An introduction to South Carolina
South Carolina is squeezed between two larger states, North Carolina to the north and Georgia to the west, just across the Savannah River. This is an epic state with many golf courses in South Carolina considered the best in the country.
The eastern border of the state is nearly 2,900 miles of coastline to the Atlantic Ocean.
Along the coastline are some hugely popular destinations including the historic city of Charleston. This also happens to be the most populated city in South Carolina and it arguably one of the most popular holiday destinations in the South.
The capital is Columbia, located right in the heart of things at the epicenter of the state. But when it comes to golf courses, the vast majority are dotted along the coastline. Running from Hilton Head on the border with Georgia, through Charleston, right up to the golfing mecca of Myrtle Beach.
South Carolina has three distinctive geographic regions; the Atlantic coastal plain in the east, the Piedmont in its center and lastly the Blue Ridge Mountains in the north west. It is here where two of the state’s largest cities are located; Greenville and Spartanburg. This is where many other top class golf courses are clustered.
But in this post, we’re going to look at the creme-de-la-creme of the region, the best golf courses in South Carolina.
The best golf courses in South Carolina
Long Cove Club
Hilton Head Island is a wonderful place, with stunning beaches looking out onto the Atlantic Ocean. It also has some superb golf courses, one of which is the top class Long Cove golf club.
This is a Pete Dye classic, one of many amenities at the Long Cove Club. Some of the other amenities include a deep water marina, tennis courts, outdoor pool and much more. But golf takes center stage and for good reason.
The design was actually a combined effort between Pete and Alice Dye, with Alice rumored to have been a leveling voice in the project. Pete is known for his challenging and brutal designs, with harsh angles and holes which can have you pondering how to attack them.
But here at Long Cove, the fairways are wider, the angles are less-pronounced. Generally this is a more accommodating course for mid to higher handicap golfers.
That said, don’t expect this to be easy. As per the topography of the South Carolina Lowlands, marshes and water come into play on most holes. Stray shots will be eagerly consumed and therefore straight shooting is essential.
Be assured of immaculate conditioning, an exquisite design and a great day out!
Chechessee Creek Golf Club
Another course in the Carolina Lowcountry, Chechessee Creek is located between the resort island of Hilton Head and the historic town of Beaufort.
The club opened for play in 2000 and was the first Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw designed golf course in South Carolina. Chechessee Creek is a private club and oozes charm and character. The clubhouse was designed in a cottage style vibe, partly to promote the unpretentious nature the club aims to portray.
Along these lines, the club commissioned the design duo of Coore and Crenshaw. They are renowned for producing top class golf courses which work seamlessly with the natural environment, rather than exerting themselves upon it.
The site is characterized by hundreds of magnificent live oaks and long-needle pines. The Spanish ivy and marshes are also in abundance. The design is low-key, with all the play coming into the subtle strategic decisions and precise shot-making. Each time you play here, some of the nuances start to reveal themselves and you become more and more gripped.
The raised greens and bunkering are sensational. Like the rest of the course, it may not blow you away the first time, but will reveal more layers on each additional round.
Simply put, this golf course is exceptional. It is without doubt one of the finest golf courses in South Carolina.
Palmetto Golf Club
Chicago Golf Club has the prestige of being able to call itself the oldest golf club in the United States. But Palmetto can confidently call itself the second oldest.
A rudimentary layout was first routed here way back in 1892 with the official 18-holes opening in 1895. But what you play today has evolved positively since then. Positively, as so many golf courses lose their original character through over-zealous renovations or updates.
But here at Palmetto, despite numerous iconic golf course architects having been given green light to upgrade the course, it has evolved in a manner conducive to its core personality. Donald Ross, Alister MacKenzie, Rees Jones, and most recently Gil Hanse have all worked wonders over the years.
The layout is tight and absolutely demands precision play. The green complexes are on a different level, small and featuring numerous run-offs and fall-outs. If you’re not striking it absolutely perfectly, forget about scoring well.
