5 underrated Donald Ross courses in the Carolinas

Camden Country Club is the only 18-hole Donald Ross design in South Carolina. (Photo courtesy of Camden Country Club)

The great golf course architect Donald Ross was prolific in the Carolinas, particularly North Carolina, designing a number of the best courses in the state. Here are five that you might not know about:

Country Club of Salisbury: Perhaps the best-kept secret in the Piedmont, CC of Salisbury is pure Ross from first tee to 18th green. Sometimes gentle and sometimes significant elevation change throughout the property certainly had to fit Ross’ eye when he was laying out the course. Greens and bunkers are vintage Ross and the membership and superintendent have done a marvelous job of maintaining every Ross characteristic. The CC of Salisbury is private but the club opens its doors to a number of charitable efforts, thus allowing the public to experience once a year what the members enjoy every day.

Camden Country Club: Ross re-designed Camden CC in the late 1920s and remains the only 18-hole Ross design in South Carolina. It’s a favorite of good players in the area, owing to the fact that the Carolinas Four-Ball Championship, conducted by the Carolinas Golf Association, has been held at Camden for more than 50 years. Numerous CGA and South Carolina Golf Association events have been played at Camden over the years. It’s only 6,350 yards from the back tees, but players quite often use every club in their bags.

Southern Pines Country Club: Known locally as the Elks’ Club course, Southern Pines CC is open to the public and is a local favorite in the Sandhills. Ross provided the playing corridors in 1914 and Frank Maples converted the greens from sand to grass in the late 1930s. Says Golf Club Atlas, “… the golfer keeps expecting to find an ordinary or indifferent hole but instead only encounters one enticing shot after another, the kind that makes you play golf until dark.”

Catawba Country Club: Designed by Ross in 1946, two years before he died, this hidden gem in Newton is a delight to play. It contains all the Ross features, especially the green complexes, which include challenging bunkers. It’s not a long course but takes a great deal of local knowledge. As with most of Ross courses, it has short, risk-reward par-5s and long, tough par-3s.

Wilmington Municipal Golf Course: A group of Wilmington residents, led by Walker Taylor, encouraged the city to restore the greens and bunkers that Ross designed in 1926. John Fought, who oversaw the restoration of Pine Needles – a well-known Ross course – in 2005, was chosen for the job that was finished in 2014. The course gets about 60,000 rounds a year.

 

Pine Lakes restores long-standing traditions

Pine Lakes Country Club in Myrtle Beach is the birthplace of Sports Illustrated. (Photo courtesy of Pine Lakes Country Club)

By BOB GILLESPIE

When golf began in Myrtle Beach 90 years ago, there was one course: Ocean Forest Country Club. Today, there are nearly 100, but only one “The Granddaddy”: Pine Lakes Country Club, which occupies the same footprint as Ocean Forest and, more recently, has decided to return to honoring its heritage.

Starting in October, Pine Lakes – located on Granddaddy Lane, of course – resumes a number of history-laced amenities that once were trademarks of the historic course.

When golfers arrive, they’ll be greeted by bag attendants clad in black knickers, red shirts and red knee socks, and by starters wearing Royal Stuart tartan kilts, white button-down shirts and tartan bow ties. The pro shop staff will don similarly-themed outfits of black slacks, white shirts and tartan ties.

And in March 2018, players reaching the course’s sixth tee will be greeted by attendants serving mimosas in champagne flutes. That fall and winter, the offerings will change to 6-ounce cups of clam chowder, to help warm chilled players.

Those special touches, once part of the Pine Lakes agenda, had been missing since around 2006, after course renovations by a previous ownership group, which modernized the old course (good) but did away with traditions (not so good).

Adding those back, says head professional Jonathan Brock, was a “no-brainer.”

“We wanted to bring back what Pine Lakes was known for,” said Brock, a native of Anderson, S.C., and the club’s top man since early 2016. “We had longtime customers who’d always talk about how Pine Lakes used to be, and our (Founders Group International) CEO, Steve Mays, was completely on board with going back to our old traditions.”

The notion of bringing back kilts, mimosas and clam chowder emerged in 2014, when Founders Group, which operates 22 Grand Strand golf courses, took over Pine Lakes. It was time, Brock said, for “The Granddaddy” to start looking and acting its age.

“(Mays) wanted each course (under the Founders’ umbrella) to stand out from the others, and tradition is that for us,” he said.

