What’s the best course on the Georgia Golf Trail? You tell me

Architect Denis Griffiths’ finger bunkers and the Blue Ridge Mountains are trademarks at Brasstown Valley.

 Georgia may be the best state in the union for golf.  Others may have more courses, but the Peach State is the home of both the Masters and the PGA’s Tour Championship. No state has major events of that caliber on an annual basis.

And don’t forget the Georgia Golf Trail. With 20 destinations it’s one of the nation’s biggest trails. The Robert Trent Jones Trail in Alabama may receive more attention, but it doesn’t have the number of destinations that Georgia does.

Created by Doug Hollandsworth eight years ago, the Georgia Trail has grown to 20 destinations and you can’t beat the variety of them. Many are multi-course facilities, headed by  the six-course Reynolds Lake Oconee, in Greensboro, which features the great, Jack Nicklaus-designed and recently-renovated Great Waters layout.

Eight of the others are at state parks, such as the Wallace Adams Course – affectionately known as “Little O’’ – at Little Ocmulgee State Lodge Park in Helena. You can play this, very decent, layout for under $30.

It’d be presumptuous of me to name the best destination on the trail, since I have played only a few of them. Comparing them is a fun, stimulating exercise, however, so why not give it a shot?

For me it’s hard to imagine a trail course much nicer than the last one I visited.  That’d be Brasstown Valley Resort & Spa in Young Harris, a town with only about 1,000 residents that is but six miles from the North Carolina border.

Denis Griffiths, who lives in North Carolina, designed Brasstown Valley.  It opened in 1995 and was one of the early members of the Trail.

“We became the anchor,’’ said Steve Phelps, the resort’s director of golf the past 14 years. “The pros all wanted to see who would jump on board with this.  We’re known pretty well throughout the state and are a state-owned facility.  As soon as we got in a number of others followed.’’

The Trail has served its major purpose. It expanded interest in more parts of Georgia.

The 515-yard 15th, a par-5 that wraps around water, may be the best hole at Brasstown Valley.

“It showed our diversity,’’ said Phelps. “By playing the Trail you can see all of Georgia. Here (at Brasstown) we have the mountains. It’s too nice a place to miss.  We’re one of the marquee places, but Georgia has a pretty nice coast, too.’’

Brasstown Valley was built on 500 acres of a wildlife preserve.  The resort includes a stable, hiking trails, tennis, indoor and outdoor pools and two restaurants. In addition to its proximity to North Carolina it’s a half-hour from the Tennessee line and four states can be viewed from one high spot near the resort.

Griffiths’ course is stunning. The Blue Ridge Mountains provide an appropriate backdrop for a course dominated by finger-filled bunkers and sweeping elevation changes.  The par-5 fifteenth, which plays around a lake, may be the best hole.

One other thing to note about the well-groomed course.  Many places on it are protected wildlife areas or sacred Indian ground. There were once seven Indian villages in the area, and the popular multi-colored turtle tee markers are a tribute to Indian lore. Machinery can’t be used in those protected area so wildlife can grow as high as five feet in some spots at certain times of the year, adding to the striking nature of the layout.

Griffiths has two other designs on the Trail, at Brazell’s Creek Gordonia-Alatamaha State Park in Reidsville and the Georgia Veterans Golf Club at Lake Blackshear Resort in Cordele.

Other state park courses on the Trail are Arrowhead Pointe at Richard B. Russell State Park in Elberton;  Meadow Links at George T. Bagby State Park and Lodge in Fort Gaines; The Creek at Hard Labor Creek State Park in Rutledge; The Lakes at Laura S. Walker State Park in Hoboken; and Highland Walk at Victoria Bryant State Park in Franklin Springs.

The opening hole at the Wallace Adams Course at Little Ocmulgee is a tough dogleg left over water.

New clubhouse will also bring a stunning opening tee shot at Cherokee Valley

 

The Blue Ridge Mountains create a stunning backdrop for players at Cherokee Valley.

TRAVELER’S REST, South Carolina – Clubs — at least the lucky ones– are sometimes able to build nice, new clubhouses even in these difficult financial times.  Cherokee Valley, a 28-year old public facility 25 miles from the city of  Greenville, is one of those but there’s more to the story.

Owner Matt Jennings wanted to add a premier dining experience when he and his uncle, Ted Levine,  bought the club in 2017. They wanted a place where families, couples, individuals, business people and – of course – golfers could share a sense of community.

