Since 1946, the Azalea has been held every Spring with the exception of 1990, 1991, and 2006 when the course was closed, first from hurricane damage and later for course restoration and renovation. 2005 was the first year that Frank Ford, Sr. was not part of the Azalea. Mr. Ford passed away that summer at the age of 100. He was a four time Azalea winner including the inaugural event in 1946. One of the preeminent amateur players of his day, Mr. Ford won numerous championships and was elected into the Carolina’s Golf Hall of Fame and the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame. His grandson, Frank Ford III is a six time Azalea Champion. Although his presence will be sorely missed his spirit and love of amateur golf will always have a special influence on the Azalea Invitational.
The Frank C. Ford Azalea Champions’ Trophy was presented for the first time at the conclusion of the 2002 tournament. The purpose of the award is to honor Mr. Ford in particular and all champions with recognition for their contribution to the wonderful tradition of the Azalea. The trophy, a beautiful silver antique wine cooler, has been, and will continue to be, inscribed with the names of all Azalea Champions. It will be permanently on display in a prominent place at the Country Club of Charleston.
Although the club was founded in 1901 and can trace its roots back to 1786, its present location was not purchased until the early 1920’s. In 1924, the club engaged Seth Raynor to design and build the golf course. He completed his work and the course was opened for play in 1925. Mr. Raynor, a trained landscape engineer, was the town surveyor for Southampton N.Y. when he was hired by noted golf course architect, Charles Blair McDonald. They later formed a very influential design team with a penchant for incorporating the best of original British golf holes in their architecture. After designing a number of courses with McDonald, Raynor began to design and build courses on his own. Using the British influence and his considerable skill for routing and building firm playable courses Raynor had established a reputation by 1925 as one of this country’s premier golf course architects. In keeping with his British influence, the Country Club of Charleston’s signature hole (number eleven) is a version of North Berwick’s fifteenth hole better known as the famous Redan hole. Eleven of Raynor’s courses are ranked in the top one hundred of America’s traditional golf courses. Included in this group are Fishers Island, Long Island, N.Y.; The Creek Club, Locust Valley, N.Y.; The Carmargo Club, Indian Hills, Ohio; The Chicago Golf Club; and Charleston’s own Yeaman’s Hall Club.
The 2006 Azalea was cancelled when the members of the Country Club of Charleston voted to renovate and restore the golf course. Noted golf course architect Brian Silva was retained to oversee this project. The restoration has proved to be an unqualified success. The integrity of the Raynor design has been preserved despite the fact that the course has new greens, restored and additional bunkers, and a top of the line irrigation system.
During the past fifty eight years the Azalea has featured a number of the country’s top amateur players. Starting with Frank Ford Sr., past champions include Dale Morey, Billy Joe Patton, Dick Siderowf, George Burns, Buddy Alexander, Vance Heafner, Ken Green and D.J. Trahan. Ryuji Imada a native of Japan, in 1996 became the first foreign player to win the Azalea. In 2001, Casey Wittenberg, a sixteen year old high school sophomore, became the youngest player to win the championship. Trahan, Wittenberg and Imada are all on the PGA Tour as well as U.S. Open Champion Webb Simpson, who won the Azalea in 2004 and 2007, and 2003 Azalea Champ Spencer Levine. Other PGA Tour players that have competed in the Azalea are Ricky Fowler, Luke List, Jordan Spieth, Eric Compton, Patrick Reed, Billy Horschel and William Mcgirt.
Recent Azalea fields have included USGA Amateur Champions John Harris, Buddy Alexander, Jay Segal, Vinnie Giles and Peter Uhlein; USGA Public Links Champions Hunter Haas, Brandt Snedeker, D.J. Trahan and Brad Benjamin; USGA Mid Amateur Champions Danny Green, Jerry Courville, Tim Jackson, Spider Miller, Danny Yates, George Zahringer, Austin Eaton, Trip Kuehne, and four time winner Nathan Smith; USGA Junior Amateur Champions Matthew Rosenfield, Cameron Peck, Corey Whitsett, Brian Harmon and Kevin Tway.
The Country Club of Charleston is fortunate to have two top professionals tending to its members, golf course and the Azalea Tournament. Paul Corder, the Golf Course Superintendent is nationally recognized in his field and Hart Brown, the PGA Director of Golf is the epitome of a PGA Professional. The professionalism of these two men and their staffs has played an integral part in establishing a tournament atmosphere that has caused the Azalea to become one of the most popular amateur events in the country.