Awash in the glow of flickering gas lanterns, mellow patina of lacy and pillared mansions, and the clip-clop of horses pulling fancy carriages, Charleston, South Carolina is a warm, alive city you can get your arms around. A city steeped in history and romance.
The site of America's first golf club, Harleston Green, established more than 200 years ago (1786) on land now occupied by downtown Charleston, the golfing traditions continue today. Close to 20 golf courses lie in and around the city.
This is the Lowcountry at its best, land of stone-ground crabs, Lowcountry Boil, gumbo, catfish over red rice, fried green tomatoes and collard greens. Here golf courses and golf communities abound, many built on land with profound historical significance.
Links at Stono Ferry
Set along the Intracoastal Waterway, the Links at Stono Ferry was designed by Ron Garl with 18 holes hugging the Stono River. As you play, take a walk through history, and note the plaques along the fairways citing historical facts about the Revolutionary War and Civil War periods. The land, after all, was the battleground for the Revolutionary Battle of Stono Ferry in 1779.
Near holes 13 and 14, look out to the water on the right, and you'll see remnants of docks once part of Stono Ferry Crossing, the plantation's original landing. An old cannon stands sentry along the 12th fairway.
Marshes and inlets from the river create some interesting challenges. Hole 14, a par 3, requires a 158 yard carry over marshland, but from the front tee, it's just 74 yards. The green on Stono's final hole is surrounded by water, but it's not so formidable if you get a decent drive to leave yourself with an easy pitch in. David Kite, son of the golf legend Tom Kite, is the Links' director of instruction at the Stono Learning Center.
Dunes West Golf Club
Driving under a leafy canopy of oaks to Dunes West Golf Club in Mt. Pleasant northeast of Charleston, you get a sense of Old Florida as you reach the handsome two-story clubhouse that stands on the site of a former 32-room grand estate. Dunes West, situated on an early 1700's plantation known as "Four Men's Ramble," is laid out along Wagner Creek and the Wando River.
Designed by Arthur Hills in 1991, the course is a straight-forward track running through tidal marshes and lowlands. Well-maintained and rather wide open, there aren't a huge number of trees, though water cuts in on some holes adding interest and challenge.
There are some bunker challenges as well, including a formidable series (of bunkers) strung along the right side of hole 15, but roll-up greens, generous landing areas and good bail-out areas make this a good play for all levels without a lot of scary drama.
RiverTowne Country Club
All but three holes incorporate water or marsh in the RiverTowne Country Club layout, an Arnold Palmer Signature course. Located across from Dunes West, 13 holes run along the Wando River and Horlbeck Creek in Mt. Pleasant.
Characterized by smooth-rolling Bermuda multi-level greens and large bunker complexes, the mostly flat layout is punctuated by live oaks, marshes, pampas grasses and wildlife. Fairways are lined by lovely homes set back far enough so they do not intrude. The front nine tends to be more open than the back and local wisdom suggests you approach the fast-running greens below the hole.
Charleston National Country Club
Known for stunning views of the marshes and panoramic ocean outlooks, Charleston National Country Club is a solid Rees Jones layout graced by moss-draped live oaks. This golf ccourse quietly creeps up on you as it meanders around natural lagoons, marshlands, palmetto groves and the Intracoastal Waterway all inviting habitats for birds and other wildlife.
The only Rees Jones design open to the public in the area, Charleston National plays close to 7,000 yards from the back. Heavy hitters will enjoy holes such as the par-4 15 requiring a 200-yard carry over marshland off the tee to the fairway followed by another carry to a very tricky green. Indeed, there are several forced carries off the tees and some pretty fickle winds to deal with.
But with five tee boxes and generally wide fairways, this is a course all levels can play without angst. Wooden bridges link many holes, and the walks from green to tee can be lengthy.
Patriots Point Links
Across the harbor from Charleston on a secluded peninsula at the foot of the Cooper River Bridge in Mt. Pleasant, Patriots Point Links evokes some of the wind-swept dunes links of Scotland. Certainly you can catch the vibe -- flat, few trees, water, twisty creeks, grass-topped hillocks. And, yes, plenty of wind.
Originally laid out by Willard C. Byrd (1981) and updated by Annika Sorenstam, Patriots Point plays close to 7,000 yards. History buffs can catch views of Fort Sumter especially from the 17th green that juts right into the harbor. (Fort Sumter is best known as the site upon which the shots that started the American Civil War were fired on April 12, 1861).
From this green, you also see cruise ships, trawlers and sail boats coming and going as well as the city's skyline. And the fun doesn't stop when the sun goes down: The driving range is lighted, and a Southern-style clubhouse features a golfers grill and patio.
Named "South Carolina Course of the Year for 2001" by the National Golf Course Owners Association, Patriots Point has four tee boxes and plays nearly 7,000 yards from the tips (5,565 from the forward). Flat and easy to walk, this is a must-play, especially the back nine where the final three holes roll out the most memorable views.