By November Cherokee Valley will have all of that, but it isn’t a case of a new clubhouse replacing an old one. The old clubhouse will revert back to its original use – as an events center.  The focus of the new one will be the Core 450 Restaurant, and executive chef Todd Warden is already on board to oversee the dining operation. The current golf shop will be moved to the first floor of the new building.

Making this dramatic move, however, also will necessitate a reconfiguration of the golf course – a beautiful one already, and one of the best public venues we’ve ever visited.  P.B. Dye, one of the sons of the late, great golf architecture couple of Pete and Alice Dye, was the designer.

The new clubhouse, under construction, will feature the Core 450 Restaurant and views of ninth and 18th greens.

 

For P.B., it’s more than just another credit on his resume.  He used the par-3 eighth hole, which has a 70-foot downhill drop and Glassy Mountain as a backdrop, as the site for his wedding.  P.B. and wife Jean were married on that spot shortly before Cherokee Valley opened in 1992.

With the creation of Core 450 Dye had to make changes to his original layout, one of which should stir some controversy..

The new opening hole will get players’ attention immediately.  It’s a sturdy par-4, 461 yards from the back tees, with a significant forced carry over water on the opening tee shot. In the original layout it was No. 3. The par-4 second hole becomes No. 18, which enhances viewing for those on hand at Core 450. Those viewers will be able to see the action at both the Nos. 9 and 18 holes.

In the routing  No. 1 is No. 17 and No. 2 was No. 18 The downhill par-4 third hole will be reverted to the first hole. The new configuration will create a tough finishing stretch featuring a par-5 and two lengthy par-4s in the last three holes.  They’ll measure a combined 1,404 total yards from the back tees and include the third and fifth hardest holes on the course.

While the other changes are significant, the new No. 1 will be felt the most.  Jennings says the new rotation will be a big hit with Cherokee’s players, both members and visitors alike.

“Golfers are going to love it,’’ said Jennings.  “We’ve received great feedback on the configuration. Low handicappers have readily accepted the challenging of facing two of the toughest holes on the course right at the start.’’

With a waterfall as part of the attraction, No. 5 is the signature holes at Cherokee Valley.

Bottom line is that Cherokee Valley isn’t your typical golf club.  It’s a family club in a tight-knit community, but it also has cottages – located just a short walk from the pro shop — that make it ideal for stay-and-play group outings. There’s a swimming pool as well as tennis and pickleball courts and its golf practice area is extraordinary.

While the golf carts are top-notch, the 20 Finn Cycles – motorized “golf scooters’’ – are a fun option for on-course transportation.

Regardless of the order of the holes Cherokee Valley has a great mix of challenges.  The elevation changes are dramatic in many places but the course is no killer, either.  It measures 6,728 yards from the tips with a rating of 71.4 and slope of 134.  It’s enjoyable for players of all ability levels. The course has 11 lakes and 50 strategically-placed bunkers and the current No. 5, which features a waterfall, is the designated signature hole.

These Cottages at Cherokee Valley offer visitors most comfortable lodging just a short walk from the pro shop.

`Dirty Dancing’ helped make Bald Mountain a special course

The lower green is for Bald Mountain’s No.15 and the upper one for No. 16, a site for a famous movie.

LAKE LURE, North Carolina – The Bald Mountain course at Rumbling Bald Resort hasn’t changed much since W.B. Lewis designed it in 1968.

“Actually, it hasn’t changed at all,’’ said Adam Bowles, who has headed the golf operation at the resort the last seven years. “They put in new bentgrass greens in about 2000, and the trees have grown.  That’s about it.’’

Bald Mountain, though, has a unique attraction. If you hit the green on the No. 16 hole you have – almost literally – reached “the dance floor.’’  That green was a scene in the movie “Dirty Dancing.’’ There’s a sign behind it to designate its place in the movie that has had a steady stream of followers for over 30 years.  It was released internationally in 1987.

“Everyone wants to take a picture from behind the green,’’ said Bowles.  “It’s incredible to me how many people are still attached to that movie. It has a strange attraction.  It’s funny how some movies have a cult following.’’

“Dirty Dancing,’’ which starred Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze, certainly has that.  Lake Lure holds an annual Dirty Dancing Festival in September, though it won’t be held this year because of pandemic concerns.

Adam Bowles is amazed how the movie `Dirty Dancing’  has impacted one course’s popularity.

“It’s a really big deal,’’ said Bowles.  “You wouldn’t believe how many people flock to this area.  A lot of places that were in that movie have since burned down, and there’s not much remaining.  It’s really the only place where people who love that movie can go where it was made.  Pretty bizarre to me.’’

