitive golf match, made a natural birdie on 18 to clinch the match by one point and go 2-and-1 on the season.
“Epic stuff,” a thrilled Edwards reported.
From such acorns mighty oaks may grow.
Photos courtesy Stephen Edwards
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