Golf pro Florence touched many lives

Terry Florence, who worked as a golf professional at Charleston Municipal, Wild Dunes Resort, and Bulls Bay Golf Club, died Monday following a lengthy illness.

From his early days at Charleston Municipal Golf Course to his tenures at Wild Dunes Resort and Bulls Bay Golf Club, Terry Florence was the face of Charleston golf. He had an impressive resume as a player, but might be remembered most for his warm personality and wise leadership.

Florence, 63, died Monday after a six-year battle with cancer.

No matter where he laced up his spikes — at the Muni, Wild Dunes, or Bulls Bay — Florence was one of the guys. Those who worked for him and those for whom he worked thought of him as family.

“There was never a more classy guy. He treated everybody the best you could ever be treated,” said Happ Lathrop, executive director of the South Carolina Golf Association. “The way Terry touched you, you always felt like you were his best friend in the world of golf. He will be missed sorely.”

Born in Charleston, Florence grew up in Charlotte and later returned to Charleston where he played basketball at the College of Charleston. Florence transferred to Gardner-Webb in Boiling Springs, N.C., where he helped the golf team win an NAIA national championship.

Florence played mini-tour golf and in 1974 came within one shot of qualifying for the PGA Tour. Deciding that he and his wife Hope did not want another year of traveling, Florence decided to move back to Charleston. He spent four years at Charleston Municipal Golf Course, where he learned the golf business under head pro Al Esposito and how to teach golf from former Masters champion Henry Picard.

In 1980, Florence was hired to become the first golf pro at Wild Dunes, and he led the resort to a top 100 world ranking. He guided the club through a painful rebuilding effort following Hurricane Hugo in 1989.

As he moved up the corporate ladder, Florence began to get the itch to try the Senior PGA (now Champions) Tour. He left Wild Dunes after 20 years and began training for the senior circuit. It wasn’t long before he was back in Charleston. Bulls Bay owner Joe Rice hired Florence to oversee that club’s operations where he remained until his death.

Lea Anne Brown, who worked with Florence for 22 years at Wild Dunes Resort and at Bulls Bay Golf Club, said she would go to merchandise shows in California and New York and people would see her Wild Dunes ID and immediately ask: “Oh! Do you know Terry Florence?”

“He was known not just in the United States but the world as well,” Brown said.

Florence mentored many golf professionals throughout his career and at the same time was one of the Carolinas PGA Section’s top players.

In addition to being inducted into the South Carolina Golf Hall of Fame (2005) and Carolinas PGA Hall of Fame (2008), Florence won events such as the South Carolina Open, South Carolina PGA and played in four PGA Championships and three Senior PGA Championships and a U.S. Senior Open.

Hart Brown, the director of golf at the Country Club of Charleston and a close friend of Florence’s for more than 25 years, said he promised Florence when he became sick that they would continue to play golf.

“We would play every Monday at Bulls Bay and we’ve done that for six years,” Brown said. “I told him I don’t care if it’s one hole, nine holes or 18 holes, we’re going to do it. We stopped about a month and a half ago. That’s when he couldn’t play golf anymore.”

Florence said in 2005 that he was blessed and thankful to be a golf professional.

“I’m the luckiest son of a gun on the planet,” he said. “Charleston Municipal to Wild Dunes to Bulls Bay. Why me?”