Mr. Peterson doing well at Coastal Carolina

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. - As you drive South on Highway 17 into the heart of Myrtle Beach, you pass by restaurant after restaurant. You see several shopping centers, a myriad of putt-putt courses, great deals on tie-dye t-shirts and golf courses a mere 8-iron off the six-lane roadway.

Then you come to a plush, gated area known as Grande Dunes.

Before the guard asks where you're headed, you tell him you've got a tee time for 9:30 a.m. He can't find your name on the sheet. You tell him you're playing golf at the Members Club with the basketball coach at Coastal Carolina.

``Oh, with Mr. Peterson,'' he says, ``Go right ahead.''

You can hardly make your way to the golf course because of construction on all the million-dollar homes that line either side of the road. You arrive at a clubhouse so spectacular, you expect guys wearing bag pipes to bolt from the front door.

When you get to the bag drop, the man asks: ``Are you Mr. Hyams?''

How did he know? Because Mr. Peterson told him you were coming. And considering not many golfers make their way onto this fabulous layout, they figured the next guy that showed up, looking lost, had to be Mr. Peterson's guest.

:``We have one rule,'' the man at the bag-drop area said. ``Don't change your golf shoes in the parking lot.''

I can live with that.

``Have you ever played this course?'' he asks.

No.

``Well, you're in for a treat.''

And I was.

The Members Club at Grande Dunes is a terrific tract with generous fairways, sizeable greens and wondrous landscaping.

``You'll see more workers than golfers,'' said Mr. Peterson.

Mr. Peterson was right.

This Mr. Peterson is Buzz Peterson, the formerly deposed men's basketball at the University of Tennessee. He makes his home in Myrtle Beach. Part of his package as Coastal Carolina's coach includes a golf membership to the Members Club.

About 70 percent of the members live up North. The initiation fee is a tidy $150,000 or so. Next to the clubhouse, condos are being built so that if you have a guest come into town, he can stay at the course. Nice perk.

The club is also considering construction of an area where helicopters can land. Why? Because when the Masters is finished in early April, golfers can fly their copters to Grande Dunes and play the course. Myrtle Beach – Barefoot Landing , to be precise – is also the place where Hootie and the Blowfish come to play a concert after the Masters.

This is where Buzz Peterson calls home.

It's been two years since Peterson's close friend, UT athletic director Mike Hamilton, fired Buzz, who failed to make the NCAA Tournament in four years at his dream job. You can tell it still bothers Peterson.

He hasn't talked to Hamilton since. He says he will, but he hasn't had the gumption to dial that number. Peterson said he still gets emails from Hamilton, but Buzz has yet to respond.

Peterson speaks fondly of friends in Knoxville. He keeps tabs on several folks. He still has part ownership in a restaurant in Knoxville, Texas Roadhouse at Turkey Creek. He has considered selling, but the monthly paycheck is too lucrative. He has a friend from Knoxville who is considering buying a 36-hole golf course and reducing it to 18 so he can build condos. He tells of another friend who loves Joe's Bar and Grill.

His family has adjusted to Myrtle Beach, but it's been easier for some than others. Olivia, a middle schooler, wrote a paper in school about how much she missed Knoxville. That hurt Buzz. As he told the story, you got the feeling he blamed himself for the family having to relocate from the town they loved.

Peterson took part of the $1.39 million lump-sum buyout he got from Tennessee to buy a car dealership in the Carolinas. The settlement has allowed him to live more comfortably than his Coastal Carolina salary would suggest. His total package approaches $200,000 – he made just under $800,000 at Tennessee – with his base salary, incentives and TV show.

He doesn't have the time demands or challenges a job like Tennessee presents. He played eight rounds of golf one year in Knoxville. He played 45 last year.

He speaks fondly of the program and players he left behind.

``Bruce Pearl has done a great job getting the most out of his players,'' Peterson said, just days after the Vols advanced to the Sweet 16 with a victory over Virginia.

Peterson spoke of the bizarre way he landed Chris Lofton. Peterson saw Lofton get schooled in an AAU tournament by Rajon Rondo, who signed with Kentucky. Lofton wasn't quick enough. Kentucky didn't offer. Louisville offered, then pulled the offer. Cincinnati didn't offer.

Peterson wasn't that impressed with Lofton, but he knew the cat from Maysville, Ky., could shoot the rock.

``He's the best shooter in the country,'' one colleague told Peterson.

So Peterson took a chance, getting Lofton away from Valparaiso and Arkansas State. A few months later, Lofton set all the records Peterson kept for 3-point shooting. Three years later, Lofton was named SEC Player of the Year after expanding his game from a stand-still 3–point shooter to a player who could take it to the basket.

``He always had the ability to put the ball on the floor and finish,'' Peterson said.

Peterson said he took Dane Bradshaw over Lee Humphrey because an evaluator told him he needed more winners in the program. Bradshaw's high school team won two state championships. Humphrey's Maryville team did not.

Peterson said Jeff Lebo, who coached at Tennessee Tech and UT-Chattanooga, didn't even want Humphrey, Peterson said. Florida came in late, liked his outside shooting prowess and signed him over a couple of smaller schools.

Peterson said he did not recruit Bearden High School product Tony White Jr., who was headed to a prep school before Bobby Cremins offered him a scholarship at College of Charleston. Peterson played against White and bragged on White's scoring ability, but said he was a liability handling the ball.

As we reminisced about his days at Tennessee, Peterson said losing guards Terrance Woods and Harris Walker to positive drugs tests his first year was a killer. He lost Marcus Hayslip early to the NBA. He lost Jon Higgins to academics, probably costing UT an NCAA Tournament berth. He lost on a banked 3-pointer to Louisville, and on desperation 3-point shots to Florida (Brent Nelson) and Kentucky (Cliff Hawkins).

Peterson always publicly denied being snake-bit, but on this day, he admitted, ``I was unlucky.''

As we finished the round of golf, Peterson went into the clubhouse, where workers treated him like royalty.

As we left the course – I changed shoes in the locker room, not the parking lot – we came to the intersection of Hwy. 17 and Grande Dunes.

I turned left, headed back to my condo.

Peterson turned right, going to pick up a daughter at school.

He didn't say it, but something told me he wished he were driving in Knoxville, not Myrtle Beach.


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