Grandfather ready to host Carolinas Senior Am

Grandfather Golf and Country Club is consistently on the “best of” lists in North Carolina. (Photo Courtesy of Grandfather Golf and Country Club)

On a sunny summer’s day, when the temperature is 15-18 degrees cooler than it is 125 miles to the east, it’s easy to get lost in the incomparable beauty of your surroundings and forget to tend to your golf.

And then you realize that no matter your score, playing Grandfather Golf and Country Club in Linville, N.C., is more about drinking in the vistas, some of which can be described as no less than breathtaking. Pars and birdies seem incidental and maybe even downright inconsequential.

Fighting the distractions will be foremost on the minds of the competitors who play in the Carolinas Senior Amateur, which will be hosted by Grandfather from Sept. 19-21. The player who can balance good golf and equally rewarding sightseeing will hoist the trophy at the end of the event.

What the players will find, especially those who are fortunate enough to have played Grandfather before, are some consequential tweaks. For one, the driving range has been expanded by moving the tees back and making the tees slightly more elevated. Also reconfigured was the large putting green that for years had a stream running through it.

And the first hole has been changed. A big tree on the right side of the fairway has been removed and replaced by a long fairway bunker. And what used to be a pond guarding the front and right of the par-5 green has been removed and grassed in. The changes, overseen by architect Bobby Weed, make the hole much more playable for the members – and takes away the bottleneck that would occur at the beginning of the round.

Other than some work to the 16th hole in 2014-15, the course is virtually as it was when Ellis Maples designed it for the opening in 1968. Grandfather, which sits in the Linville River valley in the shadow of its namesake mountain, was the pet project of Agnes Morton Cocke Woodruff.

Known as “Aggie,” she and her brother, Hugh Morton, each inherited 2,000 acres from their grandfather. Hugh used his land to start the Grandfather Mountain attraction and Aggie used hers to build a golf course. She tapped Maples, who designed the Country Club of North Carolina near Pinehurst a few years earlier, because Maples studied his craft under the great Donald Ross.

Aggie wanted a course that you couldn’t see any other hole than the one you were playing. Maples granted her wish. What’s more, you can count the houses you see from the golf course on one hand. It’s the singular beauty of the golf and the majesty of the mountain that golfers of all stripes experience every time they play Grandfather.

As a result, Grandfather has long been recognized by the “best of” lists of all the golf publications as being among the two or three best courses in North Carolina. Those who have been fortunate enough to play Grandfather never turn down an invitation or an opportunity.

And you can bet the qualifying sites for the Carolinas Senior Amateur will be full due to Grandfather being the tournament host. Those who qualify will have to deal with well-configured greens, which will have a bit of contour and speed in them.

Whoever wins will have an accomplishment of which he can be proud. But it will hard to be upset, no matter what you shoot.

Road Trip: Santee, S.C.

Lake Marion Golf Course is one of the best bets in Santee golf. (Photo Courtesy of Santee Cooper Golf)

If you’re looking for a no-frills, play-all-day-every-day golf trip, the Santee region of South Carolina offers plenty of bang for your buck. Solid, enjoyable courses and a welcoming spirit makes Santee an attractive proposition.

The best of the group is Lake Marion Golf Course. Located in the heart of Santee, just off I-95 on Highway 6, Lake Marion is tree-lined with 47 bunkers and is a straightforward test for golfers of all abilities. Opened in 1978, Lake Marion is a favorite of traveling golfers who stop there on their way to other places. It also features a spacious driving range and a well-stocked pro shop. For more information, www.lakemariongolf.com.

Santee Cooper Country Club is the sister course to Lake Marion and opened in 1967. Lined with tall pines and featuring some natural elevation changes, Santee Cooper CC is the most scenic course of the Santee trio. The 18th hole offers great views of Lake Marion. For more, www.santeecoopercc.com.

Santee National is another favorite of the I-95 traveling golfer. Opened in 1989, it is the newest of the Santee courses, lined with live oaks and hardwoods. The back tees are plenty of challenge for the accomplished player and the par-5s can be risk-reward. But it’s plenty of fun from the forward tees, as well. For more, www.santeenational.com.