In fact, Pine Lakes – especially its clubhouse, originally designed by Robert White – is listed on the National Register of Historical Places. White, the first president of the PGA of America, also was co-founder of the American Society of Golf Course Architects. The 18,368-square foot clubhouse began life as a resort hotel, and was refurbished in 2009.

In 1954, the club also became the birthplace of Sports Illustrated, which began when a group of 87 Time-Life employees met en route home from Florida. There, they outlined plans for the first-of-its-kind magazine. The clubhouse’s History Hall displays old photos and other memorabilia of that meeting, which was held in the now-restored Snug Pub.

More recently, Pine Lakes also is home to the Myrtle Beach Golf Hall of Fame, which has 14 members (two more will be added this fall) enshrined in an outdoor courtyard behind the bar and dining area. Plaques honor each Hall of Fame member’s career, as well as SI’s founding. There are also plaques for White and for famed professional golfer Gene Sarazen, who once shot a round of 78 – his age then – at Pine Lakes.

“We saw the memorabilia, and we listened to our guests,” Brock said.

Pine Lakes originally had 27 holes, but was later consolidated into 18 holes. Then in 2006, architect Craig Schreiner’s renovation kept 16 holes’ corridors but replaced two others, using 1937 aerial photos of White’s original design to maintain the course’s feel. Today, the par-70 layout plays as long as 6,675 yards, with four sets of tees. The signature hole is the par-3 11th, short by modern standards but with a green – the smallest on the course – tightly guarded by a pond in front and buffeted by ocean breezes from the Atlantic, just 2 miles away.

Brock is considerably younger than his course, but he has an appreciation of its history. “It (the restoration of the amenities) had been on my mind since I took over,” he said. “Other courses in Myrtle Beach all have their niches, and I thought, ‘What do we do to stand apart?’ And the answer was: go back to our traditions.

“Those traditions had faded away as ownership changed,” Brock said. “Now they’re coming back, which we think shows our management’s vision.”

Not to mention a vision of the past, too.

 

5 must-play courses in the Triad

The Champions Course at Bryan Park hosted the U.S. Amateur Public Links in 2010. (Photo courtesy of Bryan Park)

The Triad of N.C. – the region that includes Greensboro, Winston-Salem and High Point – is well known for its wealth of public access golf. Here are five must-play daily fee courses in the Triad:

Bryan Park (Champions), Browns Summit: Just outside Greensboro is the Champions Course at Bryan Park, designed by Rees Jones – the son of Robert Trent Jones, Tanglewood Park’s architect. When it opened in 1990, it was met with a number of accolades by the national magazines that rank courses. In fact, it is consistently ranked in the top 10 courses you can play in N.C. The USGA brought the U.S. Amateur Public Links to Bryan Park in 2010. The Players Course, designed by George Cobb in 1974, is the other course at Bryan Park. For more, www.bryanpark.com.

Tanglewood Park (Championship), Clemmons: If you want to play a course that has hosted a major championship in N.C., you don’t have to know a member at Quail Hollow or pony up to play Pinehurst No. 2. Instead, you can take on Tanglewood Park, just outside Winston-Salem. Tanglewood hosted the 1974 PGA Championship, won by Lee Trevino by one shot over Jack Nicklaus. Designed by Robert Trent Jones, Tanglewood opened in 1958. Tanglewood also hosted the 1986 U.S. Amateur Public Links and hosted the Vantage Championship on the Senior PGA Tour from 1987-2002. The Reynolds Course is also on property, if you’re in the mood for 36 holes. For more, golf.tanglewoodpark.org.

Grandover Resort (East), Greensboro: Grandover Resort was the dream of real estate developer, the late Joseph Koury. He built two golf courses and a luxury hotel and spa on the 1,500 acres that includes the surrounding community and office space. Both the East Course and West Course were designed by David Graham and Gary Panks, who mostly plied their trade out west. The East Course opened in 1996 and is considered the better of the two. There were serious discussions about bringing the Wyndham Championship to Grandover when it left Forest Oaks Country Club. Instead, the Wyndham returned to Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro. For more, www.grandover.com/recreation/golf.

Greensboro National Golf Club, Summerfield: For those looking for a kinder, gentler course, Greensboro National is 17 miles north of Greensboro. Says Shane Sharp on Golf.com, “To paraphrase an old television network slogan, this is a golf course for guys who like golf courses. The fairways are wide; the greens are large; the hills are gently rolling; and conditioning is immaculate.” And if the pictures on the menu are to be believed, you must make time for lunch. For more, www.greensboronationalgolfclub.com.