No. 16 is a pretty hole – a 160-yard par-3 over water from the back tees.  It follows a striking par-5 that is pretty special, too.  It’s downhill from tee to green with a covered bridge used to get golfers from the fairway to the putting surface. The green is blocked by a small, but troublesome, creek.

There’s some other interesting holes at Bald Mountain as well. Course designer Lewis was a protégé of George Cobb, best known for creating the par-3 course at Augusta National.

“We’ve called 16  our signature hole because there’s so much history involved,’’ said Bowles, “but players have developed a love-hate relationship about No. 15.’’  That’s the longest hole on the course at 509 yards from the back tees.

The downhill par-5 fifteenth is protected by this hazard, making it Bald Mountain’s toughest hole.

Bald Mountain, a par-72, measures only 6,233 yards from the tips, but it’s also unusual for having five par-3s and five par-5s. It’s a short, sporty layout with lots of doglegs and elevation changes. There’s a lot of steep, windy roads leading into the resort, and that suggests the elevation changes on the layout are more pronounced than they really are. Bowles says the elevation is 1,500 feet, but that’s enough to make it interesting for a wide variety of players.  The Carolina Golf Association plays between six and eight events there each year and junior events are also in abundance.

The course has been owned by its homeowners since 1992, and Bowles envisions the day when the resort connection may be dropped.

“It’ll be more attached to the community, which is really what it is – more a homeowners course,’’ he said.

Bald Mountain will soon have a partner course again.  Apply Valley, which was acquired by the resort in 1986, will re-open to the public on Aug. 24.  It has been closed since June to allow for the replacement of bentgrass by Champion Bermuda. Apple Valley was designed by Pinehurst, N.C. architect Dan Maples.  He the son of Ellis Maples, an architectural icon.

“We’re excited about the opportunity to do something in a year we didn’t expect to do anything,’’ said Bowles.  “It was a tough financial decision, but it was the smartest thing to do. We’ll be providing something for people to look forward to.”

 

 

 

GOLF TRAVEL NOTEBOOK: Bath Course coming to Blackwolf Run

 

Here’s a sneak preview of the new 10-hole 1,135-yard Short Course at Forest Dunes, in Roscommon, Mich. Designed by Keith Rhebb and Riley Johns, it’s scheduled to open on Aug. 1 and we’ll be among its first visitors.

Business is reportedly down aty America’s golf destinations, but you certainly can’t blame the operators of those places for that. They have taken aggressive measures to entice golfers back, even in these troublesome pandemic times.

Most notable recent example of that comes from Kohler, Wis., with an announcement only a few days after the Ryder Cup matches were called off there for 2020 and pushed back to 2021 on the fearsome Whistling Straits course.

Blackwolf Run, another Kohler facility that has 36 holes and has hosted major championships on the LPGA Tour, will offer The Baths of Blackwolf Run, a 10-hole par-3 course with a two-acre putting course, food and beverage service and special event capability. It’s scheduled to open in June of 2021, well ahead of the rescheduled Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits.

Chris Lutzke, a Pete Dye disciple, is the architect for the project, but Kohler executive chairman Herb Kohler is on record as the “co-designer.’’

“The par-3 and putting courses will provide a dynamic experience for our international guests and local community,’’ said Kohler. “It’s important for these courses to aid in our continuing efforts to grow the game by creating opportunities for players of all skill levels. The Baths will do it with the Kohler touch to create a unique experience.”

The new features will be built on 27 acres between the first and 11th holes of the Meadow Valleys course at Blackwolf. The par-3 will have holes ranging from 60 to 160 yards and they’ll have four strategic water features, called “Baths,’’ mixed in. They’ll be ideal for groups, couples and corporate events.

Here’s an artist’s rendering of what will soon be a new attraction in Kohler, Wis.

 

 

 

 

WE WILL HAVE TO  take a wait-and-see approach to The Baths, but there are some attractions available now.

For instance:

EAGLE RIDGE, Galena, IL. – The General, a premier course with stunning  elevation changes, now has a new clubhouse, pro shop, restaurant and lounge. The course also has a new look, as the nines have been flipped, allowing for a stunning view of the 18th hole for visitors at the new Highlands Restaurant and Lounge 289.

SOUTHERN PINES, North Carolina – The Donald Ross-designed Southern Pines Golf Club is under new management and will soon have new owners. Kelly Miller, president of the Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club, announced the lease/purchase of the course from the Southern Pines Elks Club. The Pine Needles/Mid Pines management company has taken over the operation of Southern Pines and is working toward a final sale once some infrastructure changes are made.

