USF alumni share memories of The Claw following its closure

Ron Sherman, class of 1974, said he didn’t return to The Claw before its permanent closure because he wanted to remember the golf course experience “as it was” prior to its deteriorated condition. ORACLE PHOTO/JUSTIN SEECHARAN

Ron Sherman has fond memories of The Claw – he would take evening runs around the perimeter of the golf course during his time as a student at USF, and he met his best friend there when he began playing after he graduated in 1974.

However, when Sherman received a text from his friend asking him to play one last round a few days before its permanent closure, the pair eventually couldn’t bring themselves to go.

“[My friend] said, ‘Let’s go to The Claw. That’s where we met and we are still friends, let’s just enjoy the moment.’ So I just searched up the course, [but] it was in such bad shape that it wasn’t worth our time to go out there,” Sherman said. 

Some of Sherman’s other friends still played before the course’s official closing on Sept. 5, and the pictures they shared with Sherman confirmed the rumors he heard of the course going “downhill.”

“I just would be sick to see what kind of condition it is in now,” Sherman said. “I know that Athletics and the university have other initiatives, and it is expensive to keep, but in its heyday, it was one of the most enjoyable courses to play. It was very tough.” 

President Rhea Law sent a universitywide email on June 29 announcing the course’s closure following its 56-year legacy. The email mentioned The Claw was recently losing roughly $200,000 annually and that repairing its facilities would require millions of dollars worth of investment.

Jeff Herndon, who graduated in 1990, said he would skip a few classes to play a round of golf at The Claw. He said he was saddened by the news of the course’s closure given how much it challenged him as a golfer.

“It was a very challenging, long course with narrow fairways and elevated greens. If you missed a fairway or missed a green, you were punished. This course made me a better golfer,” Herndon said.

Sally Dee, who played on USF’s golf team for four years and graduated in 1993, said she believed the complexity of the course prepared the team well for competitions, but its main selling point was the lack of construction and its nature reserve surroundings.

Law said in the email that the course’s closure will not affect the USF Forest Preserve. 

Former Student Government President David Hilfman, who graduated in 1982, played golf when he was in high school. He said The Claw’s natural beauty and course complexity impacted his decision to attend USF.

“I was a big fan of knowing that a golf course of that caliber was so close to me,” Hilfman said. “It was a big deciding point for me to go to USF, being a very serious golfer, even more so back then.”

James Macchiarola, who graduated in 1991, said he spent a lot of his leisure time as a student at the course, learning the game and playing his first 20 to 30 rounds of golf there. Macchiarola said he has played at least 100 rounds at The Claw over the years.

“It will always be the course that I learned to play golf on. I’m an avid golfer now and my love for the game started at USF… and on The Claw,“ Macchiarola said.

Jim Harvey, who graduated in 1988, didn’t see the Claw’s closing as a surprise due to its recent lack of maintenance.

“It is probably at least five to maybe 10 years too late, it should have been shut down or done something else about it a while ago,” Harvey said. “That’s something that we get to look forward to. What is going to become of that place?”

USF has not announced what will replace the 120-acre land at the time of publication.

Harvey said The Claw has experienced hardship due to its flood-prone area in the past, oftentimes making it impossible for players to reach certain parts of the course.

“I remember in 1983, when I came to USF and tried out for the golf team, the course had flooded so badly that I think there were six holes that we had to basically skip over,” Harvey said. “If I remember correctly, it took three to four weeks for the water to come down.”

Harvey used to hold annual alumni tournaments at the Claw for social gatherings or benefit events. However, he said the current conditions of the course have turned away attendees, prompting him to change venues around 10 years ago. 

“It really got to the point where the guys wouldn’t even come out because it was so bad,” Harvey said. “It has been a long time since the quality has suffered.”

Though many alumni and current USF students took their final swings at the course last week, Sherman’s decision to not play with his fellow alum one last time came from a place of nostalgia. 

“I want to remember the golf course experience the way it was,” Sherman said.