PAWLEYS ISLAND — In 1996, a couple years after Caledonia Golf & Fish Club opened, course operators printed up thousands of fliers inviting golfers to meet the owners during their weekly Thursday gathering and fish fry around dusk that dates back to 1958.
There were few takers.
But a few members of a visiting group of golfers from Dayton, Ohio, stuck around the course following a round to pay a visit, including a pair of brothers who were former college football offensive linemen.
“We printed these brochures saying if you’re playing golf on a Thursday poke your head into the fish shack and say hi to the owners, and in come these four biguns,” said John Springs, general manager of Caledonia and True Blue Plantation.
The owners quickly learned Dan and Doug Swafford were not only large in stature but personality as well, and it began a one-day-a-year relationship that was revisited Thursday.
“When they came in they were welcomed with open arms, not only because they were customers, but because they were friends almost immediately,” Springs said. “With their gregarious characters, we got to be friends. It has just been a wonderful relationship. I always make a point to go a little extra mile with these fellas because we’ve become brothers.”
Dan is the organizer of the Swafford Tour, the name given to the visiting golf group that made its 26th consecutive February visit to Myrtle Beach and includes his three brothers – Doug, Don and Darryl.
The Swafford Tour reached 107 participants at its peak and this year has 67 participants representing 14 states and ranging in ages from the 20s to the 70s.
Dan, 48, is the only member of the Swafford Tour who has been on the Myrtle Beach trip all 26 years and has become its organizer, collecting $520 in advance for four rounds of golf and five nights of lodging.
The first year it was Dan, Doug and a friend of theirs. “We just decided to come down here and play some golf on a quick three-day trip and we thought it was a great time,” Dan said. Doug missed only the second year.
Caledonia, famous for its beauty, is the only golf course they play every year, and have since it opened 20 years ago.
“The moment you turn in here and go down that driveway [beneath a canopy of oak trees] it’s like no other golf course you’ve ever seen in your life,” Dan said. “We still say that.”
They came across Caledonia in 1994 when the final course they were scheduled to play had problems with its greens, so the group of about 30 sought another course and package provider Dan Cortese – who is now with Best Western Ocean Sands – called on Caledonia just a couple weeks after its opening. The clubhouse hadn’t been built yet.
“The first guy we met was [longtime head pro] Todd Welden, who just passed away, and Todd was awfully good to us,” Dan said. “He was a great guy and we miss him dearly. He set the stage for what Caledonia is all about. The hospitality he showed us was great, and at that time we were just a bunch of young guys. He took us in and ever since then we’ve been back here.”
For the past several years, the group has been paying the course to provide a fish fry and pig pickin’.
“They kept welcoming us back and we kept coming back,” Dan said. “Now the second or third Thursday of February we’re here, and they expect us to be here. They’ve accepted us into their family is really what they’ve done. It’s really kind of cool. We’re honored.”
Dan and Darryl still live in Dayton, where the brothers were raised. Don lives in Tampa, Fla., and Doug lives in Dallas. He moved there after the group’s second trip to Myrtle Beach 24 years ago.
“When Doug moved to Dallas a bunch of his buddies started coming and that’s how it kind of blossomed from there,” Dan said. “They had buddies that came, then my oldest brother [Don] was in Florida and he brought some guys. It’s just weird the way it has grown. We had no idea when we started this thing it would end up the way it is.”
Dan and Darryl are police officers, Doug owns a printing business and Don sells heavy machinery. “Really, this is the only time that the brothers are all together,” Darryl said.
All four were offensive linemen in college. Dan played Division III football at the University of Dayton, Darryl played at Louisville, Doug played at Indiana and Don played at Florida before reaching the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Swafford Tour is a little smaller than usual this year because several members of a group of about 20 from Maryland have opted to remain with a group member who is battling cancer, and eight military members who are regulars in the group are being deployed.
More than 300 individuals have been a part of the group at some point in the past 26 years. “Out of all those guys we haven’t had a problem with anyone,” Dan said, before correcting himself. “Well, we had one guy that was an idiot. One guy is it, and he left [before the trip was over].”
The group had accommodations in Myrtle Beach for two decades before moving to Pawleys Island. “Some of the guys make their runs up there,” Dan said. “That still happens.”
Twenty-six years of golf vacations has produced countless stories “that probably can’t be printed,” Dan said.
Many of those that can be printed have occurred at Caledonia, and you’ll know where to find the Swafford Tour on a certain Thursday next February.
“To me, this is the second best day of the year behind Christmas,” Darryl said. “Christmas Day and then Caledonia.”
Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.