Say “golf” and “South Carolina” to most players, and three locations come to mind: Myrtle Beach, Charleston and Hilton Head. No surprise, given the Grand Strand’s 90-plus courses and vacation-golf reputation; the Holy City’s Ocean Course, host to the 1991 Ryder Cup and 2012 (and 2021) PGA Championship; and Harbour Town Golf Links, S.C.’s annual host to the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing.
By comparison, Columbia doesn’t have the daily-fee quantity of any of its coastal cousins, but there’s enough solid public-access golf in the Capital City to fill up a weeklong tee sheet. The area’s top five (and a bonus) daily-fee courses:
Cobblestone Park Golf Club, Blythewood
Located along Interstate 77, Cobblestone started life as The University Course, a private layout affiliated with the University of South Carolina, and the school’s men’s and women’s teams maintain a clubhouse there. Now owned by home-builder DR Horton, the club has memberships but also high-end, daily-fee play.
P.B. (son of Pete) Dye and PGA Tour veteran Lee Janzen designed Cobblestone’s original 18 holes (Garnet and Black nines, a combined 6,788 yards) and its shorter third (Gold) nine, respectively. All 27 holes offer heavily rolling terrain, plenty of sand and water and smooth, subtly contoured greens, plus Columbia’s newest (and one of its largest) clubhouses, overlooking the signature, water-lined par-5 18th hole.
Golden Hills Golf & Country Club, Lexington
Like Cobblestone, Golden Hills (off U.S. 378 just east of Lexington) was planned as a membership-only facility but since has opened to outside play. Florida-based architect Ron Garl built the 6,476-yard, par-71 course over a hilly layout that drops significantly from the club entrance to a creek across the back of the property, and included enough bunkers and hummocks to give it a Scottish feel.
The par-4 10th is a hole that players either love or hate, sloping downhill to a lake and requiring a short- or mid-iron approach over water to a green tightly tucked into the hillside. Befitting its private origins, Golden Hills offers tennis and an Olympic pool, plus a rustic barn-style clubhouse.
Oak Hills Golf Club, Columbia
When former PGA Tour player and TV commentator Steve Melnyk hosted Oak Hills’ debut, he said his philosophy was to largely position hazards to the sides of the fairway, expediting play for mid- and high-handicappers. That doesn’t mean the course, developed from the start as a daily-fee operation, is a pushover, as streams and lakes guard several holes, notably the par-3 seventh and downhill par-5 ninth.
The 6,894-yard, par-72 course’s elevation changes come into play immediately, the green at the short par-4 first hole sitting atop a steep hill. One of Columbia’s best holes is the downhill, par-4 16th, demanding a big drive down the left side to a landing area, then a precise second shot to the shallow, elevated green sitting behind a creek.
Timberlake Country Club, Chapin
Roughly 45 minutes from Columbia, this Willard Byrd design is the only course located on the banks of Lake Murray, with its waters in play on two holes: the par-3 fourth (played over an inlet) and the par-5 18th, which skirts the water but rewards an aggressive shortcut shot to the elevated green perched above the lake.
The once-private course was featured in the New York Times when, during financial troubles, members maintained the greens complexes themselves. Now well-maintained and boasting a new two-story clubhouse, Timberlake’s rolling 6,579-yard layout is well worth the drive from the city.
Windermere Club, Blythewood
The Spur at Northwoods, Columbia
These two courses were simultaneous late-1980s projects by famed architect Pete Dye and his son, P.B. Reputedly, Pete constructed the then-private, high-end Windermere while P.B. was building daily-fee Northwoods, but local knowledge has it that the Dyes took turns tweaking each other’s work.
A member-for-a-day offering, Windermere has Columbia’s only bent-grass greens and plenty of Dye features. The dogleg-left, par-4 16th hole demands a blind uphill tee shot, then a downhill approach into the deep-but-narrow green. Windermere’s signature hole is the par-5 18th, wrapping left around Lake Windermere before finishing at a scary-small green guarded by the lake and deep bunkers.
For the full Dye experience, also try The Spur, renovated in 2016 after being bought by Charleston attorney Joe Rice (owner of private Bulls Bay). The best Dye-style hole is the risk-reward par-4 14th, where a big drive over a corner of a lake on the right can reach the green (or not), while a “safe” tee shot to the fairway requires a blind approach over large mounds and a scattering of small bunkers.