“I’ve always thought (Southern Pines) is a wonderful golf course,’’ said Miller. “It’s one of the best routings in the area. It has great topography and a set of par-threes that are unmatched anywhere. The club has a lot of fascinating history. It’s a perfect fit for us.’’

The Pinehurst Resort, meanwhile, is preparing to host both the boys and girls High School Golf National Invitational Aug. 3-5. Participants will come from more than 40 states for a three-round 54-hole stroke play competition. The fields are expected to number about 110 for the girls and 250 for the boys.

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. – The 37th playing of the Myrtle Beach World Amateur Handicap Championship couldn’t be stopped by the pandemic. It’ll go on as scheduled from Aug. 31 to Sept 4 with over 2,200 players already registered. The 72-hole tourney usually draws over 3,000. The only drawback to this one is that the World’s Largest 19th Hole won’t be held because of pandemic concerns.

Also at Myrtle, the area’s largest golf course group has decided to allow walking throughout the year. Founders Group International includes TPC Myrtle Beach, King’s North, Pine Lakes and Pawleys Plantation among others.

HILTON HEAD, S.C. – The three premier courses at Sea Pines Resort – Heron Point, Atlantic Dunes and Harbour Town – will host the Lighthouse Invitational, a two-person team competition for men and women amateurs from Sept. 17-20. Harbour Town has already hosted the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage Classic and was rated the No. 1 course in South Carolina in 2019.

BIG CEDAR, Missouri — The facility on the outskirts of Branson has long been a site for PGA Champions Tour events but now it will host two of them in back-to-back weeks.  Both will be 54 hole events carrying a $3 million purse and worldwide television coverage. The first will be at the Buffalo Ridge Course Aug. 19-21 and the seond at Ozarks National Aug. 24-26.  In keeping with pandemic concerns, not spectators will be allowed.

Golf travel has changed, but it’s still fun — especially in the Pinehurst area

The massive double green, serving Mid South’s Nos. 9 and 18 holes, is great for spectators.

SOUTHERN PINES, North Carolina – Traveling to golf destinations has had a big impact on our lifestyle for 10 years. Make no mistake, though. The pandemic affected us big-time, just as it has everyone else.

For eight months we didn’t leave Florida, our home for nearly four years now. We didn’t forget how nice it was to drive around the country in search of golf destinations, however, and that urge sent us on our way to the Carolinas in mid-June. We are among the very first to report on the golf travel beat because we were more than mildly curious about how things had changed.

When we began our 11th year of road trips we targeted familiar destinations. Our journeys in the past had ranged from a couple days to over a month, all of them made by car. This first one of 2020 lasted only nine days. We made the decision to shorten it a few days while already on the road because a couple of our planned destinations reported that not all of their courses were ready for play.

Still, we found that golf vacations are very much doable in the Carolinas – just as they were when the pandemic impact hit full-force on March 12 and shut down the PGA Tour. The destinations that we visited never shut down their courses, but they all suffered from the lack of overnight guests.

We enjoyed eight straight days of golf – three courses in Santee, one in Camden and one in Cheraw in South Carolina and three more in the Pinehurst area of North Carolina. The golf offered at these places was almost like it was pre-pandemic. There was no one-player-per-cart policy and driving ranges and putting greens were in full operation. Tee times were standard and plenty of players took advantage of that.

Pot bunkers were part of the recent renovation that created a new look on what is now The New Course at Talamore.

Sponge or styrofoam donuts were in most all the cups to keep players from reaching into the holes. Most courses still kept rakes out of the bunkers, but one dispensed with that policy and had three in most of its bunkers. While flagsticks were to remain in the holes, one foursome that played in front of us had a money game going and pulled the pin on every hole. That wasn’t smart and slowed down play, but the ranger on duty didn’t protest.

In short, everyone was having a good time – at least on the golf courses where social distancing was no problem.

Off the courses it wasn’t quite the same. Lodging was just starting to pick up and the dining establishments weren’t nearly as busy as they had been in those good old days four months ago. On the way home we were stopped by state police at the Georgia-Florida line and asked where we had been. In our case, at least, that was good enough for them to cheerfully send us on our way.

Our goal on this trip was to portray what golf travel is like in this “new normal’’ period, and we didn’t find it bad at all. We suspect more people will be heading to smaller communities, seeing them as a better alternative to big cities health-wise. We’re seeing more golfers walking on their rounds, and that’s a good thing.

Pine Needles’ No.13 is a downhill par-3 that plays 208 yards from the tips to an undulating green.

