FAIREST OF THE SC FAIRWAYS
By Larry Gavrich, Founder & Editor,
Home On The Course, LLC
Four special awards and the announcement of this year’s top 50 golf courses in South Carolina show why the state is a favorite permanent stopping point for Boomers relocating to the Southern region of the country.
Most of the 125 members of the South Carolina Golf Rating Panel met at the Wild Dunes Resort on Isle of Palms over the first weekend in March to test the resort’s recently renovated Links Course, to play its other 18-hole layout, the Harbor Course, and to hear the results of the group’s voting for the best golf courses in the state for 2016. The Panel, which comprises golf professionals, passionate amateur golfers, and South Carolinians who work in golf-related industries, named the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island the top layout in the state among both private and publicly accessible golf courses. Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head Island finished second.
In even-numbered years, the Panel announces its list of the top courses from the entire roster of clubs in the state. In odd-numbered years, the group identifies the best public courses in the state. This year, the Panel presented special awards that, taken together, also show the diversity of the game in South Carolina and its neighboring state, North Carolina.
Earning an award for Best Private Club Value was Orangeburg Country Club, a family-owned classic layout located in the Midlands region of the state. The sister courses of Caledonia Golf & Fish Club and True Blue Plantation in Pawleys Island earned the title Best Public Club Value; the two courses are perennially ranked in the top 10 of all 100+ Myrtle Beach area layouts and, for 2016, rank #10 and #42, respectively, on the Panel’s list. Although green fees in peak season approach $200 at Caledonia, the annual membership of less than $2,000 for both golf courses is an undeniable value.
The five-course Legends Group – comprising three courses just off Highway 501 in Myrtle Beach, as well as Heritage Golf Club in Pawleys Island, and Oyster Harbor over the border in North Carolina, received an award for Best Public Club Group Value; the Legends adds breakfast, lunch and two post-round beers for one fairly priced green fee payment at its courses.
The final award was granted to the McConnell Golf Group, based in Raleigh, NC, for Best Private Club Group Value. Over the last decade, John McConnell has purchased and combined into one portfolio some of the best private clubs in the Carolinas, including South Carolina’s Reserve Club at Pawleys Island (#35 on the Panel’s list), Musgrove Mill in Clinton (#23) and the Members Club at Grande Dunes in Myrtle Beach (the latter is under McConnell management). For one reasonable joining fee and monthly dues payment, a McConnell club member maintains full privileges to all 11 McConnell clubs in the Carolinas and Tennessee, where the firm recently purchased the Donald Ross designed Holston Hills Country Club. Most McConnell clubs are located adjacent to or inside residential neighborhoods.
The Wild Dunes Resort, just 10 minutes from the rapidly growing town of Mt. Pleasant and just 15 from historic Charleston, was an appropriate location to host a group of inquisitive golf course raters. Last year, the Tom Fazio Design Group renovated the resort’s Links Course, including restoration of its 18th green. As a result of beach erosion, the green on the former par 5 finishing hole had collapsed onto the adjacent Atlantic Ocean beach twice in recent years.
A designer from the Fazio group explained to Panel members how the firm’s engineers and designers relocated the green 100 yards in from the beach and redesigned the hole as a par 3 (see photo). It is a beautiful, albeit unusual (as a par 3) finishing hole, with the ocean still squarely in the background – just a bit farther in the background than before. The hope among resort officials and the Fazio group is that the fickle actions of the ocean tides are moving an offshore sandbar closer to the beach and that, in a few years, the green might be moved back adjacent to the beach and the hole restored to its par-5 status.
Panel members attending the annual meeting played both Wild Dunes golf courses Friday & Saturday and were given access to select clubs in the Charleston area on Sunday, including the Rees Jones and Tom Fazio 18s on Daniel Island, Arnold Palmer’s Rivertowne Country Club in Mt. Pleasant and Bulls Bay in Awendaw, immediately north of Mount Pleasant. It is the final original design by the late Mike Strantz, a Charleston native whose imaginative course layouts have inspired a cult following.
I played the Bulls Bay course, a delightful layout that combines the more refined design elements of Pawleys Island’s Caledonia with the intimidating long carries over acres of sand and water to huge greens with “elephants” buried under them more associated with Mr. Strantz’s True Blue Plantation and Tobacco Road inventions. A serious golfer could not have asked for a better windup to the weekend.
The full list of Top 50 golf courses in South Carolina can be accessed at the SCGolfPanel.org website.