South Carolina 2005

Dave Tutelman -- February 4, 2005

As last year, the winter trip to Carolina consisted of Brent Hutto, Terry Easton, and me. We were joined the last day, at the University Club, by others -- but we'll get to that.

We decided not to go to Fripp again because those courses that were not heavily residential last time were definitely headed in that direction. There are more houses on Ocean Creek every time we play it, and by now SC National (Cat Island) should have a residential infestation of the entire back nine. So Brent suggested some courses at Charleston, and Charleston was most of the itinerary this year.

We arrived Saturday, January 29, in a chilly rain. I flew into Columbia, where it was cold enough to be an ice storm. Terry had a later flight into Charleston. Brent and I drove to Charleston in the afternoon, and straight to the Shadowmoss Plantation course. Looked like it would have been fun and not too difficult, but we didn't get a chance to find out. Because of the rain, the course was closed; in fact, even the driving range and putting green were closed. We checked into the hotel, met Terry, and found a Plan B for the afternoon. There was a big Edwin Watts store near the hotel, and we passed some fun time there until they closed. Then we went grocery shopping and headed into Charleston for dinner. Terry had a recommendation for Jestine's Kitchen on Meeting Street. Excellent low-country food. I had the best catfish I've tried, and Brent and Terry seemed similarly enthusiastic about their meals.

Sunday morning, we were up bright and early -- well, dark and early; it isn't bright at 5AM in the winter. But we had a 7:20 tee time at Stono Ferry a half hour from the hotel, and we wanted to get breakfast first. It was still raining when we got to the golf course (which we barely found in the dark; the first driveway we tried was somebody's house). But the rain stopped quickly after we got there. We were hitting balls on the range before 8AM, and teed off at 8:30.

Stono Ferry is a challenging course, with lots of water and trees. Brent feels it plays longer than the yardage on the scorecard, but I didn't find that to be the case. It is a lot of fun, and we played it twice. It is somewhat expensive at $72. But the replay fee is simply the cart fee. Since we were walking, the afternoon round was free. So we concluded that it is very reasonably priced at $36 a round.

Brent and I didn't score very well at all; I'm sure Terry wasn't happy with his score either, but it was a lot better than ours. Even so, I had a very good time, playing a beautiful golf course in 50°F weather, and leaving the knee-deep snow back in New Jersey. Two of the holes run alongside the Stono River, and involve carries across parts of the river. After the river come three long holes (two par-fives and a long dogleg four), followed by a dramatic home hole. It is a relatively short par-four with an island green. Well, actually it's a moated green, with a rather wide, deep moat.

BTW, the grill in the Stono Ferry clubhouse makes excellent lunches. I had an outstanding grilled spiced chicken sandwich, with a cup of really tasty crab and asparagus soup.

We managed to get in 36 holes before dark, and went to eat at Ruby Tuesday's. Then back to the hotel and to sleep.

On Monday morning, we had an 8:20 tee time at Legend Oaks Golf Club at nearby Summerville. They had a frost delay, so we didn't tee off until 9:30.

The front nine is beautiful. Water is in play on seven of the nine holes. And among us, we put balls in the water on five of the seven. The course also makes good use of sand to define the proper way to play each hole. In general, it was skillfully architected (Scott Pool) and a pleasure to play.  However, it had some of the annoying characteristics of a residential course. There were one or two long walks among houses and across streets from one hole to the next. But most of the holes didn't have houses in play. That is, not unless you played them the way I played the fifth and sixth holes. On those holes, I hit two houses and had to retrieve balls from the yards of two others. But that was more my fault than the course's.

OK, I had two major meltdowns of my game that round. On each occasion, I hit about five shots in a row dead right. No, not a slice and not a push... dead right. It was bad enough to look like a shank -- even a bad shank. But I was doing it with the woods as well as the irons, so that wasn't the problem. To this moment, I don't know what was doing it (open clubface? toe hit?), but I'm pretty sure the swing problem was tension. And of course the tension increases once you've hit one or two shots like that, making the problem even worse. Fortunately, I was able to dig out of it both times. Terry and Brent helped me with the problem; though you may doubt it, they really were a help. I picked up a "relaxation" move for my pre-shot routine from watching Terry. And Brent made like a Tour caddy, and told me "relax, tempo" before every shot until I had my game back. Thanks, guys.

