An introduction to Charleston
One of the most beloved cities in South Carolina, people seem to gravitate towards Charleston for a whole number of reasons. As we’ll explore, golf courses in Charleston is surely one of them.
This Southern Belle city has a charm which reaches right back to the era of the Old South. Showcased in the old cobbled streets, exquisite architecture and numerous aristocratic veranda-fronted homes surrounded by lush verdant landscaping. This is like stepping back in time.
The city attracts millions of tourists annually, with more than enough attractions to satisfy the history lovers out there. Indulge yourself in a horse-drawn carriage through the Historic District. Admire the colors on offer at Rainbow Row.
Or visit the wander round Fort Sumter, where the first shots were fired in the American Civil War. Although today it is a calming National Park. Even the journey to the Fort is an attraction to itself. A ferry ride across Charleston Harbor with magnificent views back across the city skyline.
I could keep listing the historical attractions. A humbling visit to the Old Slave Mart Museum in the French Quarter. The Charleston Museum. Or even a visit to the still-working plantation of Boone Hall are all incredibly popular.
For the more adventure minded, aside from touring the USS Yorktown at Patriot’s Point, a popular activity is cycling across the modern Ravenel Bridge. The bridge joins downtown Charleston with Mount Pleasant and has a biking/pedestrian lane which offers great views back to the city.
There is so much to see and do in Charleston. You can understand why this is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the South.
The best golf courses in Charleston South Carolina
Bulls Bay Golf Club
Hidden away amongst the tidal salt marshes northeast of Charleston, is the phenomenal and unique golf club of Bulls Bay.
Just a half hour’s drive from downtown, Bulls Bay is truly one-of-a-kind. It was in the 1990s that owner Joe Rice commissioned the architect Mike Strantz to transform this stretch of Lowcountry coastline into a top-class golf course.
Strantz is without doubt a gifted architect, and one who never shys from trying something bold. So much so, he is the self-proclaimed maverick in the world of golf course design. Other iconic designs on his C.V. include the superb Tobacco Road just north of Pinehurst and the Top 100 Caledonia.
Bulls Bay defies the norm and throws up features one wouldn’t necessarily expect to see in the coastal plains native to this part of the world. Two million cubic yards of earth were moved to reshape the site with one huge hill built centrally. Subsequently, it enabled a number of elevated greens and it is on this hill which sits the clubhouse.
The undulating fairways were built to be relatively generous to accommodate the prevailing winds which sweep across the course. The firm and sandy terrain is more reminiscent of Scotland than it is of Charleston.
From the back tees, the course measures just over 7,200 yards. But the course is still immensely playable, especially with a choice of five tees on each hole. You can walk here, but with a number of hikes up and down the hill, it might be sensible to use a buggy!
Wild Dunes Golf Club (Links)
The location of the Wild Dunes golf resort is quite special. Nestled at the far end of the Isle of Palms, separated from the mainland by the Intercoastal Waterway. There is very little separating the course from the wild Atlantic Ocean.
The resort offers two public golf courses, the Harbor and the Links. It is widely accepted that the Links is the better of the two. So much so, not long after it first opened, it was rated as one of the Top 100 golf courses in the world.
Times have however changed. Although this Tom Fazio designed course may well have been highly rated, the world’s Top 100 is maybe a little (wildly) over-zealous! But that said, it is a great course in a stunning location. It is also designed by one of the finest golf course architects we’ve ever seen.
Compared to many other golf courses near Charleston, the fairways are narrow. This is a surprise considering when it was first built, there wouldn’t have been any houses lining the fairways. Thus the course would have been more exposed to the strong Atlantic winds.
Lagoons and salt marshes flank many of the fairways, eagerly lapping up stray shots, leading up to well-protected greens.
Yeamans Hall Club
As you cross the railway tracks and enter the gates at Yeamans Hall Club, it really does feel like you’re a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of modern life.
Playing the course at Yeamans Hall Club is like stepping back in time. You’re playing traditional golf as it would have been enjoyed back in the early twentieth century.
There are so many classical golf course design traits being showcased here. In a way, Charleston and all its historical landmarks, is the perfect home to a course like Yeamans Hall.
The course was designed by Seth Raynor and opened for play in 1925. Raynor was generous with the fairways, keeping them relatively straight and wide. The routing is fascinating and despite the fact there are only a couple of doglegs to contend with, it keeps you hooked the whole time.
But this is a course where it is all about the green complexes. There are false fronts, punchbowl greens, a redan, fall-offs, raised greens, swales, with nearly every green either rectangular or square.
Live oaks and magnolias are ever-present and give plenty of character to the site. Yeamans Hall really is a special place and without doubt one of the best golf courses in Charleston.
Country Club of Charleston
The Country Club of Charleston is as close to downtown without actually being in it. All that separates this prime spot from the town center is the tidal Ashley River.
Clearly acquiring such land these days would be prohibitively expensive. Yet the history of this club stretches way back to the late eighteenth century! But the course we know today first opened for play in 1925 and was designed by Seth Raynor. The same man who was responsible for the layout at Yeamans Hall Club.
Raynor’s courses are renowned for their recurring use of strategy and design, primarily found on traditional Scottish golf courses. Therefore, like Yeamans Hall Club, don’t be surprised to find the well-known ‘Redan’ hole and an ‘Eden’ green.