The key to having a successful, fun golf trip is in the planning. Lodging can’t be made spur-of-the-moment. Even the bigger hotel chains aren’t operating at full capacity. Buffet lines for breakfast were not allowed. Each diner was served by hotel personnel. Restaurants were available in all locations, but not all were open. Virtually everyone was diligent about sanitizing everything, from the menus in the restaurants to the luggage racks in the hotels.

Strangely, it seemed, clubhouses at the courses were not catering to diners. They mainly provided just beverage service.

As for the overall experience, we saved the best for last. It shouldn’t surprise any traveling golfer that the Pinehurst area was clearly the most prepared for these troubling times. We played lots of courses that were aerating their greens at the start of the trip, but that wasn’t the case at either Talamore Golf Resort or Pine Needles – long-time Pinehurst area favorites.

The two Talamore courses had undergone renovations since our last visit. The original Rees Jones-designed Talamore, which opened in 1991 and drew nationwide attention for have llama caddies, is now called The New Course at Talamore. The llamas are still there – at least we saw two of them headquartered near the No. 14 tee. A good photo op, even though llamas have no duties on the course anymore.

Construction on the Mid South Club, the other course at the Talamore Resort, started in 1988 but the course didn’t open until 1993. An Arnold Palmer design, it was acquired by Talamore in 2004.

Mid South also had its greens converted from bentgrass to champion bermuda. The spectacular double green for holes 9 and 18 is still the biggest eye-catcher on the property but clearly the work done on both layouts as well as in the accompanying villas represent a major upgrade.

The concluding round on our trip was at Pine Needles. It’s always a treat to play there.

Pine Needles is the first course to be awarded four U.S. Women’s Opens by the U.S. Golf Association. The fourth U.S. Women’s Open will be played at Pine Needles in 2022. Previous ones were in 1996, 2001 and 2007.

A covered driving range is a unique feature at Pine Needles, which will host a record fourth U.S. Women’s Open in 2022.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: www.TalamoreGolfResort.com, PineNeedlesLodge.com, HomeofGolf.com.

 

This history-rich town has a Donald Ross golf course — and much, much more

This isn’t famed Pinehurst No. 2. Instead it’s from another Donald Ross course — his only 18-hole design in South Carolina.

CAMDEN, S.C. – Camden, a town of about 7,000 residents, has a Donald Ross-designed golf course. That made it fair game for us on our first travel writing trip of 2020. There’s much more to Camden than that, however.

Camden, a beautiful little town, is less than an hour’s drive from the state capital of Columbia. South Carolina’s oldest inland town, it’s also the home of the National Steeplechase Museum which consists of 160 stalls and several tracks for both training and racing purposes on its 600 acres. Horse aficionados are well aware of Camden. It hosted the Carolina Cup beginning in 1932, and this year’s pandemic forced its cancelation for the first time in 85 years.

The community of Camden dates back to 1732 and was the site of the 1780 Battle of Camden, a critical part of the Revolutionary War. Now Camden has a 104-acre museum and park celebrating the town’s colonial American history.

Camden also has its extraordinary Antique Street, and the Camden Archives and Museum boasts “the best gun collection in the South.’’ In addition Camden was the home of Larry Doby, the first African American player in baseball’s American League and it has the best Mexican restaurant we’ve ever visited, called Salud. The nearby Sam Kendall’s is quite good, as well.

We were set up at an elegant bed and breakfast, called Four Oaks Inn. We also tested a tasty lunch place, Everyday Gourmet.

These railroad tracks designate out of bounds on two holes at Camden Country Club.

Oh, but did I mention that Camden also has a Donald Ross golf course? That’s what brought us here in the first place, though it’s hardly the town’s main attraction.

Camden Country Club is a private facility but with a community feel to it. Golfers who want to play there can set up a round with help from your local head professional. Matt McCarley holds that title at Camden. A former Camden assistant professional, Clayton Daniels, owns Everyday Gourmet. He was also our most affable playing partner and golf historian during our stay in Camden.

The legendary Ross has his name on many courses, and he wasn’t the first to create a golf course on the land that houses Camden Country Club. Another American golf pioneer, Walter Travis, did that in 1903 – four years after the club was awarded its charter.

Executive director Toby Edwards was a gracious host at the Steeplechase Museum.

At that time the course was part of the Kirkwood Inn Resort. It’s long gone, as it became the Camden Country Club after Ross arrived in the 1920s. He put in the putting surfaces that remain the trademark of layout – the only 18-hole Donald Ross course in South Carolina. (The other three Ross designs are nine-holers).