There are plenty of rooms available in the Santee area, but if you want to stay on the golf course Lake Marion has the best bet.

The Lake Marion golf villas, located on Lake Marion Golf Course, were updated in 2016. Each of the 24 two-bedroom villas has four full-size beds with a fully equipped kitchen, satellite TV and complimentary wi-fi. Lake Marion opened 10 new golf townhouses in mid-2016 and all are equipped much like the villas.

The two main golf packagers for groups of all sizes in the area are Golf Santee — www. golfsantee.com — and Santee Cooper Golf — www.santeecoopergolf.com.

The package companies have other courses available, some in the Summerville, S.C., area and Orangeburg Country Club, which is private but can be played by those who use either of the packagers.

 

Orangeburg Country Club gets entire face lift

Orangeburg Country Club’s 13th green after a complete renovation of the entire course. (Photo courtesy of Orangeburg Country Club)

By Bob Gillespie

ORANGEBURG, S.C. – In a golf course architecture career spanning nearly 20 years as his own boss, and including work on 50-plus courses – some while apprenticing under Dan Maples and Georgia’s Dennis Griffiths – Richard Mandell has heard plenty of requests/directives from the people paying his fee.

The Pinehurst designer says he doesn’t recall any quite like what he heard from Orangeburg businessman Frank Tourville.

“He said he wanted ‘the best … golf course in South Carolina,’ ” Mandell said, laughing. “I found out pretty quickly that ‘Mr. T’ doesn’t do anything second-class.”

That was in mid-2009, when Tourville – founder and chairman of Zeus Inc., manufacturers of polymer tubing for medical products and wiring/engineering work, including Boeing airliners – met with Mandell to discuss restoring Orangeburg Country Club, a 1960s Ellis Maples design. Four months and an undisclosed amount of Tourville’s money later, the result was a spectacular success.

Completed around Halloween of 2009, the course features lush Bermuda fairways, dramatic bunkering and Champion Bermuda greens (the first in South Carolina) with quickness and undulations, plus a host of upgraded amenities – a “palatial” clubhouse, pool area, tennis courts, driving range and short-game practice area – beyond what most communities this size (13,196 in 2016) can boast.

“It had been run down for a few years, getting little attention,” Mandell said. “The superintendent (Tom Green) was struggling with resources. But we recognized that the course had great ‘bones,’ and you don’t screw with those.

“It had lost some of its bite, but the course has great variety – long and short (holes), doglegs left and right, straight – all that was in the routing. We just wakened it up (and) put some teeth back in it.”

Tourville acquired the former Country Club of Orangeburg on May 19, 2009, after the 50-year-old facility – its membership down by half to about 300 members – had come within days of bankruptcy.

“The last thing I wanted to do was get into the golf course business,” said Tourville, whose home is off the fourth fairway. “But I didn’t want a cotton field in my backyard, either.”

The 83-year-old bought the course for $1, assumed some $800,000 in debt and pledged to spend $1.5 million for capital improvements over a three-year span. Then he – and Mandell – did much more. Mandell declines to disclose the exact amount.

“We did a lot more than $1.5 million,” he conceded. “As (Tourville) got into it, we had things we needed to finish, and he wasn’t going to let it be (inadequate).

“I will tell you we addressed what needed to be, but we were smart with things,” Mandell said. “He’s prudent with his money, and so am I.”

Case in point: Mandell decided not to rebuild the course’s push-up greens to USGA specifications “because there was a better solution for putting,” he said. “A lot (of owners) insist on that, which is why (some renovations) are so expensive. But these greens were good.”

Good, but small. Using 1963 aerials, Mandell determined the greens had lost a third of their surface area over the years. Mandell, Green and Augusta-based Course Doctors restored the original dimensions, going from 81,775 square feet of putting surfaces to the current 122,881 – “almost a 50 percent increase,” Mandell said.

“We massaged the greens to fit a bigger area,” he said, “and adjusted things to soften slopes for modern green speeds. Once we connected all those things, I think they’re the best greens complexes I’ve ever done.”