Oak Hollow Golf Course, High Point: Owned and operated by the Parks and Recreation Department of High Point, Oak Hollow is a Pete Dye design that when it opened in 1972, received a lot of national attention. It was immediately ranked in the top 25 courses you can play by a national magazine and for years was consistently in the top 75 of that same ranking. It has typical Dye features – railroad ties, pot bunkers, several peninsula greens and an island tee. For more, www.oakhollowgc.com.

 

 

 

Atlantic Dunes named S.C. Course of the Year

 

The island green par-3 ninth hole at Atlantic Dunes on Hilton Head Island, which was redesigned by Davis Love III. (Photo courtesy of Atlantic Dunes Golf Club)

By BOB GILLESPIE

For at least 30 years, Davis Love III has had a soft spot in his heart for Sea Pines Resort, especially Harbour Town Golf Links and its annual PGA Tour event, the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing. And that’s not just because Hilton Head Island is a short drive from his home on Sea Island, Ga.

In 1987, Love won the first PGA Tour title of his career at Harbor Town – it was the MCI Heritage Classic then – and took home a tournament-record five tartan jackets as champion (1991-92, 1998, 2003). The last was the 17th of his 21 Tour victories.

Love, now 53 and winding down his PGA Tour playing career, most recently serving as U.S. Ryder Cup captain in 2014 and 2016, still plays the Heritage each April. But the past two years, he and members of his Love Golf Design firm spent even more time there, crafting Sea Pines’ third golf course – formerly the Ocean Course, Hilton Head Island’s oldest – into Atlantic Dunes, a creation that complements Harbour Town and the resort’s other Pete Dye design, Heron Point.

How good a job did Love, his brother Mark and design associate Scot Sherman do? In August, Atlantic Dunes was named Golf Course of the Year by the South Carolina Golf Course Owners Association, ahead of Isle of Palms’ Wild Dunes Links Course (built in the 1980s by Tom Fazio) and Myrtle Beach’s Man O’ War, a Dan Maples project.

Both Harbour Town (2004) and Heron Point (2015) also previously won the award. Not bad company.

“(Course design is) a fun way to extend your career,” Davis Love said at the course’s opening last November, after a month delay due to Hurricane Matthew. Atlantic Dunes is Love’s 21st design, three in South Carolina.

Sherman, a Furman University graduate and Greenville, S.C., resident, also had personal ties to Hilton Head, being a Pete Dye protégé and former associate of Irmo, S.C. native Bobby Weed. Atlantic Dunes totally re-imagined a 1995 renovation of the old Ocean Course by former Tour player Mark McCumber.

Sherman says Love’s goal was to “improve playability” on what had been an old, flat layout, upgrading the infrastructure to “make it more memorable.” Some 500-600 trees were removed and 55,000 cubic yards of dirt moved, as well as adding 14 miles of drainage pipes and 19 miles of irrigation – oh, and 15,000 tons of sand, which is apparent in the course’s numerous dunes.

The Love team added 50,000 native plants, seaside grasses and coquina shells to the site’s 42 acres, which is twice the footprint of Harbour Town. “We replaced everything: grass, irrigation, drainage, and moved three acres of water,” Sherman said. Total cost: nearly $11 million.

Cary Corbitt, vice president of sports and operations for Sea Pines, calls Atlantic Dunes “the ideal complement to Harbour Town and Heron Point. We’re honored to receive” the SCGCOA award, he said. Atlantic Dunes previously was named No. 7 in Golfweek’s “Best Courses You Can Play in South Carolina.”

Sherman says Atlantic Dunes reflects Love’s philosophy (shared by Dye) of making a golf course that looks tough but plays easier than it seems.

“The course can intimidate you visually,” Sherman said, but in fact, its fairway corridors are the widest of the Sea Pines courses. “Alice (Dye, Pete’s wife and an architect herself) always says you want to give every level of player a place to go,” he said.

Difficulty for better players is a result of the extensive use of water, which is around or in play on most holes, plus 81 bunkers and plenty of large dunes that frame most fairways.

When it was the Ocean Course, “it didn’t feel like it was near the ocean, and we wanted to evoke that in the Atlantic Dunes feel,” Sherman said. “Even the bridges have rope railings.” The course’s variety of holes requires a variety of shots, but the designers say playability is the main ingredient.

“We (golf course architects) have made the game so hard for the average guy, but you have to make a fit for everyone,” Love said, referring to the resort clientele. “We’ve dialed back the degree of difficulty.”