The club lost its clubhouse when Hurricane Hugo hit in 1989 and the Ross design underwent only one significant updating of the course came under the direction of North Carolina architect Kris Spence in 2011. Camden CC played close to 30,000 rounds during its heyday in the 1990s. Now it’s a bit less than that, but the club still has nearly 400 members – not bad for a town of that size.

Camden’s course measures 6,669 yards from the back tees and 4,552 from the front. It’s a par-70 and has been the home of the Carolinas Golf Association Men’s Four-Ball Championship for more than 50 years.

Danny Allen was Camden’s superintendent for 38 years until his recent retirement. He groomed a course that has five sets of tees, and they all make for a pleasant walking course experience.

There’s also a couple other things you should know about Camden CC. A railroad track runs through it, and serves as an out of bounds marker on two of the back nine holes but especially at the par-4 fourteenth. At 498 yards from the back tees it’s the toughest hole on the course.

No. 5 was also made famous by a quote from the legendary Gene Sarazen, one of the many greats of the game who visited the course decades ago. The fifth measures just 320 yards from the tips and is a par-4, but Sarazen described as “the shortest par-5 that I’ve ever played.’’ That’s because of the devilish small green that Ross designed. If you miss the pin just a hair to the left this short par-4 becomes par-5 only if you’re lucky enough to hit a great bunker shot or make a long putt.

I know what Sarazen was talking about. I couldn’t do it either.

Camden, S.C., may be a small town but it’s big on historical significance.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Camden Country Club, camdencountryclub.com; National Steeplechase Museum, www.nationalsteeplechasemuseum.org; Four Oaks Inn, www.fouroaksinn.com; and for general information, www.historiccamden.org; www.OldeEnglishDistrict.com, www.CityofCamden.org.

Cheraw State Park’s golf course is a true hidden gem

No. 13 is one tough par-4, a dogleg left with a green well protected by water.

I must admit that I was surprised to see the Cheraw State Park Golf Course included on the itinerary when trip planner Martin Armes lined our first golf/travel writing journey of 2020. Though we have been making such driving trips several times a year over the last 10 years we had never heard of the town of Cheraw, S.C., much less its golf course.

Though never reluctant to check out hidden gems, this one wasn’t really close to any of the other destinations on our itinerary. After visiting this South Carolina layout, however, I must admit that Martin was right. Cheraw is a great track.

In fact, since the calendar turned to 2020 we have played 20 courses and Cheraw is clearly the best of those. (That may change over the next three days when we have rounds on courses in the Pinehurst. N.C, area). None of the immediately upcoming courses are at the iconic Pinehurst Resort, but the Pinehurst area is loaded with good golf options.

As for Cheraw State Park Golf Course, it opened in 1992 and gets heavy play from Canadian golfers who like to rent cabins on the park grounds. Its superintendent, Chris Flowers, is considered top notch and the course was in the best condition of any we’ve seen so far in 2020. Its big clubhouse is also impressive.

Tom Jackson, a course architect based in Greenville, S.C., was the designer and his best hole was No. 13 – a sharp dogleg left par-4 that plays 492 yards from the back tees. The green is protected by water in front, to the left, behind the green and most of the right side. There are other challenging holes at Cheraw, but this one clearly merits its designation as the No. 1 handicap hole.

Jackson worked for both Robert Trent Jones Sr. and George Cobb before starting his own architectural firm in 1971. He’s built over 100 courses, nearly half of them in the Carolinas.

One interesting side note: Cheraw was the first course we’ve played this season that had rakes available in all the bunkers. They had been banned on most restriction lists mandated by the pandemic.

Cheraw measures 6,928 yards from the back tees and can play as short as 5,408. For more information check out www.playcheraw.com.

Cheraw State Park has a clubhouse that’s bigger and better than most public facilities.

This South Carolina town may be small, but its golf is big time

Palmetto Traverse isn’t a putting course — it’s a putting experience that all can enjoy.

SANTEE, S.C. – Less than 1,000 people live in Santee – a little town between Charleston and Columbia – but the South Carolina community has three quality golf courses within a few miles of each other, plenty of lodging and an ample supply of restaurants highlighted by the iconic Clark’s Restaurant and Inn, a fixture since 1946.

Santee mayor Donnie Hilliard likes to say “We have less than 1,000 here during the day, but potentially 20,000 on the weekends.’’ They come in big numbers for the golf, and more were starting to trickle in after Palmetto Traverse – a unique putting attraction — was opened last fall.

Then the pandemic hit.

