Ooh, chocolate drops! Plantation Course gets a new/old look
November 14, 2021
By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM
Flyover look at Sea Island's Plantation Course
Editor's Note: This article was originally published ahead of the 2019 RSM Classic.
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- Davis Love III got his hands dirty before this year’s RSM Classic.
Love’s golf-course architecture firm, Love Golf Design, led a dramatic renovation of Sea Island’s Plantation Course. Love didn’t just peer at the project’s plans.
“Pete Dye told me you’re not a golf course architect until you get on the equipment and build it yourself,” Love said.
And that’s what the World Golf Hall of Famer did, hopping on a bulldozer to shape some of the sharp angles and old-school features that will be on display this week during the PGA TOUR’s annual visit to Sea Island. The Plantation Course will be used, along with the neighboring Seaside layout, on Thursday and Friday. The RSM’s weekend rounds will be played on Seaside.
The Plantation Course’s new look is a blast from the past, drawing upon the course’s history and other attributes common to golf’s Golden Age designs.
Plantation is the oldest course at Sea Island. The Walter Travis design opened as a nine-hole course in 1928, shortly before the Seaside nine that was designed by Harry Colt and Charles Alison.
“We like classic design,” Love said. “We feel like this is a historic resort and it needs a historic-looking course.”
Plantation’s historic feel had faded after nearly a century of play and a renovation in the late 1990s. This latest renovation draws upon the designs of architects like Travis, Seth Raynor and C.B. MacDonald.
Those men designed some of Love’s favorite courses, including Chicago Golf Club, Mountain Lake in Lake Wales, Florida, and two courses in Charleston, South Carolina: Yeamans Hall and Country Club of Charleston. It was a collaboration between Love, his brother Mark, and Scot Sherman, an architect with Love Golf Design who worked closely with Dye for many years.
They replicated those classic courses by creating sharp angles and straight lines, producing a look that was distinctive from the neighboring Seaside course and its big, bold bunkering. The renovated Plantation course also offers more of the scenic views that its neighbor is known for. The new course is flatter – many Golden Age designs were built on flat ground – and brush was cleared to offer more views of the Atlantic Ocean and St. Simons Sound.
Some of Plantation’s new greens are squared-off instead of round. Flat bunkers with vertical grass faces were built. Railroad ties provide a stark delineation between grass and water. Grass mounds known as “chocolate drops” were placed on several holes.
A Principal’s Nose bunker, inspired by the one at St. Andrews, was built on the 10th hole and odes to other old-school template holes, like the Redan and Punchbowl, were built at Plantation.Sketches of the 10th and 16th holes for the RSM Classic by Love Golf Design. (PGA TOUR)
These features are evident from the start, as the “chocolate drops” are visible from the first tee and the new green evokes the Biarritz design that was often built by Macdonald and Raynor. Railroad ties front the second green. These long, wooden boards are often associated with Dye’s designs, but it’s a concept that he got from his travel to Scotland. It’s another look Love enjoys, as he’s won five times at the Dye-designed Harbour Town and twice at TPC Sawgrass, which host the RBC Heritage and THE PLAYERS Championship, respectively.
Plantation’s third hole is a par 3 inspired by the Redan green that has been replicated many times over. Love looked at pictures of the Redan at Yeamans Hall as he drove a dozer on this hole.
Some other notable features are the Thumbprint green on No. 11 and Punchbowl on 13. The thumbprint, like the 18th hole at the Old White TPC, has a central bowl, as if someone pressed their thumb into the center of the putting surface. A Punchbowl green is lower than its surrounds, obscuring it from view while also allowing shots to funnel onto the putting surface.
The renovation also created some new closing holes. Travis designed the 14th hole as a par 5, but it was later divided into a par 4 and par 3. This most recent renovation returned the 14th to a par 5. The large, central bunker is another feature typical of Macdonald and Raynor courses. It forces players to choose between four potential lines off the tee: left, right, short and long.
The 15th and 16th holes from the original routing were brought back. Fifteen is a short par 4, while the 16th is a short par 3 with a double-plateau green and penal pot bunker.
The course will finish on a par 5 that features chocolate drops, railroad ties and flat bunkers.
“It’s a great example of all the features which influenced us in one place,” Sherman said.