As part of our series exploring the best public golf courses, there have been some fantastic destinations with a wealth of choice in this area. Well here is another city which we can add to that list. The public golf courses in Charleston are superb and there is real strength in depth.
Charleston is one of the most charming and fascinating cities in the U.S. Yet maybe due to the lack of severe urban sprawl, the city has retained much of its original character. There are also ample green spaces showcasing the best of the South Carolina Lowcountry.
As we explored previously, there are some top class private golf courses in Charleston. But with the quality of the public courses, you’d have a real conundrum weighing up a membership against the nomadic lifestyle.
See also: What are the best golf courses in Charleston?
Let’s dig into the list now.
The best public golf courses in Charleston
|1||Kiawah Island Resort (Ocean, Cassique, River, Turtle Point, Osprey Point & Cougar Point Courses)|
|2||Wild Dunes Resort (Links & Harbor Courses)|
|3||RiverTowne Country Club|
|4||Charleston National Golf Club|
|5||The Links at Stono Ferry|
|6||Dunes West Golf & River Club|
|7||Patriot Point Links at Charleston Harbor|
|8||The Golf Club at Wescott Plantation|
|Groups||Wild Dunes Resort|
|Value for money||Charleston National Golf Club|
|Clubhouse||Kiawah Island Resort (Ocean Course)|
|Views||Patriot Point Links|
1. Kiawah Island Resort (Ocean Course)
Surely there can be no other course to top off the list of best public golf courses in Charleston!? The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Resort is iconic. It is also considered one of the best golf courses in the U.S., let alone Charleston.
But before we get too superlative heavy, let’s look at how the Ocean course came to life.
It was designed by the great Pete Dye and opened for play in 1991. Throughout his career, Dye inspired generations of golf course architects. His ideas were bold, creative, ambitious and fun.
The Ocean Course is without doubt one of his finest creations. It sits confidently in esteemed company which includes amongst others the Straits Course at Whistling Straits, the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, Harbour Town and Teeth of the Dog at Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic.
Over the years it has hosted its fair share of high profile events. These include the 1991 Ryder Cup and numerous PGA Championships.
When it comes to the course itself, it has a reputation for being brutal. It has length, being just shy of 7,700 yards from the backs. Add to this vast swathes of long rough and well positioned bunkers. And 25 miles south of Charleston on the Atlantic coast, the elements also inevitably play their part.
If you want to play here, I suggest making a trip of it and staying at the resort. The 5* Kiawah Island Resort I highlighted as one of the best golf resorts in the USA. You can read about it here – What is the best golf resort in the United States? There are some great stay and play packages available.
2. Kiawah Island Resort (Cassique, River, Turtle Point, Osprey Point, Cougar Point)
There are five other golf courses at Kiawah Island and it’s fair to say they are all pretty special.
Each was designed by a big-name designer. Tom Fazio designed the River Course and Osprey Point. Tom Watson designed the superb Cassique, Jack Nicklaus Turtle Point and Gary Player Cougar Point.
All-in-all, a long weekend to Kiawah Island offers more quality golf than you could possibly play. Rather than list each one in this list, I’ve grouped them all together as one entity.
Which is the best of them?
Tough to say, but the Cassique and River courses tend to be the most sought after. But trust me when I say, you won’t be disappointed playing any of them.
3. Wild Dunes Resort (Links & Harbor)
Next up on our list of best public golf courses in Charleston is the Links Course at Wild Dunes Resort.
The sensational Wild Dunes Resort is located to the east of Charleston on the barrier island of the Isle of Palms. It has a whole range of accommodation options to choose from and is a popular base when visiting the city.
And the location is stunning. There are expansive views out towards the Atlantic Ocean whilst creeks and tidal marshes are omnipresent.
To top things off, you have two top class championship courses, the Links and Harbor courses. Both were designed by the hugely acclaimed Tom Fazio with the Links course being Fazio’s first.
Still one of Fazio’s favorite courses, it is also considered the better of the two onsite. Elegant palms line the lush narrow fairways. This is iconic South Carolina golf.
As for the Harbor Course, it was also designed by Tom Fazio, opening five years later in 1985. The course is routed amongst salt marshes and lagoons and has magnificent views. Yet another class option.
4. RiverTowne Country Club
To the east of Charleston in Mount Pleasant, is the superb RiverTowne Country Club. This is an exceptional golf course, with a reputation for its top class conditioning. Arguably more like a private or resort course than public one.
The club occupies an idyllic spot overlooking the Wando River with Horlbeck Creek snaking around the southern side of the property. .
Despite being just minutes from Highway 41 and less than half an hour from downtown Charleston, the course is at one with nature. RiverTowne is routed within wild yet scenic marshlands with an abundance of trees and vegetation, this is pure bliss. Yes there is housing lining some fairways but this does not in any way kill the vibe.
The course was designed by Arnold Palmer, the only one in the Charleston area designed by the great man. Aside from the great conditioning, expect to find multi-tiered greens, lush tree-lined fairways and plenty of hazards including bunkers and water.
From the tips you’ll be playing close to 7,200 yards, although fortunately the fairways are relatively generous.
All in all, this is a tremendous public facility and no wonder Golf Digest rated it 4.5 stars out of 5.
5. Charleston National Golf Club
Charleston National Golf Club is yet another outstanding layout hidden away in Mount Pleasant.