“For us it wasn’t just the lack of revenue but the timing of it all,’’ said Todd Miller, general manager of Santee Cooper Resort. “After Traverse opened we got some momentum going. Then all this (pandemic concerns and inevitable restrictions) happened and we don’t know if it’s done yet. That’s the hard part. All we can compare it to in our area is the hurricanes, and they come and go.’’

The three-course triumvirate consists of Santee Cooper Country Club, a George Cobb design that opened in 1967; Lake Marion, designed by Eddie Riccono for a 1978 opening; and Santee National, a Porter Gibson creation that made its debut in 1989.

A pool and dining area were among the more recent additions to Santee’s Lake Marion course.

And then came Palmetto Traverse, a natural grass putting course.

Putting courses aren’t exactly new. Many golf facilities – even storied St. Andrews in Scotland – have them as an extra amenity for their golfers. Palmetto Traverse isn’t one of the bigger such courses, but it is one of the best.

Rather than call it a “putting course,’’ Palmetto Traverse has been labeled a “putting experience’’ — and it is that. Built over 35,000 square feet near the Lake Marion course. Palmetto Traverse was designed by Kris Spence, an architect based in Greensboro, N.C., with help from Miller and Santee marketing director Robbie Wooten.

You putt from black “tee’’ markers and holes are labeled with white flags. A 260-foot putt is possible, but not necessary. The layout offers putts breaking in all directions, some steeply uphill and some sharply downhill. Two bunkers are also included. That’s the real attraction of the place, not the gimmicks.

There isn’t much of a walk between holes, making Palmetto Traverse a nice social diversion after a round as well as a challenging pre-round practice exercise.

Santee National, the newest of the town’s courses, now rates as our personal favorite.

“We created the concept over what Pinehurst had done (on its Thistle Du layout) – a short, fun course,’’ said Miller, who has been with the Santee organization since 1998. “It was a way for us to introduce the game to anyone and yet experienced players can enjoy it just as much – if not more.’’

Morgan has witnessed changes, particularly in 2017 when 10 golf villas, a swimming pool and commercial laundry were added, but Palmetto Traverse has been the most exciting new feature. It alone couldn’t turn the tide when the pandemic hit, though.

“Santee has been what we always have been – laid back, relaxed,’’ said Miller. “We never did close. For us the biggest negative impact was that people couldn’t or wouldn’t travel. We were open for our inexpensive golf but literally had no revenue from our lodging.’’

That’s starting to change now, and there’s one thing that has always helped Santee…location, location, location. Located off I-95 at Exit 98, it’s a convenient stop for golf trips of all sizes. And, if the three solid Santee courses aren’t enough there’s another 11 in close proximity.

The trio at Santee is enough, though. In our first visit, in 2014, we considered Lake Marion the best of the three. It’s closest to the most lodging and dining facilities in addition to Palmetto Traverse.

This time, though, we’re switching our favorite to Santee National. It has a nice mixture of holes with lots of doglegs and a particularly tight, demanding back nine. Santee Cooper Country Club, a short, sporty layout located in a gated community, has 300 members but is also open to play by resort guests.

For more information check out www.SanteeCooperGolf.com.

The finishing hole at Santee Cooper Country Club has an unusual backdrop with a long bridge in the background.

Palmetto Traverse isn’t your usual putting green

This unique putting green in Santee, S.C., is good for both competition and putting practice.
Putting courses aren’t exactly new. Many golf facilities – even storied St. Andrews in Scotland – are adding them as a extra amenity at their facilities. The one that we played Monday in Santee, S.C., is one of the better ones. It’s called Palmetto Traverse.

Santee is a town of barely 1,000 residents but its golf – three good courses within just a few miles of each other – is big-time. The recently-constructed putting course has 18 holes built over 35,000 square feet near the Lake Marion course. We visited Santee in 2015 and liked the golf atmosphere there then. We like it more with the putting course designed by Kris Spence, an architect base in Greensboro, N.C., with help from Santee marketing director Robbie Wooten.

Rather than call it a “putting course,’’ Palmetto Traverse been labeled as a “putting experience.’’ You putt from black “tee’’ markers and holes are labeled with white flags. A 260-foot putt is possible but the layout offers putts breaking in all directions, some steeply uphill and some sharply downhill. Two bunkers are also included. There isn’t much of a walk between holes, making Palmetto Traverse a nice diversion after a round as well as a challenging pre-round exercise.

Jensen Beach Golf Club: How Sweet-ish will this course get?

