South Carolina 2006

Dave Tutelman -- January 31,2006

(To see the pictures full-size, just click on the thumbnails.)

It was a small group this year in South Carolina. In fact, it has been for four years now. Brent Hutto, Terry Easton, and I played a lot of golf and had a lot of fun -- but we missed the rest of you.

Here's Terry, Brent, and me (right to left) in front of the impressive clubhouse at Columbia Country Club, Brent's home course. We played there on Sunday. But that gets me a little ahead of myself -- I played 108 holes of walking golf between Thursday and Sunday.

Thursday - Charwood

This year we got back to a tradition from the original Fripp Tripps: a warmup round at Charwood. Charwood is a good choice because:
My plane arrived a couple of hours before Terry's so Brent and I were finishing our first nine when Terry pulled into the parking lot in his rental car. The day had started off chilly, but by now (a little after noon) it was warming up nicely. We had paired up with a couple of locals in a cart. They apologized in advance (unnecessarily, as it turned out) for the quality of golf they would play, and told us about their one condition for playing with "outsiders": the no-laugh rule. I wonder if our RSG events need a no-laugh rule. Nah!

Terry pretty much picked up where he left off the last time I saw him play. Long, flowing swing. One-iron from the tee right down the middle, unless he needs extra distance from the drive. From anywhere inside 60 yards, a high lob that lands softly next to the hole and stays there.

As for Brent and me, our games came and went. That was the story of the whole weekend for me. I'd play a few holes really well, then have a blowup or two before I could get back on track. For most of the weekend, I hit my driver much more consistently than I'm used to. I attribute that to my current driver being really susceptible to the influence of jealousy. I had built a new driver for the trip, and took it to the range to try out on Tuesday. A whole bucket of side-by-side testing with last year's driver showed the new one to be slightly but decidedly inferior. I decided to pack the older one and leave the fine-tuning of the new driver for home later. Apparently the unintended scare tactics worked; the old driver behaved itself really well for most of the trip.

Charwood has 27 holes, and Terry had played 18 and Brent and I all 27 by five o'clock. Then we got into cars and headed for Charleston. Checked into the hotel, and went downtown to Jestine's Kitchen. This is a restaurant that Terry found last year from a recommendation. It features "low country" cooking, like gumbo, field peas, hoppin' john, corn bread, and outstanding fried chicken. They also have some really good, sweet desserts; the best of the lot were the pecan pie and the coca-cola cake. (Yes, you heard right; I can't explain it; you'll just have to go there and experience it.)

Friday - Stono Ferry

Friday morning was crisp and cold. Once the sun came up, it started to warm up; but it had a long way to go. We had a tee time reserved at The Links At Stono Ferry for 7:40am, but were not surprised at a frost delay until 9:30. So we enjoyed the comforts of their clubhouse in the meantime. Terry and Brent even took naps on the very comfortable couch, while I read and took a few pictures...

Brent and Terry in the clubhouse. Isn't that a cool lamp behind them?

Terry being Terry. I don't know what story he's telling Brent, but I'm sure it's amusing if you can keep the characters straight.

The range is just a short chip from the clubhouse, and is a lot prettier and more comfortable than most

It was still a bit chilly when they allowed us off at 9:30, but eminently playable. And the windbreakers were off after just a few holes.

Stono Ferry is a lovely course on the rolling banks of the Stono River (actually more a tidal estuary than a river). It was chosen Charleston area course of the year for 2003-2004. A few of the holes play alongside the river, where the tee shot is over a cove of the river. Here's a picture of Terry driving at one such hole, the thirteenth. It requires at least 180 yards of carry from the white tees, and it was into the wind all four rounds I've played there. Among us, we drowned as many balls as we got across this inlet.

I played well the front nine, lost it on the back nine, but found it again for the last couple of holes -- handily parring the difficult par-5 seventeenth.

We had lunch in the Stono Ferry clubhouse: soup and sandwich. For the "soup" Terry and I went for the chili. While their chili was mostly intended to turn a hot dog into a chili dog, it was among the best chili I've had; big chunks of tomato, and the beef was diced (not ground) and very tender. A real stick-to-the-ribs lunch that kept me going for the afternoon round.

The afternoon was just Terry and me; Brent had to go back to Columbia. Terry convinced me to play from the back tees. "See a different course." "More golf for your money." Both valid arguments. The course was a handful for me from the backs. OTOH, I must have been holding my game together better, because I was a couple of strokes lower in the afternoon.

We weren't sure we could finish 18, but we managed to. Just barely! We played the last hole in near-darkness. Good thing we remembered the pin was way front earlier in the day, or we would have had very long putts, because it was certainly too dark to see the flag from the fairway. That finishing hole at Stono is cool. It's a relatively short (322yd) par-4. If you can keep the ball straight and hit it 200 yards, you have a short iron to an island green. It's a pretty big green, but missed is drowned.

