Celebrating 50 years of rice planters at Snee Farm CC
The Amateur Rice Planters Championship celebrates its 50th anniversary at Snee Farm CC in Charleston, South Carolina, June 20-24.
For the past 50 years, the Rice Planters have been a staple of the amateur golf program, with a roster of outstanding winners on a challenging and exciting golf course. As events have popped up all over the Southeast since 1973, the energy and ability of the Rice Planters to identify golfers ready to take the plunge make this a must-play game for any fan.
The story of the rice planters begins in a part of the country with lots of water, but not much rice planting – Niagara Falls, NY. Upstate New York is home to the Porter Cup, which is the event rice planters have been modeled after.
Dick Horne, the founder of the Rice Planters, loved everything about the Porter Cup when he competed there in 1973. There was nothing like it in the Southeast, so Horne decided Charleston would host a new amateur tournament .
With the help of Porter Cup President Dick Harvey, Horne set up the rice planters in the fall of 1973 at Snee Farm CC in Mt. Pleasant. Things moved quickly from conception to the first tee shot in October.
The field of 51 competitors in the inaugural event was made up mostly of Snee Farm members. Horne hoped access to the Porter Cup mailing list would make it easier to find players. It didn’t work out the way he expected.
“I got no response, so to speak, so I got a piece of paper and I put together a registration form and I walked around downtown Charleston and saw some people I knew who played golf, told them we were starting a tournament and asked them to play,” Horne said in a 2012 Post and Courier article by Tommy Braswell.
In 1974, the field doubled in size and the tournament was held in the summer, not the fall. Dick Horne played in his beloved event and finished second, losing in the playoffs to his friend Bill Harvey (no relation to Porter Cup’s Dick Harvey).
While the first year of a tournament brings excitement and adrenaline and the second year can survive on the success of the first year, it is the third year that can make or break an event. The 1975 Rice Planters grew from a hyper-local tournament to one that attracted players from further afield.
The 1975 winner, Andy Bean, hailed from the powerhouse University of Florida golf team. One of the few stipulations Bean made in exchange for his presence was that he wanted to bring other Gators.
Horne, eager to bring in more talent, rolled out the red carpet for Bean and his pals. It turned out to be an excellent strategy. After the win, Bean turned pro.
Current tournament director Bruce Fleming said Horne always told the players at the tournament’s closing dinner to go out and find two players better than them and bring them back next year. Horne has always strived to build exceptional estates. A look at the list of winners proves Horne pulled it off.
Horne held his end of the bargain and also went out and found better players than him, as he spread the word in various tournaments he played in, from British amateur to Bermuda amateur.
Horne has been a mainstay over the tournament’s 50 years.
” He is always there. No matter the weather. It may rain. It can be very hot. He’s always there, supporting every competitor,” said 2011 champion and Ole Miss assistant coach Austin Cody. “He is the first to greet the players when they arrive on the course.
“The tournament continued to snowball to the point where we could be very selective with who we invited. In the end, one out of three applicants was accepted,” Horne said in 2012.
This exclusivity paid off; from 1978 to 1985, the likes of Scott Hoch, Hal Sutton, Tom Lehman, Brandel Chamblee and Duffy Waldorf won the Rice Planters. That’s quite a list of names in the first twelve years of a tournament.
Over the previous 49 rice planters, winners have amassed over 155 victories on the PGA Tour and Korn Ferry. And when names like Davis Love III, Stewart Cink and Brooks Koepka feature on your trophy, the Rice Planters champions can win seven major pro trophies as well. Mix Allen Doyle’s four Champions Tour majors, and it becomes clear that the Rice Planters have identified some stellar golfers.
Tommy Braswell, who first covered the rice planters in 1982, called it a springboard event. It’s the one that propels gamers into a new stratosphere of confidence. Even for players like Allen Doyle, who won the event in 1988 at the age of 39 and then twice more in 1990 and 1994, the Rice Planters have been a testing ground.
“We tell our guys to go play in the rice paddies,” Cody said. “It’s one of those events that, if you play well, can give you access to all sorts of other events.”
Even with the event’s rich history, Bruce Fleming talks about the impact that Snee Farm CC membership has had on the event both past and present. Golfers are welcomed with open arms during tournament week and feel like they are part of something special.
Southern hospitality is alive and well.
Cody remembers going up the 18th hole every round and having members, sponsors and staff cheering enthusiastically.
“It didn’t matter if you were first or last. They would come out and watch us on the green and cheer us on. It always made you feel special.
This year will be particularly dynamic after two years of COVID protocols. Volunteers were less visible during the 2020 and 2021 rice planters, but Fleming plans to have a full team of members helping in any way possible.
“We have 70 to 75 year old players combing the bunkers every morning before the tournament,” Fleming said.
Other members provide accommodation for out-of-town players, some help with food, and others are on the course as spotters. If there is a storm? Don’t worry, a member will take you to a safe van.
“Member friendliness makes a difference,” Fleming said. “The fact that there’s a member on every other hole in a matching shirt and hat saying, ‘I hope you’re having a good day. I hope you are having fun. gets noticed by the players and they will tell me about it.
Fleming hears it from parents too.
“They’ll be like, ‘We’re on tour, we’ve got six events, this is our fifth, this is the only event we’ve enjoyed. “”
For Fleming, it’s about the welcoming nature and player access to Snee Farm. While some locations restrict competitors’ access to the range or green after rounds, Snee Farm makes the course and facilities available to players all week long.
“It’s not ‘golf and go,'” Fleming said.
The community feeling extends beyond the confines of Snee Farm.
In 2009, when Austin Cody fought Brooks Koepka, Cody remembers the size of the crowd. It was the biggest he had ever played in front of.
“It’s a bit of a Charleston thing. It’s not just the members who come to watch. People love their golf here.
In 2016, it seemed possible that the tournament would not take place. Snee Farm was struggling to switch to a new grass. However, on short notice, RiverTowne CC stepped up and hosted that year. The Rice Planters have never had to cancel an event, even in the face of COVID, which posed a significant threat, especially in the summer of 2020.
The golf course is one that offers drama all the way. Holes 16, 17 and 18 offer birdie opportunities but also punish bad shots. 16 is an accessible par 5, but 17 is a long par 3 with bunkers protecting the green.
“Eighteen is wide open off the tee. It’s a tough approach,” Cody said. “Players can birdie if they chase, but it can be a tough hole to match when trying to win the tournament.”
Fleming believes the course, no matter how long, will identify the best player on the field.
“Every year a handful of kids come up to me and say, ‘Man, that was fun playing this golf course. I’m so tired of playing against these 7,600 yard behemoths where all I do is hit Driver and 4 irons.
Fleming continued: “Our golf course is 6,900 yards, I can extend it to 7,000 if I need to. We don’t. Our attitude is that there will be 80 players playing and someone will shoot the lowest score. Whether this guy is playing on a 6,800 yard course or a 7,500 yard course, there will always be someone who shoots the lowest score.
In addition to making the experience more engaging, Fleming shortened the event from 72 holes to 54 holes. WAGR ranking points are the same for both length events, and Fleming wanted to both honor members’ dedication to the event while understanding the amount of golf amateurs play these days.
In the next 50 years, if players continue to follow Dick Horne’s advice to find two players better than them, there will be more professional winners and great champions who lift the trophy at Snee Farm first.