Over the years the course has benefitted from investment to renovate Raynor’s design. John LaFoy in the 90s, Brain Silva in 2006 and Kyle Franz between 2016-2018. They all carefully took turns in recapturing that Raynor magic.
Overall, the land here is largely flat, but its exposed position means the coastal winds will inevitably come into play. To score well, your short game has to be on point. Certainly on the back nine, where each shot can make or ruin your scorecard.
Some high profile tournaments have been held here including the U.S. Women’s Open in 2019, which was won by South Korea’s Jeong-eun Lee. There has also been the U.S Women’s Amateur Championship, and the annual Azalea Invitational.
Daniel Island (Beresford Creek)
The exquisite Daniel Island is a private club located on Daniel Island, a short drive north of downtown Charleston. The site has a distinct coastal setting, tucked between Ralston Creek on one side, and Nowell Creek on the other. Naturally, its location affords some magnificent views out towards the city.
There are two outstanding courses onsite. Ralston Creek designed by the highly reputed Rees Jones; and Beresford Creek, designed by the legendary architect Tom Fazio. These two architectural heavyweights clearly would never come to blows, but if one course was to come out on top, Beresford Creek might just be the one.
Measuring just under 7,200 yards from the back tees, the course plots its way through pristine open marshes, creeks, and a network of waterways. As you would expect from a Fazio course, it is expansive with plenty of drama and challenge.
Soon after opening in 2000, Golfweek Magazine recognised it as one of the nation’s top real estate courses. Expect nothing but the finest condition.
Kiawah Island Resort (Ocean)
Kiawah Island is one of the most popular golf resorts in the U.S.. It also has one of the best golf courses in the world, the Ocean Course.
So good is the Ocean course, it was the host venue to the 1991 Ryder Cup. Known as the ‘War on the Shore’, where Europe marginally managed to hold onto the cup for another two years.
It has also been host to a number of PGA Championships, when the course plays to its longest and most penal.
It was in the 2012 championship when the Ocean course measured a hefty 7,676 yards, wiping out most of the field. One person who did manage to prevail was a young Northern Irishman called Rory McIlroy who beat the rest of the field by a phenomenal eight shots!
Kiawah Island is in fact a barrier island 25 miles south of Charleston fronted by the Atlantic Ocean. It is primarily a private beach and golf resort. There are numerous ocean fronted villas, beaches and a collection of golf courses all owned by the Kiawah Island Resort.
Clearly the Ocean Course is head and shoulders above the others, but for resort guests you have three other courses to choose from; Osprey Point, Turtle Point and Cougar Point. All three are great fun and well worth playing.
The Ocean course was designed by Pete Dye and opened for play in 1991. Surprisingly, this was the same year it hosted the Ryder Cup. This is penal golf with aside from its outrageous length, long wispy rough and brutal coastal breezes.
This is without doubt a bucket list course.
Golf Club at Briar’s Creek
Tucked away in 800 acres of land on St John’s Island, just the other side of the Kiawah River from the Kiawah Island Resort, is the unheralded Golf Club at Briar’s Creek.
The spot is sensational, a private retreat in South Carolina’s lowlands offering a step away from the stress and noise of modern living. This is a prime example of a golf course which has been designed to seamlessly integrate with its surrounding environment.
I guess a large part of this sterling work was due to the fact they employed a golf course architect at the top of his game. Rees Jones, the ‘Open Doctor’, was commissioned to route the private Briar’s Creek and this is a masterpiece.
Surrounded by creeks and wetlands, there is no shortage of water. Bunkers are not used profligately but strategically, adding to the challenge where Jones thought it absolutely necessary.
Very little of the surrounding environment was spoiled during the build of the course, which opened in 2002. As such you will inevitably encounter thriving wildlife during the round, as well as many superb views of the Kiawah River.
Kiawah Island Club (Cassique & River)
And finally, on to the superb and private Kiawah Island Club. This extravagant club is the epitome of first-class service and amenities, and was built as an exclusive member’s club for property owners on Kiawah Island.
As you would expect at one of these exclusive places, there is a litany of different facilities on offer including shooting, kayaking, kids activity areas, you name it. But the attraction for us is the two top class golf courses, each just as good as the other.
The first of the two courses to be built was Tom Fazio’s River course. It was routed with a number of holes running alongside the river’s edge, whilst working through a variety of other landscapes. Those included savannahs, blissful ponds and, towards the end of the round, maritime forests.
As to be expected with any Fazio layout, there is an abundance of challenging holes. Stray shots will more than likely be penalized so straight hitting is critical.
In contrast to Fazio’s River course, is the Tom Watson designed Cassique. Unlike the River course, the Cassique measures just shy of 7,000 yards from the backs, but don’t be fooled into thinking this will make things easier.
More links-style in design, the course meanders through the same marshes and savannahs, but embodies a typical Irish links course in its style. There is little protection from the Ocean winds, so although it is a little more forgiving than its sister course, ball control is essential.
Both courses are sublime and are without doubt some of the finest golf courses near Charleston.
What is the best golf course in Charleston?
The best golf course in Charleston, South Carolina, is the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Resort. It was designed by Pete Dye and has hosted both a PGA Championship and Ryder Cup.