Have you ever tried to fly to a destination, play eight different golf courses in five days while traveling the entire length of a State? Recently, I had the great pleasure of accompanying seven other North American golf journalists on a five day golf marathon in South Carolina. We were lucky enough to visit three very different regions, two of which were completely brand new experiences for me.
One article cannot possibly do justice in covering darn near half the state of South Carolina and some remarkable courses but I’ll give it the old college try!
Monday 5:00 am – An early morning wakeup call so I could catch my flight to Greenville via Cleveland in order to arrive in time for an 11:30 rendezvous with the other writers. We loaded up on a decked out bus that was previously owned by Merle Haggard and headed out. What a way to tour!
Our journey began in the Pendleton District in the northwest corner of South Carolina, a region that is not normally on the radar for many golfers. It has picturesque mountain countryside with plenty of lakes, streams and rivers for outdoor enthusiasts who are looking for more of a quaint, laid back golf vacation.
Monday 1:30pm – The Rock at Jocassee in Pickens was our first stop. We only had time to play 9 holes but we got to experience a unique design that combines relatively flat holes that wrap themselves around the creek with other holes that are bounded by hilly terrain with very small greens. #8 is definitely their signature hole, a par 3 that is straight down hill and bordered by a magnificent sliding rock waterfall to distract your attention. Unfortunately a fun filled late night was followed by an early rise!
Tuesday 6:45 am – Up and at it in time for breakfast prior to our 8:00 am tee time at The Walker Course at Clemson University in Clemson. Thank goodness the clubhouse was only 100 yards from inn’s entrance door. The front nine was more open with rolling fairways whereas the back nine was much tighter, very hilly with plenty of scenic views of Hartwell Lake. The 17th is definitely their signature hole with a peninsula green and bunkers that resemble the shape of a Tiger Paw.
Tuesday 2:00 pm – After a 60 mile drive we were teeing off at the Hunter’s Creek Golf & Country Club in Greenwood a 27-hole course. We only played the Willows nine holes but I found it hilly with not too many flat lies. Beware of the Hunter’s Creek that crosses the fairway on many holes. They have 4 sets of tees for every caliber of golfer and their 3rd hole is an island green where the prevailing wind will be a big factor. Another 55 mile journey south west we unloaded our luggage in Aiken.
Wednesday 9:00 am –The Aiken Golf Club was only a quick jaunt away and definitely worth the stop. Established in 1912 it lays claim to be the first golf club in America to offer ladies forward tees. My impression was that I was playing a historic Stanley Thompson design with large very undulating greens, tight tree lined fairways and plenty of bunkers to slow down your momentum. What an honor and privilege to play such a historical gem. We only got to play nine but I found that this course plays a lot longer then the par 70 – 5734 yards score card indicates, so be forewarned.
Wednesday 11:30 am – The River Golf Club in North Augusta was only minutes away but worlds apart – a newer design with a links feel and more of a coastal course that is flatter, with lots of water. Built on the banks of the Savannah River that separates South Carolina and Georgia, it is ideally located only 3 miles from the famed Augusta National Golf Club. It features bent grass greens and the only course that we played so far that was over seeded. If you are considering a visit, they offer 2 four-bedroom and 1 eight-bedroom villas that are located right on the 18th fairway.
Wednesday 4:00 pm – Now it was a 3-hour drive to the relatively unexplored Edisto Beach in the Lowcountry Region, right on the sandy shores of the Atlantic Ocean and halfway between Charleston and Hilton Head Island. We stayed at the Plantation Villas with four-bedroom condos that sat conveniently adjacent to the Plantation Grill and the 1st hole. Plus you get to park your power cart in the carport directly under your suite. How cool is that?
Thursday 6:00 am – Wakeup call for breakfast and a 7:30 am tee time. The Plantation Course at Edisto originally opened in 1974 as “Oristo” but after General Manager, Leland Vaughan’s group of investors bought the facilty in 2005 they hired Architect Tom Jackson to redesign the course. He completely replaced all the fairways and greens with the newest Sea Isle Supreme Paspalum grass that is salt water tolerate and stays green all year round without having to over seed. These were the best greens and for that matter the best sand bunkers that we had played to date. At 6,175 yards this tight par 70 has 13 holes where water comes into play that will definitely test your accuracy and patience, as I can attest to. Leland told me that “this course is a real monster when the wind blows”. I can only imagine! This was to be my opportunity to play a similar course to Harbour Town Golf Links and now my confidence was shattered!
Thursday 3:00 pm – After another two and a half hour drive and we were teeing it up at the 4 star Palmetto Dunes on Hilton Head Island. Unfortunately we were limited to only 5 holes on the Robert Trent Jones Course because for the first time it was raining. We teed up on the 8th, a 196 par 3 entirely over water and I hit a beauty and drained a 20’ putt for birdie, then pared the next 3 out of 4 holes with wet grips. Go figure! I have been fortunate enough to play the Robert Jones Course on a previous visit but I never had the opportunity to play either the 4 star George Fazio or the 4 ½ star Arthur Hills Golf Courses so I am looking forward to coming back. After golf it was off for a scrumptious dinner at the Red Fish Grill, my personal favorite in Hilton Head and then a night’s stay at the spacious two-bedroom Palmetto Dunes Villas.
Friday 6:30 am – Wake up call for a Meet & Greet breakfast and the crescendo of our trip, playing 18 holes at the fabled Pete Dye designed Harbour Town Golf Links, home of the PGA’s RBC Heritage. I must attest to the fact that I played here about three years before and got my butt kicked so I was anxious for another opportunity to test my skills. Despite what you remember from the TV coverage, there are only two holes that border the ocean and the remaining sixteen are very tight parkland holes with Live Oak trees hanging over the fairway to knock down your ball. Hit ‘em straight or pay the price. Today, I brought my ‘A’ game and redeemed myself for my past sins.
Friday 3:30 pm – Time to depart for the nearby Savannah Airport and our separate flights back home. I must admit it was a bit of a blur for a few days after I got back. However once I had a chance to absorb what we had seen and experienced in five days I am more enlightened about unique courses in regions of South Carolina that are not as widely publicized as they should be.
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