That said, the threat of water reveals itself early and continues to the course’s last four holes. The signature hole is the uphill, par-3 15th, playing 137 to 205 yards, and with the beach backing the green, it’s one of two oceanfront holes on Hilton Head.

The short (323-394 yards) dogleg right 16th demands accuracy to avoid dunes, and then Atlantic Dunes has two long, water-guarded finishing holes: the par-5 17th, which ends at a peninsula green, and the muscular par-4 18th, which plays up to 462 yards and was a par-5 in its previous life.

“I have a reverence for Harbour Town,” Sherman said. Of course, everyone knows how Davis Love feels about the island and its courses. For information about Atlantic Dunes, visit www.seapines.com/golf, or call (866) 561-8802.

 

Day Trip: Tobacco Road Golf Club

The first hole at Tobacco Road Golf Club, designed by Mike Strantz. (Photo Courtesy of Tobacco Road Golf Club)

Where: Tobacco Road Golf Club, Sanford, N.C.

The Skinny: Tobacco Road was designed by the late Mike Strantz, who was not only a golf course architect but an artist and a visionary. Strantz might be best known for his designs at Caledonia Golf & Fish Club and True Blue in Pawley’s Island, S.C., but his work at Tobacco Road is nothing short of remarkable.

The land on which Tobacco Road sits was once used for raising tobacco but later became a sand quarry. Through Strantz’s vivid imagination, Tobacco Road became an artistic creation. The land heaves and swells and fairways are bordered by sandy waste areas and native grasses. The player also needs a good imagination to play Tobacco Road, as visually, the course demands that you choose a shot and commit to it. Strantz said that he wanted to test “a player’s eye, determination, and wits.”

Tobacco Road was Strantz’s fifth solo design and opened in 1998. Strantz worked for Tom Fazio as an on-site designer before venturing out on his own. He studied the writings and philosophy of Dr. Alister Mackenzie and put many of Mackenzie’s design characteristics into his own. Caledonia was his first solo design.

Strantz died in 2005 after a fight with cancer. He was 50.

Says Golf Club Atlas: “Mike Strantz stood out as an architect capable of building something different and exciting – sometimes shockingly so. ‘I have never seen anything like this before’ is the standard cliché after playing your first Strantz course.” That’s exactly what you will say after playing Tobacco Road.

The Tab: Monday through Thursday, greens fees are $100 per player and $130 Friday through Sunday.

For More: www.tobaccoroadgolf.com

 

McConnell COO: Private clubs alive and well

Providence Country Club has undergone $1.3 million in renovations after having been bought by Raleigh-based McConnell Golf. (Photo Courtesy of McConnell Golf)

“I have to disappoint you,” said Christian Anastasiadis. “We haven’t picked an architect yet.”

We were calling to get an update on the renovations at Providence Country Club, which was bought by McConnell Golf in early 2016. John McConnell, the CEO of the Raleigh-based private club group, had promised that the golf course would be redesigned by an architect with a recognizable name.

“There are three (McConnell) has in mind,” said Anastasiadis, who is the chief operating officer at McConnell Golf, without revealing any names. “Two of the three have been to the facility and the third has not yet visited.”

What Anastasiadis could tell us is that $1.3 million of renovations to the clubhouse are about to be completed. The fitness center and golf shop locations were reversed and as a result, the fitness center doubled in size and the golf shop has been completely renovated. Private trainers are available and there is a playhouse activity center for children and teens. “It has truly become a family center,” Anastasiadis said.

McConnell Golf now owns 12 private clubs in the Carolinas and Tennessee and if you’re a member of one, you are a member of all 12. Anastasiadis suggests there is a rejuvenation of interest in private clubs, particularly among younger people.

“Millennials love private clubs,” he said. “They love clubs, period. They want to be a part of a community, to be part of a group. The private club industry has an opportunity to capture that.

“We are building clubs of the future and we have to create the culture from the inside out. When clubs make changes, very few people outside the board members and staff members know why they are making those changes. We are telling people why we are there. We believe in being involved in the community.

“When you tell them why, you will create such enthusiasm they want to be part of it. You will attract people who believe what you believe.”

Anastasiadis says there is a significant uptick in membership at Providence Country Club for all those reasons.

“You can’t just tell people you have a great golf course,” he says. “That’s not enough. There are a lot of great golf courses. And attracting people to golf has to change. We need six-hole loops or three-hole loops so that people can come after work and play a few holes.

“If you build sustainable golf courses, this is a message that will start to impress.”