After we found our car in the dark and kept the clubhouse staff from closing up before we stopped at the washroom, we headed for dinner. The plan was to eat at Middleton Plantation, but that got bollixed up with a traffic jam. We got stuck in something that was probably caused by an accident. It held us up for just about an hour and a half, during which time I doubt we got three miles. It definitely would have been faster to walk that distance. After an hour, we came up with a Plan B (Jestine's Kitchen again; we knew where it was so we wouldn't get lost) and a Plan C (if we were still stuck by 8:15, we'd stop at one of the chain restaurants along Rt 17; Ruby Tuesday for instance). We got unstuck at 8:12pm -- just enough time to still get to Jestine's and have a comfortable, unhurried dinner. Worked out well.

Upon returning to the hotel, we found the parking lot incredibly crowded; we had to park a long way from our room. Other strange things: there were several people walking dogs, and many of the cars had dog decals and logos on them. Inquiry turned up the facts that (a) there was a big dog show in Charleston that weekend, and (b) La Quinta Inns are "pet-friendly" as the desk clerk put it. The next morning, there were a lot of folks out walking dogs as we left; most of them had three or four dogs apiece.

Saturday - University Club

Woke up, had breakfast, and drove from Charleston to Blythewood north of Columbia. By the time we got to the University Club at around 9am, it was already a beautiful day. We wore short sleeves, and Terry had shorts. Even so, the course had a substantial frost delay. It had been a very clear, still night, and some of the shaded greens would take a long time to thaw.

The view from the veranda of the clubhouse is magnificent. It gives the feeling of the size and power of the course: very hilly with huge, tall pines, which has made it one of my favorite courses. (There are more pictures of the course in the writeup of last year's South Carolina trip.) Unfortunately, this may be the last time I'll get to play it. The new owners are developing it as a residential course (ugh!), and setting membership policies and fees to turn it into a residents-only private club.

A little after 10am, we had all arrived. Brent was there, as was David Reiling, a member of the University Club who had introduced us to this wonderful course back in 1997 and has graciously hosted us there whenever we get to Columbia. David had several of his local friends there as well; all told there were seven of us. We warmed up at the range and practice green, and we were the first two groups off when the frost delay ended at 11:15.

Once again, my driver was working well, which contributed to my best day of golf of the whole trip. Example: the third hole is a big dogleg. The aiming point off the tee is a rock garden in the form of a gamecock's claw and spur. (The Gamecock's are the teams from University of South Carolina; this is their home course, hence the name of the club.) The ideal drive is at the right side and just short of "the claw." As you can see from the balls in the foreground of the photo, Terry and I both had our drivers cooking on that hole.

Apart from my overall score, my day was made by good performances on the three most memorable holes on the course:
The fifth hole is a par-5 that is one of my favorites. (Coops has told me it's his favorite, too.) Off the tee, there is a hill into the woods on the left and a lake if you're long and right. The fairway continues straight but, sooner or later, you'll have to turn right and hit across the lake to the green. A really long drive in the right part of the fairway can leave you just over 200 yards to the green -- all carry across the lake. I can't hit either of those two shots any more (at age 64, I am definitely losing distance), so I played it more conservatively. I put a good drive in the fairway, and a short-iron layup to the very right-end of the fairway. That was a solid 9-iron to the flagstick. My ball mark was about a foot from the hole, and my ball about ten feet past it. Lipped out my birdie putt, and tapped in for par.

The eleventh hole is a short (125-yard) par-3 with a peninsula green. Water front, left, and rear. The pin was in the center of the green, which precluded having to decide whether to go for it or play safe. (Yeah, right! As if I were going to aim anywhere but the middle of the green.) I hit my 9-iron within a dozen feet of the hole. The birdie putt was dead center.
The finishing hole is a doozy of a par-5. The tees are low to the water at the south end of the lake, the far end in the photo. It is a split fairway; you can hit off the tee to the right, low fairway or keep it left and high for the upper fairway. (I mean the golfer's "right" and "left", the opposite of the photo, which was taken from behind the green.) Between the two are bunkers and (visible in the photo) rough. For a right-hander with a fade (like me) it's hard to hit the upper fairway. But the lower fairway, while easier to reach and the shorter overall length, has a killer third shot: over water and straight through the tree at the end of the fairway.

My driver was working, and I put my tee shot well into the upper fairway. My second shot was adequate, but left me 185 yards from the green. The third shot was just right, and skipped up to the back level where the hole was. But I was way on the left, and the flag was just as extreme to the right. I ran my lag eight feet by (didn't notice the drop-off just behind the hole), and wound up with a three-putt bogey. Still, not bad for that hole.

