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Harbour Town Golf Links just one gem in golf-rich state of South Carolina

6 Min Read


Harbour Town Golf Links is just one piece of the diverse tapestry of golf found in the state of South Carolina. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Harbour Town Golf Links is just one piece of the diverse tapestry of golf found in the state of South Carolina. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

    Written by Bradley S. Klein @PGATOUR

    South Carolina, known as the Palmetto State, boasts 351 golf courses that form a remarkably varied offering. From coastal gems, broad-based meadowland layouts and even courses up in the mountains in the western part of the state, the variety runs the gamut. Additionally, designs range from exclusive private clubs and real estate ventures to resort courses and remarkably affordable daily fee and municipal layouts. Moreover, golf in South Carolina is a year-round affair. In short, it’s an ideal state for diverse golf.

    The state is particularly strong as a golf destination, whether for public players seeking affordable access, resort goers seeking a golf vacation, or second-home residents from other states. Data drawn from the National Golf Foundation shows that four out of every 10 rounds played in South Carolina come from out-of-state players. That’s the fourth-highest total in the country. The state has two of the four most intense regional markets in the country: the Grand Strand north and south of Myrtle Beach, and the Hilton Head-Bluffton-Beaufort area. Both are heavy on the side of resort and residential golf.

    Among the draws – besides the favorable, virtually year-round golf season – is the quality of golf in South Carolina.

    Harbour Town Golf Links, this week’s perennial host venue for the PGA TOUR’s RBC Heritage, is a Pete Dye-designed gem that debuted in 1969 to much acclaim for its low-lying intimacy through native corridors of live oaks and pines. It was a revolutionary golf course in its day for its small greens, reliance on all of 4-5 feet of elevation change across the entire site, and finish along the Calibogue Sound, with the iconic lighthouse behind the 18th green.

    Sahith Theegala tees off on the iconic 18th hole at Harbour Town Golf Links. (Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

    Sahith Theegala tees off on the iconic 18th hole at Harbour Town Golf Links. (Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

    Back then, land developer Charles Fraser was just trying to establish the island as a golf destination. He seems to have succeeded beyond even his ambitious dreams, what with two dozen golf courses now on the island and at least another 30 on the mainland side in the corridor between Savannah and Beaufort.

    These, too, run the gamut of design character, including elegant real estate developments like the 36-hole properties of Colleton River, Belfair and Berkely Hall; the upscale sensibility of a resort-like May River Golf Club; or the privacy of intimate clubs like Chechessee Creek, Old Tabby Links and Secession. All are routed within the native land shaped by the Intracoastal Waterway. Their playing character changes with the tide and the wind.

    Up in the Charleston area, the quality of golf starts with two classic Seth Raynor designs: the Country Club of Charleston (1925) and Yeamans Hall Club (1926).

    The picturesque clubhouse at the Country Club of Charleston during the 2019 U.S. Women's Open Championship. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

    The picturesque clubhouse at the Country Club of Charleston during the 2019 U.S. Women's Open Championship. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

    These are both private clubs, though anyone playing the recently restored Charleston Municipal Golf Course would find Raynor’s influence palpable here as well, even though he did not directly design the course. When it comes to impressive coastal properties, Wild Dunes Resort’s Links Course (1981) still resonates with golfers four decades after it opened. Credit for that is due to the pristine nature of the site on Isle of Palms that designer Tom Fazio inherited and the way his chief shaper there, a young upstart named Mike Strantz, let his creativity run free.

    Strantz further solidified his reputation as an unparalleled artisan with such designs as Bulls Bay Golf Club in the Charleston area and both Caledonia Golf & Fish Club and True Blue Golf Club up on Pawleys Island in the Myrtle Beach area.

    There, they joined the region’s first golf course, Pine Lakes Country Club (Robert White, 1927), and the region’s first nationally acclaimed design, Dunes Golf and Beach Club (Robert Trent Jones Sr., 1949). By the end of the 20th century, there were more than 100 courses in the region, including four resort layouts at Barefoot Landing, two at Grande Dunes Resort and Tidewater Golf Club.

    Inland, the state has just as much quality to offer. The Palmetto Golf Club in Aiken sports the distinctive design flair of Herbert Leeds (1890s), complemented by a wedge-shaped clubhouse with eyebrow windows that is the 1902 handiwork of Stanford White, who also designed the famous clubhouse of Shinnecock Hills Golf Club on Long Island.

    A look at the 5th hole of the Palmetto Golf Club.  (David Cannon/Getty Images)

    A look at the 5th hole of the Palmetto Golf Club. (David Cannon/Getty Images)

    On the other side of town in Aiken Golf Club, a 1912 design that maxes out at 5,795 yards and yet holds up well for its Pinehurst style of shot-making demands. Small wonder it is a favorite among golfers gathered in the area during Masters week.

    In the more mountainous, western half of South Carolina, the golf tends to be much more parkland-oriented. That’s the appeal of the seven-course residential golf repertoire comprising The Cliffs communities, which brought to bear the design talents of Tom Fazio, Tom Jackson, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Ben Wright. The Player-designed Cliffs at Mountain Park (2013) in Travelers Rest, 25 miles north of Greenville, is an intimately routed, very walkable course. Its vast sand splashes and wide fairways straddle the North Saluda River along a valley that sits 1,600 feet above sea level in the Blue Ridge Mountains – hardly your conventional real estate golf course.

    When it comes to drama that contrasts with South Carolina’s coastal golf treasures, you can’t find a sharper counterpoint than The Cliffs at Glassy (1994) in Landrum, 11 miles east of Mountain Park. The Cliffs at Glassy, which tops out at 3,353 feet above sea level, feels like golf on the roof of the world – or at least of the Palmetto State. If it doesn’t take your breath away, it will at least make you gasp at the distant views.

    For all this strength of its diverse golf offerings, the supply is still getting more interesting. Two courses east of Aiken have just debuted and already have caught the buzz of social media architecture aficionados. Old Barnwell, by Brian Schneider and Blake Conant of Tom Doak’s Renaissance Golf Design team, fills up a sandy, 575-acre site that provides plenty of room for distinct angles and alternate paths of play. Though a private club, it has a mission of inclusivity and public service that ensures its place in the greater community of state golf and sports culture.

    The Tree Farm, midway between Aiken and the state capital in Columbia, is the product of PGA TOUR member Zac Blair’s imagination, a routing by Tom Doak, and the shaping skills of Kye Goalby. It’s South Carolina’s version of a trendy place like Sweetens Cove Golf Club in Tennessee or Landman Golf Club in Nebraska – golf for hearty walkers who love the game, play fast, utilize the ground game and cannot wait to tee it up again.

    The vast scale of the land provides a very unconventional scope for the golf. Think of it as Mike Strantz’s Caledonia Golf & Fish Club on a much larger canvas.

    When it comes to interesting golf, South Carolina menu of courses offers a wide variety that appeals to players of every imaginable sort. Small wonder it’s such a strong golf destination.

    Bradley S. Klein is a veteran golf writer and author of 10 books on course design. A former PGA TOUR caddie, he was architecture editor of Golfweek for over two decades and is now a freelance journalist and course design consultant. Follow Bradley S. Klein on Twitter.

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