Yes this is a private course, but most years during Masters Week, the course opens its doors to the public. Just be prepared to fork out around $1,400 for the opportunity.
Bull’s Bay Golf Club
This one-of-a-kind golf club can be reached in just a thirty minute drive from downtown Charleston on the Carolina coastline. This is an area epitomized by tidal salt marshes and coastal plains.
You might then be excused for thinking Bulls Bay is going to be relatively flat and swampy. Wrong. Firm sandy terrain, gently undulating fairways, and a central hill in the middle of the plot juxtapose the norm.
Two million cubic yards of earth were shifted when constructing the course with the view to building something quite unique in the area. So it may not come as a surprise the architect involved was Mike Strantz.
Strantz was an immensely gifted architect, with Bulls Bay being one of his last projects before sadly passing away in the year 2005. But he certainly made his presence felt here. The course stretches to over 7,200 yards and is more reminiscent of a course in the British Isles than Charleston.
Bulls Bay remains open to all abilities with five sets of tees on each hole. This is one of those courses you absolutely have to tick off when in South Carolina.
Congaree Golf Club
The story of this golf club is simply unique, possibly even unbelievable.
Two billionaires, both of whom already own ridiculously good golf clubs, decide to convert an old rice plantation. They would convert it into a part golf club, part educational coaching facility. The beneficiaries would be a handful of young students to receive additional tutoring pre-attending university.
Can you repeat?
Yes, agreed. Say that again! This is philanthropy on steroids. But rather than stand bemused at the oddity of Congaree, at its core this is actually a unique example of benevolence on another level.
Sadly, one of the billionaires is deceased, but their legacies will live on with the Congaree Foundation. The club doesn’t have any members, it has ‘ambassadors’. These are individuals who make a donation and in part identify young individuals who may benefit from the foundation’s support.
So on to the course. It was designed by Tom Fazio and opened for play in 2017. It is rumored the course can stretch to over 8,000 yards, but officially from the back tees it is a mere 7,725. Straight hitting is essential to avoid the large waste-areas which seem omnipresent.
The site itself is nearly 3,200 acres, although during the build of the course literally thousands of pine trees were removed to create sandy waste areas flanking pristine bunkers.
To replace the pines, more than a hundred mature trees were planted, including live oaks, which were painstakingly relocated and preserved. The greens are superb, large and open fronted. This is one-of-a-kind.
Yeamans Hall Club
The course at Yeamans Hall Club is like time stood still. One could imagine stepping back to the early twentieth century and playing a classic golf track at the top of its game.
The layout was first routed back in 1925 and is just a twenty-five minute drive from central Charleston. In a way it feels inevitable that Yeamans Hall Club was going to be near Charleston. This is a city which pervades a sense of history and prides itself on having retained so much of its original charm and landmarks. Well the same can be said of Yeamans Hall Club.
Seth Raynor was the architect given the task of routing the course, and for those who know Raynor’s work, they won’t be surprised to witness the traditional design features on show.
Most of these features are focused on the green complexes. The fairways themselves are relatively straight-forward, what you see is what you get. But the same can’t be said for the greens.
Nearly every green has been constructed in either a square or rectangle and there are false fronts, numerous fall-offs, a redan, punchbowl greens, raised greens…this is something else.
Tom Doak was brought in around the turn of the century to upgrade the complexes, but aside from enlarging the general surface area of them, very little else was changed. This is a unique place and if you do get an invite to play here, prepare yourself for a special day.
Sage Valley Golf Club
Closer to Augusta in Georgia than it is to any major cities in South Carolina, Sage Valley oozes a lot of the design traits you would find at some of the iconic golf courses surrounding Augusta.
The site is characterized by long pines, azaleas, rolling hills and enough water to keep things interesting. The club is a private national membership golf and gun club and occupies an immense 9,500 acres. Be prepared for five-star service and facilities on another level.
It was in 2001 the renowned Tom Fazio was commissioned to masterplan the course routing, and boy must he have been happy with the natural setting here. In typical Fazio fashion, the course can play tough, with at its longest, stretching to well over 7,300 yards.
