When Charlie McDonald first came to work as a groundskeeper for the Winthrop Recreation Area in 1996, he had no idea what the disc golf targets there were used for. However, over the years he became quite familiar with those metal targets, the sport of disc golf, and the event that has called Winthrop home for so many years: the US Disc Golf Championship.
Before he retired this spring after 23 years of service to Winthrop University, McDonald had become one of the most crucial allies of the Championship and someone that has made the event into what it is today.
Winthrop Crew Keeps It Up
Many know that every year, USDGC staff arrive several weeks before the Championship to spruce up the course with limb trimming, mulch spreading, tee pad adjustments, and other modifications specific to the course. However, for the rest of the year, the tall task of maintaining the entire recreation area’s 300 acres was up to Charlie and his crew.
A lot of it was mowing grass. Mowing the ballfields, the open areas around the lake and the coliseum, the nine-hole golf course, and elsewhere. But there were also regular tree trimming, plantings, and countless other projects.
Although the USDGC staff sees to much of the Winthrop Gold Course work, Charlie and his staff still provided much needed help, most notably with precision mowing.
USDGC Event Director Jonathan Poole remembered that Charlie wanted Winthrop looking good for the Championship just as much if not more than everyone from the USDGC.
“From a course visual standpoint, he was our guy. He was always so accommodating,” said Poole, adding that he’d adjust his crew’s schedules to make sure it all got done in time for the USDGC.
Many mornings before the round, Charlie had the crew run the mowers on several of the key fairways to knock the dew off the grass.
In addition to that, he and his crew spread pine needles around trees on the course, helped USDGC staff when they needed a hand, kept a close eye on trash cans, and stayed on top of other housekeeping chores the event couldn’t do.
It was easy to tell that Charlie and his crew took pride that Winthrop was the Championship’s home.
Charlie to the Rescue
Plus, Charlie could always be called upon for any problem that would pop up. Every USDGC staffer probably has a story of Charlie helping them out and I am no different. It was a September evening prior to the Championship, and I was working late applying OB rope to the course. Area tree cutting companies are often contacted to dump their excess mulch to be used on the course. One such truck arrived and after leading him to the complex’s mulch area, he promptly got stuck. There was no getting him out without help, so we naturally called Charlie. And even though it was probably dinner time, Charlie soon arrived with a slight grin on his face and his bright orange tractor. With a few tractor tugs, the truck was freed and Charlie has solved yet another problem.
Charlie’s Winthrop Beginning
Aside from mowing a yard, Charlie had no groundskeeping experience prior to Winthrop. So after landing a groundskeeping job with the university he figured he’d learn as he went. The job proved to be an immediate fit. After only a year, he was promoted to grounds crew supervisor. “They realized I had more talent then I realized I had,” said McDonald with a chuckle, a lifelong resident of Rock Hill, who can remember when the recreation area was farmland.
He worked through some of the early friction from some co-workers used to coasting through their job by instilling a sense of ownership in their work.
“I always thought in order to get people to take pride in what they were doing was to give them their own area to work in. If I spread them out, this one would be taking care of this, and this one would be taking care of that over there. But for big things we would all come together,” said McDonald.
Enter Disc Golf / USDGC
“I didn’t know what the hell they were,” remembered McDonald when he first saw the disc golf targets at Winthrop. The first permanent disc golf course was installed there around 1992, a handful of years before McDonald arrived. By the time the 1997 World Championships arrived, which played partly on the Winthrop Course, McDonald realized disc golf was much bigger than he ever thought.
Winthrop then saw regular disc golf action, when the USDGC started in 1999. By then, Charlie had already developed a relationship with Winthrop Gold Course Designer and Innova Co-Founder Harold Duvall, who always came to Charlie for permission for any course changes. And over the years there have been many like adding trees, removing trees and limbs, new tee pad and pin locations, even tee pad docks in the lake. And Charlie, for the most part would always say yes.
“He had invested so much time and money into that course and I didn’t see that they were doing anything wrong out there. They were making it better,” said McDonald.
Charlie’s Favorite Holes
One of Charlie’s favorite holes is Hole 1 (formerly Hole 3), which is situated near The Winthrop Farmhouse, the home of the grounds supervisor, where he largely raised his two children. He also liked Hole 13 and watching the discs skip off the road nearby. Ken Climo was his favorite player. “I called him Mr. Winthrop,” said McDonald because of how he carried himself and the many US Titles he won.
Retirement seems to be suiting Mr. McDonald well. Earlier in the spring, he received an award from Rock Hill’s annual Come See Me festival, for his many years of service to the event that was partly held at the recreation area. Plus, he got to throw the first pitch at a Winthrop baseball game as well this year. Best of all he gets to spend more time at his home away from home, a campground in Augusta.
There’s a sense of beauty that anyone who visits the Winthrop Recreation Area takes with them be it players, fans, or just someone taking in some exercise around the lake. And no person in recent history has done more to maintain that beauty than Charlie McDonald.
“It feels great,” said McDonald when asked how that feels. “I try to tell the guys to try to take a little pride in this because it will pay off in the long run. Try to help out all you can,” said McDonald.
Poole said Charlie made Winthrop so beautiful because he cared so much for the people visiting there.
“I always did look forward to the Championship. I always looked forward to all of the major events out there. The hardest part of retiring is missing all of the people. Of course, I will drop in every once in a while,” said Charlie, who always did love the USDGC’s distance showcase across the lake.