Johan Tumba, the son of a Swedish sports legend, has his own dreams for Jensen Beach Golf Club.
Johan Tumba, son of a Swedish sports legend, has big dreams for Jensen Beach.

JENSEN BEACH, FL. – Eagle Marsh Golf Club, a Tommy Fazio design, was well-received on Florida’s Treasure Coast when it opened in 1997.  Now Eagle Marsh is no more – but its future is by no means a sad one.

JENSEN BEACH, Florida — Two entrepreneurs from Sweden, Johan Tumba and Joakim Sabel,  purchased the struggling layout, then known as Eagle Marsh, on Sept. 20, 2019.  In just eight months the course has been renamed – it’s now called Jensen Beach Golf Club – and it’s getting a facelift that looks better each day.

“We have big dreams.  We want to be in the top 20 in Florida. We set high goals,’’ said Tumba. “This course was ranked No. 1 in all of America for new courses when it opened (in 1997), and the layout and routing is there.’’

The course didn’t have much of a following when Tumba and Sabel purchased it in what they call a “private agreement.’’  The name change, insisted upon by Sabel, was an indication of that.

“There was too bad a rap on the other (name),’’ said Tumba.  “It had gone down the drain.  We wanted to make a fresh start with that name, and we’re inside of Jensen Beach Country Club. It was a good move.’’

Sabel is a former European PGA pro but the Tumba name would be more familiar to fans of more sports than just golf. Johan’s father is Sven Tumba, and he was athletic royalty in his heyday.

Colorful new flags were an immediate hit after Jensen Beach’s ownership change.

In hockey he was Sweden’s star player in eight World Championships and four Winter Olympics en route to being named to the International Hockey Hall of Fame in 1997.  He also played on Sweden’s national soccer team, was the Swedish national champion in water skiing and also represented Sweden in international golf competitions. In golf he was also the founder of the Scandinavian Open and designed several courses, including the first one in the Soviet Union.

“According to Jack Nicklaus my Dad was one of the greatest athletes he ever met,’’ said Johan.  “He was also a real nice dad.’’

It was Sven, who died in 2011 at the age of 80, who started Johan in golf at age 5.  Johan made frequent trips to Florida after his parents moved to West Palm Beach in 1982 and went on to attend college in Palm Beach. Now living on Singer Island, Tumba remains an avid player but course ownership is his main focus.

He was briefly part of a group that purchased The Fox Club, a long-time private club that recently turned public, and was unsuccessful in a bid to buy another Florida course, Hammock Creek. Both those courses are in Palm City.

When the opportunity to acquire Eagle Marsh surfaced, Tumba and Sabel took it over with two investment partners who are also from Sweden.  Tumba is the chief operating officer and has taken a hands-on approach, even to the point of spending considerable time in a massive cleanup project on the course.

“The course never did close, but it was almost unplayable,’’ he said.  “I’m hands-on – cutting new lines for the fairways and shaping the course the way I want it — because we want everything to look good.  We have a lot to do to get there, but we’re making the course more playable again.  We’re killing all the weeds, and getting the greens in great shape.  Everything is going good.’

Good enough for the owners to already make some aggressive marketing moves.  They took out ads on the telecast of  “The Match: Champions for Charity’’ that featured Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.  That high-profile event was played at the Medalist Club in nearby Hobe Sound. Tumba’s group is also contacting nearby hotels in hopes of establishing travel packages for international visitors.

In addition to work on the course Jensen Beach Golf Club is getting new flooring in its clubhouse and a liquor license, and the restaurant is opening again. Plus, the multi-colored flags on each green may be the most striking I’ve ever seen.

Signs of a massive cleanup effort are particularly evident on Jensen Beach’s back nine.

All the on-course work started after consulting with Tommy Fazio II, the original designer who is also the nephew of Tom Fazio and son of Jim Fazio – both prominent architects.

“We had Tommy here for five-six hours,’’ said Tumba.  “He gave me directions on what to do, which I totally agreed with.  He sees what a player might see, too.  We opened up a lot of the vistas.  This year is for cleaning up.  In Phase 2 we’ll bring back the original design and start building some cottages.  We’re in for the long haul.’’

While Tumba loved the natural beauty of the course, he will continue to work with Fazio, a Jupiter resident.

“I’d never do anything without speaking to him first,’’ said Tumba.  “Right now the course is a bit too tough for the average golfer, but it’s a gem.  I fell in love with it. It’s an absolutely beautiful place that just needs some tender loving care. We’re going to polish this gem up and make it beautiful again.’’

Two greens and tee options allow No. 18 to be played anywhere from 230 to 454 yards.