The first three holes are arguably some of the best opening holes you will find anywhere, although there is genuinely not a weak hole. From the elevated tees, many of the fairways are generous, so you can hit the big-dog on most holes. But with many par 4s requiring a long iron or wood as your second shot, being straight off the tee is essential.
When walking the fairways, you simply can’t help being blown away by the atmosphere and tranquility of the place. If you do want to play here, the club opens its doors during Masters week. Clearly it will be busier than normal, but it is absolutely one to tick off the list.
Kiawah Island Resort (Ocean)
Kiawah Island is a private barrier island which features a number of beaches and golf courses. There are some pretty special courses on the island, but without doubt the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Resort is the one most people will be coming to play.
And this is no ‘average’ course. This is a golf course in the world’s Top 100. It is a golf course which has hosted major championships. And it has also hosted the 1991 Ryder Cup, nicknamed the ‘War on the Shore’, where Europe only just managed to maintain their grip on the cup.
This outstanding course was designed by Pete Dye and opened for play in 1991, the same year it hosted the Ryder Cup. Perfectly manicured fairways are flanked by large tracts of water, long wispy rough and vast bunkers.
This is penal, challenging golf at the best of times, let alone when the Atlantic sea breezes are blowing across the site. From the championship tees, the course can extend to nearly 7,700 yards, a setup it tends to feature when hosting the tour pros.
This is without doubt a bucket list course although just make sure you choose which tees you’re playing off carefully!
Harbour Town Golf Links
Hilton Head Island is set right down on South Carolina’s southernmost coastline, close to the border with Georgia. The island is renowned for being a lush retreat with beautiful beaches and other attractions.
Golf of course is a major attraction, particularly Sea Pines Resort, which features three championship 18-hole courses. One of these is the superb Harbour Town, which opened for play back in 1969 and was designed by Pete and Alice Dye.
This refreshing layout is a complete contrast to the modern day behemoth layouts requiring you to muscle your way round. Instead, Harbour Town is all about strategy, deft touches, acute angles and precision play around the greens. This is about accuracy, not length.
The setting is delightful with magnificent views out onto the estuary. Many people will recognise the distinctive red and white lighthouse which sits behind the feared 18th hole green.
Harbour Town is also a regular feature on the PGA Tour, hosting the RBC Heritage. But the great thing is the fact the course is open to the public and as a resort guest, the course is yours.
Caledonia Golf & Fish Club
South Carolina’s northern coastline is where you will find the golfing mecca of Myrtle Beach. There are nearly 100 golf courses in this stretch of land which runs from Georgetown in the south right up past the border with North Carolina. It really is a unique place.
Yet right at the southern end of the coastline towards the historic town of Georgetown, is the one-of-a-kind Caledonia Golf & Fish Club. Out of the 90 or so golf courses in Myrtle Beach, Caledonia is right up there as one of, if not the best golf course.
It was designed by the maverick golf course architect Mike Strantz, whose untimely death at the age of 50 curtailed one of the most promising careers in golf course architecture. Yet in his relatively short career, Strantz designed some outstanding courses.
Caledonia Golf & Fish club is right up there as one of his best. Unlike some of his other masterpieces, there wasn’t quite as much earth shifted in this build. But the end product is just as good, if not better.
The beauty of the site is sensational, with century old oaks a constant backdrop and wildlife thriving in the corner of the eye and along the Waccamaw River.
The plot is far smaller than some of the modern courses we experience today, a mere 152 acres. As such, the course length is also shorter than one might expect at around 6,900 yards from the backs. But despite this, every hole feels detached and separate from others routed close by.
Strantz’s genius comes in the routing and the way he created undulations and movement in the land. To score well, the subtle layers of the devilish green complexes need to be read to perfection.
This is public golf at its best and the first course you should tick off when visiting this part of South Carolina.
What is the best golf course in South Carolina?
The best golf course in South Carolina is the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island. It was designed by Pete Dye and has hosted many major golf tournaments. This includes the Ryder Cup and many PGA Championships.