Mandell said working with Tourville – who built a once-small company into one of the polymer tubing industry’s innovative leaders – was energizing. “He’s definitely a visionary,” the architect said. “He puts the right people in place. He’s demanding, but he knows how to get the most from people.”

The result is a strong re-addition to the S.C. Midlands, which get less attention for golf than the state’s coastal and mountain regions. Membership is up (to around 450) and the club is pushing for out-of-town members, offering sweetheart monthly dues and no initiation or food/beverage charges.

“If (Tourville) can get where it’s making money each year, that’s what he’s looking for,” said Dan Hydrick, a club member and friend of the owner. “They say you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but he disproved it.”

Added Marion Dantzler, a native and longtime mini-tour player: “I’ve played some nice courses around the country, and (Tourville has) given not only Orangeburg but South Carolina a championship golf course in this little town … This is as good as any I’ve played.”

Mandell appreciates that assessment. “Mr. T gave me the resources and the trust,” he said. “I hope he’s happy with it.”

Tourville grins when asked. “If we hadn’t (bought the club), Orangeburg wouldn’t have a golf club,” he said. “So we did it – and we did it right.”

In his mind, at least, he got just what he asked for from Mandell.

 

Bob Gillespie is a former newspaper golf reporter and freelancer living in Columbia, S.C.

 

 

5 must-play courses on the Grand Strand

The scenic 8th green at Caledonia. (Photo courtesy of Caledonia Golf and Fish Club)

We’re entering the time when golf is at its best along the Grand Strand. Golf in the fall on the coast doesn’t get much better. There are about 100 courses in the greater Myrtle Beach area, many of which are high quality. Here are five must-play tracks on any trip to the beach:

Caledonia Golf and Beach Club: Designed by the late Mike Strantz, Caledonia is one of the artist’s best creations. It weaves its way through tall pines, ancient live oaks and wetlands and the beauty matches the integrity of the layout. Caledonia is quite short by modern standards but still is a good test by anyone’s measure.

Dunes Club: The best at the beach for years, the Dunes Club attracts golfers of all stripes. Designed by Robert Trent Jones in 1948, it features sandy, rolling, tree-lined terrain and much more elevation change than you’d expect along the ocean. Every hole is unique, which makes the whole a much grander course.

TPC Myrtle Beach: Opened in 1999, this TPC hosted the 2000 Senior Tour Championship, won by Tom Watson. This Tom Fazio design is one of his best and TPC Myrtle Beach regularly appears on lists of the best courses in South Carolina.

Tidewater Golf Club: Tidewater could be the most scenic course on the Grand Strand, with nine holes along either the Intracoastal Waterway or the Cherry Grove Inlet. Designed by Ken Tomlinson, who once owned Tidewater, it opened to rave reviews .

Barefoot Resort (Love Course): All the courses at Barefoot Resort are worth playing, but if you had to pick one it would be the Love Course. Designed by Davis Love III, it has a distinct Lowcountry feel and minimalist in its design. It is also routed on the front nine through the ruins of a plantation. The Love Course is a regular on the top 100 courses open to the public.

Bob Gillespie: 5 (and a bonus) best daily fee courses in Columbia, S.C.

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.

www.cobblestoneparkgolfclub.com

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.

www.goldenhillsgolf.com

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.

www.oakhillsgolf.com

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.

www.timberlakecountryclub.com

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.

www.windermereclubsc.com

www.northwoodsgolfsc.com

 

Feedback from the pros led this Charlotte-area country club to revamp its practice facility

River Run Country Club’s 18th hole, a 548-yard par-5. Photo courtesy of River Run Country Club.

From 2013-15, Davidson’s River Run Country Club served as one of four hosts for the PGA’s Web.com Tour Finals, in which golfers can earn a PGA Tour card for the following season.

River Run’s fair but challenging layout and pristine conditions resulted in mostly positive feedback. However, if anything was lacking according to the players, assistant golf professional Chris Blackham said it was the practice facility.

Continue reading “Feedback from the pros led this Charlotte-area country club to revamp its practice facility”