Faculty Spotlight on Clyde Johnston

PGCC Logo Clyde Johnston’s pedigree in golf is extensive; after all, not everybody can say that their father helped launch the career of one of the greatest golfers the game has ever seen. Before his father, C.B. “Johnny” Johnston, became a PGA professional, he was the first golf coach at Wake Forest College (WFC). Johnny left in the middle of his college career at WFC to serve his country in the Air Force during WWII. After he returned, he assumed the role of golf coach during his senior year, and when he graduated in 1947, he stayed on as coach and Assistant Athletic Director.

Perhaps the only person in history to successfully convince a football coach to give up one of his scholarships, Johnny began recruiting good golfers to WFC. His search led him to Buddy Worsham, whom he selected to receive the scholarship. Worsham accepted on the condition that WFC give his best friend a scholarship, too. If Worsham’s best friend was anybody else, this would be a rather pointless story, but, as luck would have it, Worsham’s best friend was Arnold Palmer.

Johnston recalls a spectacular childhood memory, “One evening when I was about 10 or 11 years old, my Dad told me I needed to be home the next day at a certain time. He was having a guest over and he wanted me to meet him. I arrived at the appointed time to find out the guest was Arnold Palmer, who by that time had already won 2 Masters Tournaments. I think that was the moment I began to love golf.”

PGCC Logo Would it be fair to say that without that fateful one-for-one scholarship, the world may have never known Arnold Palmer? We’ll never know. But what we do know is this: Johnny was a PGA pro in the Carolinas Section for about 30 years, and he had a hand in shaping the last century of golf by helping two golf greats get their start: Arnold Palmer, and Johnny’s son, golf course designer Clyde Johnston.

As the Golf Course Design instructor at PGCC Hilton Head, Johnston, a Houston native, has carried on a tradition of golf in his family that started long, long ago. “I basically grew up in golf. My father was a PGA golf professional, so I started playing golf when I was very young.” While Johnston played competitively in junior golf, high school, and even his first year of college, playing golf professionally did not call to him, not the way design did. Johnston shares, “My father dabbled in golf course design. He designed about six courses in his ‘amateur’ design career, and it was through those efforts that I became interested in golf course design.”

The way many sons decide early on that they want to be “just like Dad,” Clyde observed his father at the drafting table and was fascinated. “He had a drafting table in the basement and I would go down and watch what he was doing. He taught me all about topography, reading maps, drawing, and golf course design strategy.” Johnston continues, “One night when I was about 13 years old, he was working on a layout and he looked up at me and said ‘You know, you can make a living designing golf courses.’ My jaw dropped – it had never occurred to me but I was immediately smitten with the idea and decided on the spot that was what I wanted to do in life.” And that was it; Johnny called around to some architects he knew and inquired about what a young person would need to do and study to get into golf course design. The results were basically unanimous: work on golf course maintenance crews, get some construction experience, and get a degree in Landscape Architecture.

PGCC Logo Johnston began working in the golf design industry in 1973 as a summer intern for golf course architect Willard Byrd out of Atlanta, Georgia, and then returned as a full time employee the following year. Along the way, he spent time working with the likes of Gary Player and Ron Kirby, but eventually returned to Mr. Byrd’s office after a few years. “This is my 40th year in the golf course design business. I formed my own company in March of 1987 to provide golf course design services in the Southeastern United States. In total I’ve worked on over 120 golf course designs (new designs and renovations) with my own firm and working for other golf course architects.” He earned his Bachelor Degree in Environmental Design and Landscape Architecture and, in his words, “The rest of what I know about golf course design, I attribute to my father’s teaching, apprenticing for Willard Byrd for 13 years, and my own research and studies on golf course design.”

Still after so many years, he’s not tired of any of it. Johnston, who was President of the American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA) from 2003-2004, is celebrating his 40th year in the design industry, and 4th year as a Golf Course Design instructor at PGCC. After joining PGCC in the spring of 2009, he’s had his share of gratifying moments. One stands out in particular: “My proudest moment as an instructor was when a student told me that after taking my class, he looks at golf holes when he’s playing golf in an entirely different manner in that he understands more about golf course design.”

PGCC Logo After 40 years, he’s picked up a thing or two about the design business and, while he’s very proud of the work he’s done, Johnston is quick to share the accolades. “It takes more than one person to make a golf course successful,” he says. “You have to have good land, a great client, a good builder, a good budget and finally a good golf course superintendent with a good operations budget.” Johnston continues, “I’m proud of all of my projects and designs so it’s hard to pick one that I’m most proud of. It’s almost like they are my children and it would not be fair to favor one over another. Although I have designed a few difficult golf courses, I prefer to design courses that are fun to play and are visually attractive. It’s quite a challenge to design and build a new golf course, so it’s very rewarding to see the finished product turn out well. And of course, it takes a team of capable people to get it all done.”

Clearly he’s got a lot of work to be proud of, but what about his golf game? A scratch-player, Johnston still has his eye on the future. “I’ve won some local competitions in my life but my proudest moment will be in the future when I make my first hole-in-one.”

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Photos courtesy of Warren Grant