At the seventeenth hole, an uphill par-3, Brent and Terry had a moment of deja vu. They were playing a Nassau, just as they had the last time they played University together. And, just as the last time, Brent had lost the front, was winning the back, and Terry had him dormie for the overall match. Terry hit a tee shot like nothing I've ever seen him do: a dead top into the swamp in front of the tee. You have to realize I've never seen him hit an iron shot remotely that bad. But Brent had; apparently it was exactly the same shot he had hit in that previous match. Yecchhh! Brent won that hole (unlike the previous match), and the eighteenth as well. So the entire Nassau was "no blood".

After we finished, we sat around on the patio behind the clubhouse, enjoying beer and sunshine (it got close to 70ºF) and trading stories with David and his friend Bret. A great end to a perfectly beautiful day!

We went to dinner with Brent at his favorite restaurant in Columbia. Mo's is a fairly new Italian restaurant, and very popular. We got there before the rush; it became difficult to get a table a half-hour after we arrived. When our food came to the table, we found out what the big deal was. My my scallops piccata were delicious; I'm a big fan of scallops, and these were among the best I've ever had.

Sunday - Columbia Country Club

We were promised rain on Sunday. The rain happened, but nowhere near severely enough to affect our golf. We played all 27 holes at Brent's home course, Columbia Country Club. We got there around 8am for our 8:40 tee time, and went to practice at the range. After five minutes, we were chased back to the clubhouse by some serious rain. We remained at the clubhouse until the rain eased up at about 9:30, at which time we took a little chipping practice and dashed to the first tee before the course could get crowded.

The front nine was damp and windy, and we kept our rain jackets on -- though Terry, as he did Friday and Saturday, played in shorts. My game came and went, as it had all weekend. For about six holes I couldn't miss a fairway, and got a textbook par on the par-5 third. (Big drive in middle of fairway, good 3-wood to middle of fairway, touch wedge from 80 yards to about 15 feet, and two-putt.) But I totally lost it on the last three holes of the nine. That included drowning a ball on the par-3 eighth that was, in Brent's words, "A record! I've never seen one missed that far left."

I pulled it together the second nine, shooting a little better than bogey. (As a 14-hcp, that's about what I need to play to my number.) Brent's match with Terry had one of those "match play moments". You know, the one the TV announcers talk about -- how fast things can change and you just have to expect it. On the fourteenth hole, a long (almost 200yd) par-3, Brent's tee shot was on the front of the green, while Terry's rattled around in the trees well to the right. When he finally found his ball, it was down in the rough way below the hole. Worse yet, Terry had short-sided himself, and there was a knob between him and the green where the flag was. Terry executed one of his patented high lobs that landed on the knob and trickled almost to the green. Brent made his par, then Terry chipped in for his. They had halved a hole we figured Brent had just about won... well, I guess Terry didn't figure that.

We had a really good lunch at the clubhouse. They had a "golfer's buffet", including fried chicken (very good), veggies, a salad bar, and some very rich desserts. Rather than nap after all that, we decided to go for the third nine. We had almost two hours before I had to be back at the clubhouse changing, if I were to make my plane. We finished the nine in under the necessary time. I was struggling a little, especially after a triple-bogey on the fourth hole, including a ball lost in the hazard and a three-putt. But I found a swing key that worked on the fifth hole, and held it together pretty well for the rest of the afternoon. My drive became reliable again, and everything else seemed to follow.

(Pardon me for a brief digression, but it's interesting how I managed to latch onto the swing key that saved my third nine. As usual for me, when my swing gets uncomfortable, it generally results in my slicing the drive. Brent had made a comment, apropos the young guns in the group right behind us, that young golfers start out hooking and learn to straighten it out as they mature. My history was quite the opposite. My dad taught me to play and, as a necessary part of teaching me the swing he knew, bequeathed me his awful slice. It wasn't until I was 20 that I saw -- and successfully copied -- a swing that overcame that slice. After Brent made the comment, I thought about what those swing changes were that I made at 20. I decided to focus on one aspect of the changes and use it as a swing thought, and it worked.)

The last two holes are tough par-fours. Brent is fond of the eighth, but not the ninth -- which he described as, "Long, uphill, and unpleasant. You aren't going to reach it in two. Want to skip it and get back to the clubhouse?" We played it. Terry hit a beautiful couple of shots and did reach it. My shots were pretty good, and I was chipping from maybe ten yards short of the green. Nice way to finish the weekend's golf.

The men's locker room at the Columbia Country Club is unbelievably complete and comfortable. Yes, it has lockers and a rest room. It has a big shower area as well, and changing benches. But it also has facilities I just don't associate with locker rooms: a section for card tables and a lounge area with comfortable chairs, softas, and a TV. (Maybe I just don't hang around in the right places.) Anyway, I changed into my traveling clothes, and Brent got me to the airport in plenty of time.

Brent, thanks for setting up a great weekend. And David, thanks again for the invitation to the University Club. See y'all next year, I hope.