Heading north east out of the city along Highway 17, after about 20 minutes you’ll take a right down National Drive. Charleston National is then just a couple minutes drive down a pleasant residential lane.
At first glance, the setting is verdant and peaceful. But it doesn’t necessarily scream South Carolina or anything special. But boy does this change even just half way down the first hole.
Before you know it, you’ve entered natural wetlands with lagoons and ancient pine and oak forests. You quickly come to realize why Charleston National is so highly rated amongst the locals.
The course was designed by the ‘Open Doctor’ Rees Jones and opened for play in 1987. What is fascinating is where Jones and Greg Muirhead, who worked on the project with him, used wooden bridges to traverse large areas of wetlands. On occasion these reach from tee to green!
The site is genuinely beautiful. This is probably why the original plans for Charleston National were to create an exclusive private club along the lines of Augusta National.
But fortunately for us, this didn’t happen. Instead we got a top class golf course and as a semi-private club, it happily welcomes visitors.
6. The Links at Stono Ferry
We continue our best public golf courses in Charleston with a top class track, The Links at Stono Ferry. You know you’ve come to a good course when GolfWeek ranks it in the Top 15 courses you can play in South Carolina.
Like so many of the courses on this list, the quality is astounding for a public course. Granted many are semi-private. Yet the conditioning is what you would expect at a decent private club. The Links at Stono Ferry is no different.
This is South Carolina Lowcountry, not far from the Intracoastal Waterway and hugging the Stono River. The site oozes South Carolina charm which is magnified by the century-old live oaks and other established vegetation.
There are two distinct nines. The front nine is more tree-lined and the back nine more open as it flirts along the banks of the Intracoastal Waterway.
History fact for you – the course is located at the same site where the Battle of Stono Ferry in the American Revolution was fought in 1779.
As you work your way through the 18-holes, you’ll come across various relics from the time. None more so than the impressive cannon named Redoubt which peers down the 12th hole.
This really is Charleston golf at its best and on a different day could be much higher in this list.
7. Dunes West Golf & River Club
Further out of Mount Pleasant towards Wando, not far from RiverTowne Country Club, is the fantastic Dunes West Golf & River Club.
Like so many on this list, the setting is pure bliss. In the distance is the Wando River whilst Wagner Creek snakes along the boundaries of the property. Again, this is the Carolina Lowcountry at its best.
In fact, the whole layout is routed through a vast century old forest giving the course its majestic feel. It was designed by the great Arthur Hills and opened in 1991.
Surrounding the course are some impressive houses which gives the club an upscale private community feel. But at no point does this impose on the golfing experience. Keeping the sanctimony of the course was clearly paramount for those in charge.
As is the pace of play. There is a whole mission statement about striving for each golfer, walking or riding, to finish the course in 4 hours 15 mins. And who in their right mind is not good with that. It means you have more time to enjoy a cold one in the clubhouse.
8. Patriot Point Links at Charleston Harbor
As we can see from this list, Mount Pleasant really is a golfing hotbed in Charleston. But there are very few, if any, that resemble Patriot Point Links.
The club is located on Hog Island, just at the foot of Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge. So close to downtown Charleston, it’s literally a five minute drive.
Conversely, being this side of the river means you have stunning views back over the city. But also of Fort Sumter and the myriad number of ships sailing into Charleston Harbor.
The course came to life in 1979 and was designed by William Byrd. As per the name, this is a links style layout. And in links style tradition, there are very few trees or foliage surrounding fairways. Instead water lurks ominously as the main hazard as well as patches of long wispy rough.
On a calm day, you may get a decent score at Patriot Point Links. But if the wind picks up, which by and large it does, then fingers crossed you’re hitting the ball relatively straight!
And beware the 17th, the courses’ signature hole. An island green par 3 with the green sunk into the surrounding marshland. It is consistently voted the best par 3 in the Lowcountry and when you get there you’ll understand why.
9. The Golf Club at Wescott Plantation
And so we move on to the last of our best public golf courses in Charleston, the majestic Golf Club at Wescott Plantation.
Unlike so many others on this list, Wescott Plantation is a half hour drive north west from downtown Charleston. This part of the lowcountry is littered with ancient yet spectacular plantations.
The Golf Club at Wescott Plantation happens to be located in one of the area’s oldest plantations. This gives the setting a charm and beauty which is quite a change from some of the others on this list.
There are 27 holes of golf onsite, with three distinct loops of nine. These are the Black Robin, Oak Forest and Burn Kill.
Each has its own character, but the one consistent feature are the century-old live oaks. Huge care was taken to preserve these and they provide a formidable backdrop. Likewise, there are some pristine wetlands which come into play.
Depending on the combination you play, will also depend on how much water you encounter. There are definitely more water hazards in play on the Black Robin and Burn Kill. Whereas the Oak Forest features slightly wider fairways and is a little more forgiving.
All in all, this is a fabulous municipal owned course. It consistently gets good ratings from locals and visitors and provides a welcome change to other Lowcountry courses.
What is the best public golf course in Charleston?
The best public golf course in Charleston is the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Resort. The course was designed by Pete Dye and opened for play in 1991. Since then it has gone onto host some of the greatest events in golf, including the PGA Championship and a Ryder Cup.