By Larry Gavrich, Founder & Editor,
Home On The Course, LLC
Ask any east coast golfer for the top golf destination this side of the Mississippi, and he or she is likely to say Myrtle Beach or Pinehurst or, perhaps, the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama. Charleston, one of the South’s iconic cities, typically doesn’t rate up there on “best of” golf lists … until now. The International Association of Golf Tour Operators, whose name suggests a worldly bunch of golf aficionadas, has named Charleston its Golf Destination of the Year for 2015 … as “in the World!” The group announced the choice in Lake Como, Italy, at its annual meeting (nice work if you can get it).
Actually, if there were an award for après golf dining, Charleston would vie for the top position as well. The town has transformed into a gourmet’s destination over the last couple of decades, thanks in large measure to its chefs being early adopters of the now ubiquitous farm-to-table philosophy of food preparation. Led by innovative food wonder boys like Sean Brock (McCrady’s, Husk and, recently, Minero) and Mike Lata (FIG and The Ordinary), Charleston’s ascendancy in the food world has been quick and decisive.
Surrounded by farms in a supportive climate, the city’s chefs can count on a steady supply of such freshly plucked foodstuffs as oysters, beans, grains (love those creamy grits with shrimp) and, during the growing season, vegetables.
Charleston’s kitchen alchemists even make okra taste good. And it goes without saying that they all know their way around a pig. (Having had my share of ribs and bellies in the city, I am happy to say it.)
As for the golf, Charleston offers a relatively small but tasty selection, more tapas than entrees but, by the end of a weekend or week, you will be more than satisfied.
Forget, for example, what you may think of Arnold Palmer as a golf course designer – architect geeks don’t think much – and make sure to play Palmer’s Rivertowne Country Club in Mt. Pleasant, just five miles over the stunning Ravenel Bridge from the city. Once home to a professional women’s golf tournament hosted by Annika Sorenstam, Rivertowne’s course and clubhouse give off a private club vibe, which is to say conditions are exquisite and the layout is challenging. Actually, there are always rumors the club might go private (again) but for now, count yourself lucky that it’s available to traveling golfers.
Harbor dredging, not luck, was responsible for the land on which Patriots Point Golf Club sits. The course juts out into Charleston Harbor and comes as close to links golf as you get on the mainland. If you can wrest your attention away from action on the harbor, which runs the gamut from shrimp boats to freighters, concentrate on whether your putt breaks toward or away from Fort Sumter not too far in the distance.
After golf, a short detour on the way back to Charleston takes you by Shem Creek, home to multiple waterfront restaurants, some of the freshest seafood between New York and Miami, and sweeping vistas of the marsh, the bridge and the city. (Try to be there as the sun sets beyond the bridge.)
Speaking of water, the two exciting courses located at the Wild Dunes Resort on Isle of Palms run along both harbor and ocean. Better of the two is the Links Course, which finishes along the Atlantic Ocean, providing drama enough even before you learn that the 18th green has fallen onto the adjoining beach a time or two (all’s well now).
And speaking of an Ocean Course, you may have heard of the one on Kiawah Island where European great Bernhard Langer, still going strong on the PGA’s Senior Tour, missed a five-foot putt on the final hole of the 1991 Ryder Cup to give the overall victory to the American side.
Green fees at the Pete Dye masterpiece bounce around the $400 per round mark, but views of the ocean from virtually every hole, the challenge of negotiating ever-present and fickle winds, and the impeccable conditions of the turf nestled among the dunes is an experience that is priceless on a golf course rated #1 in the state by the South Carolina Golf Panel (and top 10 on many national lists).
For the more budget minded still hungry for marshland and near-ocean golf, Kiawah offers a handful of other terrific layouts by such noteworthy designers as Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio and Gary Player.
For an even less expensive ocean golf experience, head over to Kiawah’s companion barrier island, Seabrook, for its two golf courses, Ocean Winds and Crooked Oaks (the ocean winds produced the crooked oaks over the years). Golf for guests on Seabrook will cost about one-third of the Ocean Course tariff, but the courses are certainly more than half as good. And if you are looking for a more permanent golf and beach vacation place, current Seabrook condos for sale start in the low to mid $200s.
Back on the mainland, another dozen courses are within a short drive of Charleston’s ultra modern airport, convenient for those who want to get in a quick last round before heading home. Best among them are Charleston National, which may leave you wondering how designer Rees Jones was able to find 18 holes hiding in the dense marshland; underrated architect Arthur Hills’ Coosaw Creek, whose landing areas on driving holes will have you scratching your head on the tee boxes; Dunes West, another fine Hills course whose pro shop staff thoughtfully stacks iced towels in tin-lined boxes on hot summer days; and Stono Ferry Golf Links, whose water holes run along the Intracoastal Waterway which once ferried British troops to engage American troops in a key Revolutionary Battle. (Yes, that bulge in the ground on the 12th fairway is indeed a fortification that goes back 2½ centuries.)
You’ll feel well fortified after golf and dining in the Charleston area.