As good as the front nine was, that's how bad the back nine was. It was probably a very reasonable course until this year, though not in the same class as the front nine. But this year they began construction of hundreds of new houses on the back nine. Problems brought about by this development include:
We finished eighteen with plenty of daylight left, though the frost delay killed our chances of playing 36. But Terry wanted to rest up for tomorrow (you don't want to be tired for the University Club) and none of us wanted to play the back nine again. So Brent and I did a repeat of the front nine, and enjoyed it thoroughly -- finishing in an hour and forty minutes. Then we picked up Terry at the clubhouse and headed for Columbia. We ate dinner at Fran's, a favorite restaurant of Brent's. Then Terry and I checked into our hotel and zonked out.

It's Tuesday! Last day of the trip, and my muscles were telling me they were glad. And -- best of all -- we play The University Club today! This is now Brent's home course, and is one of my favorite golf courses. We were met by Jason Poston, whom Brent and I met through the GEA (Golf Equipment Aficionados) forum. He's a Carolina graduate from some years back who lives in Charlotte now; the trip gave him a good excuse to come back and play the University Club for the first time in years.

Here are Terry, Brent, and Jason posing in front of "The Claw". The University of South Carolina teams are the Gamecocks, and the claw is the symbol on their uniforms. It is also a display of colored stones off the fairway of the third hole. (Click on the thumbnail pictures here to get a full-size picture.) This picture was taken early in the day, while we were still bundled up from the morning cold. By the middle of the front nine, the top layers were off and it was approaching fifty degrees. It was in the fifties when we finished, sunny and decidedly warm.

For you northern golfers who hibernate for the winter, you are looking at a course with dormant Bermuda rough. The green fairways are bent, rye, or blue grass, which thrives in cool weather. Bermuda grass likes hot weather, and goes into a tan dormancy in the Carolina winter.
Brent tees off on the first hole. It's difficult to capture in a photograph how hilly this hole is. But it drops off five or six stories beyond the tee, and you're looking down to the fairway. But the fairway slopes up dramatically, and the green is above the level of the tee.

Brent played really well early in the round. He parred the first five holes, and they are certainly not pushover holes. His game has come a long way. He doesn't miss many full-swing shots, has a very repeatable swing, and knows his club distances well. A lot of that is practice, but some comes from playing the shorter tees. Brent has taken to playing courses from the tees that give a total of 5500 yards, instead of the 6200 that the rest of us played. I think the advantage comes from the fact that he doesn't feel he has to "press" for distance. He can take a normal swing, and that is a big confidence booster.
This is the picturesque fourteenth hole, a downhill par-five. Jason is pitching out of trouble at the edge of the woods, over a waste bunker and rough, and back to the fairway. The green is peeking around the hill on the left, making the approach shot  very tricky. Making it even trickier is the pond you don't see immediately behind the green; if your approach shot is hot enough to even trickle off the green, it's wet. Don't ask me how I know.
David Reiling, who originally introduced us to the University Club in 1997, couldn't get away from work to play with us. But he did get out in time to catch us at the fifteenth green. He rode along with us for the last three holes, offering encouragement, local knowledge, and general distraction.

This picture was taken from the lower fairway of the eighteenth hole (it's a split fairway), looking across the green to the clubhouse. It is an excellent stadium-style hole from which to view the finish of play.

My approach shot was from the 150 marker in front of David's cart. The tree just covered the green, at the altitude that my seven-iron shot would travel. David suggested cutting it around the tree -- from a hook lie, as it turned out. (I preferred cutting it with a chain saw, but airport security had confiscated it on the flight down.) Anyway, I tried the cut shot and it worked pretty well. I came up just short of the green; I had neglected to go one club longer to make up for the higher loft of a cut shot.

After the round, we sat around the clubhouse over lunch and beer for a while. Jason went back to the range to try out some of my clubs. (He's a clubmaker, too, and was getting ideas for some upcoming projects.) I changed into clothes for the plane. Eventually, we had to take our leave and head for the next stop. For Jason and Brent, that was home. Terry drove me to the airport, then continued on to visit his niece in Columbia. And I flew back to New Jersey, glowing from yet another wonderful Carolina winter golf trip.