Golf course architect Bobby Weed still remembers the first time he heard about this teen sensation in his native South Carolina who could hit a golf ball a country mile.
“My buddies were telling me that they were playing in the Columbia (S.C.) Amateur and they were walking off the first green at a 350-yard par 4 and this high school kid hit his tee shot over the green,” Weed said in a phone interview Sunday.
That big bopper was none other than Masters champion Dustin Johnson, and that’s not their only connection. Johnson cut his teeth digging up the sod at the driving range that gave Weed his start in the golf business, Weed Hill. Johnson’s father, the head professional at Mid Carolina Club, would take him there as a young boy. Growing up in Colombia, just over an hour from Augusta National, the Masters was the biggest week of the year and Johnson recalled how every putting contest with brother A.J. was to win the Green Jacket. Here is a where a dream that would one day become fulfilled was born.
“They had lights on the range, and most nights I would shut the lights off when I was leaving,” Johnson said.
Weed has built courses around the world, but none is as near and dear to his heart as the driving range he built in his hometown of Irmo, South Carolina.
It was 40 years ago and Weed, a high-school junior, talked his father into letting him convert some bean fields the family owned into Weed Hill Driving Range, where a bucket of balls cost 75 cents and Grandma called the shots until he got home from school.
“I remember getting off the bus and running up the hill and I’d go in there and ask, ‘Grandma, how’s everything going?’ ‘Oh, Bobby,’ she’d say, ‘these people have been out there tearing up your grass,’ ” Weed recalled.
“She would hand wash every ball,” he added. “She’d treat them like they were eggs in a basket.”
In the seventh grade, Johnson made the Irmo High School varsity golf team and earned all-state honors. He matriculated at Coastal Carolina University, near Myrtle Beach, where he was a three-time Big South Conference Player of the Year. Weed Hill also served as a launching pad for the golf careers of PGA Tour winner Wesley Bryan and LPGA Tour pro Lauren Stephenson.
Weed watched Johnson set a Masters scoring record with a 72-hole aggregate of 20-under 268, and commented that it’s all come full circle for him and Johnson as the Masters champ noted that a putting lesson with Hall of Famer Greg Norman that took place at The Grove XXIII, the Michael Jordan-owned club in Hobe Sound, Florida, is another Bobby Weed design – only the practice facility is no former bean field but what he called arguably the best practice grounds on the planet.
“He learned the game with his father at Weed Hill and now he’s honing his skills at The Grove XXIII,” Weed said. “How about that?”