AIKEN — At 8:30 on most mornings for more than three decades, Tom Moore has been pulling into the Palmetto Golf Club parking lot to begin another day as the club’s head pro and general manager.
He’s been arriving at that exact time at the famed Aiken private club off Whiskey Road since May 1982, most weeks working six days and untold hours.
Monday will be different for the dean of area golf pros. It will be his last one working at the club.
Moore, 63, is retiring while his health and energy are strong in order to devote more time to his wife, Kathy, their daughter, Jennifer, and his many friends.
“I think this is the next progression I need to do with my life,” Moore said.
“I’ve been telling people for years that I’m going to come see you and play golf,” Moore said. “I don’t want to wake up and drop over dead one day or get to where my health is bad and think, ‘Gosh, I wish I’d done that.’ I want Kathy and Jennifer and I to do things that I didn’t do when I was younger because I was so intent on making this work.”
BY THIS, HE MEANS Palmetto Golf Club.
The 120-year club was in poor shape when Moore was hired as the head pro in May 1982. In fact, the condition of the club and the course was one reason Moore got the job. In his interview, he was candid about the state of the club and impressed upon the board that he was the man to bring it back to its glory.
“When I got here, we didn’t have a whole lot of members and what we did have were old and they weren’t playing golf, and the place had gotten run down,” Moore said. “Steve Melnyk (a former Masters Tournament participant) remembers when he first started playing here, it was always a great golf course with a great layout but in terrible condition. Now it’s a great golf course, great clubhouse and it’s in great condition.”
Moore, who has served under 11 club presidents at Palmetto, said it “wasn’t long” after he started the job that he began to believe the course was on its way.
“I had a vision of the place, how it would be,” he said. “With the leadership of a lot of boards and club presidents, we finally got it that point. Not that it’s perfect now, but it’s not far off.”
That’s why the membership roll is full – there are 300 in-town members and 200 national members, including former Masters participant and Walker Cup player and captain Jim Holtgrieve, of St. Louis.
THE MEMBERS CREDIT Moore for the turnaround, which has helped Palmetto become nationally known starting in the late 1980s through golf course rankings and word of mouth.
Moore even gave up playing golf to focus on the club.
“He was that type of guy,” said current member Bill Hardy, who was a member before Moore started. “He was here seven days a week. Always, Palmetto was the first thing on his mind. Coming to Palmetto, he just quit playing golf and dedicated himself to this club and the membership. His love for this golf course, it showed to all of the members. He just loved Palmetto. He made it what it is.”
“He’s going to be sorely missed as the head professional at Palmetto,” said Dale Haas, another member.
“This has been my life,” Moore said. “Tom Matthews, the current president of the club, asked me if there was one thing I’m most proud of from the day I got here to now and I said, ‘everything.’ He said, ‘well, you can’t pick out one thing?’ and I said, ‘no, it’s everything.’ Everything is so much better and it’s to where it’s supposed to be.”
Which is another reason Moore feels like this is the right time to step aside.
BROOKS BLACKBURN, WHO took over as Palmetto’s head pro in 2008 when Moore became director of golf, said Moore knows the names of not only the members, but their wives and children.
“That’s more important to them than the golf,” Blackburn said. “He really cares about them.”
That concern worked well at Palmetto, along with Moore’s personality.
“I was amazed that he could be as smooth as he was with the mix of people we had,” former Palmetto president Joe Womack said. “There were years we had guys who couldn’t rub two nickels together playing golf with millionaires.”
IT DIDN’T TAKE long for word to spread about the job Moore was doing at Palmetto. Starting in the late 1980s, he was offered jobs at much bigger clubs, including East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta and Atlanta Athletic Club, and turned them down. By that time, he was happily entrenched at Palmetto.
“I never thought I’d be here past three years,” Moore said. “This was my first head job. I wanted to come here and show I could do the job and go somewhere else. I got here and got into some of this and just fell in love with the golf course.”
That’s why Moore didn’t mind putting in the extra hours.
“Some members figured it up and it was like working 42 years here for a normal person,” Blackburn said.
“Not too many people do with their lives just exactly what they want to do,” Palmetto member Kenny Wiland said. “But Tom is one of them, for sure.”
“I don’t consider working here a job; it’s more of a love,” Moore said.
Blackburn said Moore became so associated with Palmetto that he can’t go to another club without someone asking him how Moore is doing.
“He is Palmetto,” Blackburn said.
AS THE YEARS flew by, Moore and his wife, who also works at the club, became friends with the members.
“With Kathy, all the time we spend here, all our friends are here,” Moore said. “We do have other friends, but all the people we have contact with all the time are here.”
“The bottom line for me is he’s just been a great friend,” said member Berry Crain, who worked closely with Moore to help make the Palmetto Amateur one of the top amateur tournaments in the country. “He was always the go-to guy you talked to if you had an idea. He was the first guy you bounced it off.”
The members/friends like Crain honored Moore on Dec. 7 at Palmetto with a retirement party. The outdoor party drew more than 300 members and friends and lasted three hours, with more than 30 minutes of that dedicated to tributes to Moore and the job he did.
The night deeply touched Moore.
“The two best days of my life were the day they hired me and that Tuesday (the retirement party) when I got all the acknowledgment of the members,” he said. “It was awful nice of the members. It’s embarrassing, but it’s a big honor that they thought enough of me to throw a party.They gave me a nice gift. That they thought enough of me to do something like that, it was great.”
“It was love, just pure love,” said Moore’s wife, Kathy. “So much love was coming from all the members, and we felt it. We felt very honored.”
MORE THAN FOUR years ago, Moore was on the six-member committee that chose Blackburn, a former USC Aiken All-American golfer and Midland Valley head pro to be his eventual successor.
But it wasn’t until “about a year ago,” Kathy Moore said, that her husband started talking seriously about retiring.
“They were grooming him,” Hardy, the longtime Palmetto member, said of Blackburn, who is now 43. “They knew Tom was going to retire so they brought in Brooks to get ready. I talked to Brooks when he was at Midland Valley about coming here and that Tom was going to be retiring. He said about possibily coming to Palmetto, ‘Man, that’s living the dream, isn’t it?’ ”
“It’s worked out good,” Moore said of the transition. “Brooks is a good young man. He’s got a great personality. I wanted to get Brooks involved. I want Brooks to be there a long time.”
Moore will still be around Palmetto. The club has created an office for him upstairs in the clubhouse, and starting Tuesday, he’ll become the club’s pro emeritus. He even plans to start playing golf again.
“Right now, I can sit back and appreciate and play golf with these people on a personal level,” he said of the members.
He also plans to be around to help Blackburn if needed, especially during Masters Week.
“We have worked hard all this time, and now it’s time for us to enjoy it,” Moore said. “And let the younger guys like Brooks, let it be their time.”
And what will Moore do on New Year’s Day, his first day of retirement? He’ll still come to Palmetto, but not at his usual time.
“I may wait until 9 a.m.,” he said.