Mole Crickets carry HGTC banner nationally

Horry Georgetown Technical College may not have a football team like the Clemson Tigers or a basketball team like the N.C. State Wolfpack, but what it has got is the Fighting Mole Crickets, and on their field of play, the Mole Crickets regularly clip the Tiger’s whiskers and flatten the Wolfpack’s ears.

This year, one of two Mole Cricket teams won yet another regional Turf Bowl title for HGTC, the fifth in the 13 years the event has been held. Only teams from Clemson have as many titles. N.C. State got an also-ran trophy in this year’s bowl.

And Clemson? Not nothin’.

That fact more than any other is the best thing about the Turf Bowl competitions for Kyle Hamilton and others on this year’s winning team.

“We got bragging rights,” he said.

But bragging rights are only the beginning of the reputation the program has nationally. HGTC turf grass students are the only ones who have been reinvited each of the last six years to go to Augusta National Golf Club to overseed the course before the Master’s Tournament. The school took an entire class once to the Westin Savannah Harbor Resort and Spa to help maintain the greens for the Liberty Mutual tournament.

The program attracts students from at least 38 states and six foreign countries, which Rich Cooper, a turf grass management specialist at N.C. State, said is a fair measure of the program’s good reputation.

The first certified golf course superintendent in Japan was educated at HGT C.

The program placed 17th in last year’s national Turf Bowl, has climbed as high as number six – the best finish ever by a two-year school – and had two teams in the top 10 in 2003.

The Fighting Mole Crickets have more national top 10 finishes – four – than any school in the Southeastern Conference and follows only the University of Maryland in the Atlantic Coast Conference by one top 10 finish.

This year’s national tournament is to be in San Diego in January, but HGTC might not get to the competition. More on that later.

First, a bit of learning about turf grass management.

In short, said Jay Richardson, another of the students on HGTC’s winning team this year, turf grass management is all the skills needed to maintain a healthy turf stand.

He and Hamilton say turf grass management for golf courses requires knowledge of fertilization, irrigation and how to keep the greens and fairways in the best possible shape for golfers. Additionally, said Rick McGuinnes, chairman of HGTC’s golf/sport’s turf management program, they need to know a plethora of grasses well enough to say which will grow to what height, what high and low temperatures each can tolerate and whether it likes the sunlight or the shade.

There’s a science to turf grass management as well, said Mark Flanagan, a professor in HGTC’s program. HGTC students get enough of it that they are coveted by golf courses throughout the United States.

In fact, he said about the only thing that separates HGTC’s program from those at four-year schools is that the latter are heavier on the science. But HGTC students more than make up for that absence by the practical work the get at gold courses around the Grand Strand. The availability of that work, as well as the number of golf courses on the Grand Strand and year-round golf weather, is important to the success of the program.

“The (golf course) superintendents themselves are good teachers,” McGuinnes said.

Turf grass management emerged as a specialty for golf courses in the early 70s, the same time the academic program started at HGTC.

At that time, said Donald Lovette, who taught at the school for 32 years, the Dunes Club had the only college-trained superintendent in the area. But the growing concentration of golf courses prompted the school to start a program.

In 1971, the program’s first year, most golf course superintendents were still called greenkeepers, and HGTC debuted a one-year certificate program. The next year it expanded to a two-year degree program and now has about 60 students from whom to choose Turf Bowl teams.

Ashley Wilkinson, HGTC professor and the Fighting Mole Crickets’ faculty advisor, said Turf Bowl team members are chosen carefully and the practice includes mock competitions among other things.

The regional competition takes its format from the Jeopardy television show, but the nationals include things such as writing essays and identifying different types of grass.

Which brings us back to this year’s nationals.

HGTC did not compete in the 2010 or 2011 nationals because there wasn’t any money to send them. They scraped together enough money to go to Las Vegas last year, and McGuinnes estimated would need $2,500 to $3,000 to make it to San Diego in January.


Go Fighting Mole Crickets.