Mention South Carolina to most golfers and images of Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head come to mind.  These golf destinations get much publicity and offer spectacular golf on courses designed by world-known architects.  However, not so publicized are the hidden gems scattered across South Carolina’s western regions…vistas that will offer you a palette of sensory delights and very affordable golf.

           Planning your next golf trip?  Consider a journey that will immerse you in South Carolina’s rich history, culture and rural beauty. Step back in time and explore these off-the-beaten-path gems.

            This golf journey begins in the northwest corner of the state. A flight into Greenville/ Spartanburg airport will land you in The 8th hole par 3Historic Pendleton District Region also known as the place where “Water Falls and History Calls”.  Here, the Blue Ridge Mountains, waterfalls, rolling hills, lakes and streams beckon the outdoor enthusiast. A perfect launching pad for your golf trip…The Rock at Jocassee in Pickens, voted the course with the best greens and views in the Upstate region.  This uniquely designed 18-hole track captures the hilly, mountainous terrain and flat bottomland, as it twists and turns around Indian burial mounds, between creeks and waterfalls. The quirky design layout, sliding rockdiverse mixture of holes, severe elevation changes and small tiered greens contribute to the memorable and challenging aspects of this course. The signature 8th hole, a 180-yard, par 3, the most scenic, features a severe drop in elevation from tee to green with a pinpoint landing to its small green. Glance right to capture a glimpse of the spectacular Gauley Falls, South Carolina’s famous “sliding rock”.

            Next stop…Clemson…a cozy college town and spirited community.  Privately tucked away, about 100 yards from The Walker Course at Clemson University, is the James E. Martin InnYou will be delighted with the outstanding, spacious, suite accommodations, convenient location, and their affordable stay & play packages. Hungry? Consider Calhoun Corners in Clemson, for superb gourmet dining with that cozy, old-time-feel ambiance.

 back 9           After a good night’s rest, you’re ready to play The Walker Course at Clemson University, a player friendly course that accommodates golfers of all skill levels.  This 6,911-yard layout offers five tee boxes with slope ratings computed for both sexes. The course starts out like a lamb with its wide-open, rolling fairways and large, bunker-guarded greens.  The more picturesque back nine, with awesome lake views, takes the sting out of the increased difficulty…tighter fairways, carries over water and smaller, precision demanding greens.  It is said that the culminating five holes of this course, which border Hartwell Lake, offer the most spectacular collection of finishing holes 17th hole par 3among all golf courses in SC. Their signature Tiger Paw 17th hole features a uniquely designed peninsula green with bunkers placed to resemble a tiger paw. This course is one of the most refreshing, picturesque and female-friendly courses I’ve played.

            Heading southeast takes you into the Old 96 District Region. Step back in time and tour historical battle sites dating back to the Revolutionary War. Greenwood County, a small town community, has about a dozen courses. You won’t be disappointed with the challenge and beauty of Hunter’s Creek Golf and Country Club, which offers three 9-hole courses…Willow, Maple and Oak. As the names connote, par 3 island greenmajestic hardwoods and pines line the dramatically sloping fairways where Hunter’s Creek unexpectedly intersects many holes. The many elevation changes and water vistas enhance the serenity and offer some spectacular views. As you weave through the protected fairways of the first few holes of the Willow course, you’ll be struck by a blast of wind and surprisingly a massive lake appears. Wow…get ready…you’re about to tee off on their signature 3rd hole, a 199-yard par 3 to an island green, with lots of wind to falter your shot.  

            An hour’s drive southeast lands you in Thoroughbred Country Region, an area well known for raising thoroughbred horses after the Revolutionary War. Here historical sites and plantation homes emit the grace and charm of yesteryear. Upon entering Aiken, you’ll experience the historical feel as you drive through this rural, quaint town with its boutiques and “uniques”. The Fairfield Inn would be an affordable place to stay the night, or if you prefer a more intimate, charming ambience, stay at the Rose Hill Estate…a 10-room B&B with furnished guest house to accommodate larger groups. Built in 1900 as a “Winter Colony” estate, it is a quintessential expression of Old Aiken Gardens and Gilded Age Architecture. Immerse yourself in the ambience of a bygone era, as you take in the wood-beamed rafters, medieval-styled leaded windows, and the enchanting old world chapel. Their recently renovated turn-of-the-century estate stables, now houses Rose Hill’s “Stable Restaurant and Bar”…a fine choice for dining.

           Step back into history and tee it up at Aiken Golf Club, a Donald Ross and John Inglis design.  Originally built in 1912, it is one1st green of the oldest courses in the country and the first course in America to feature forward tees for women. Extensively restored in recent years, the course makes judicious use of pines, sand and waste areas to evoke a Pinehurst feeling. The Charlestown-Hamburg Railway runs alongside the front nine holes adding to its nostalgic appeal. A compact, shot-maker’s type of course, the golfer has to 16th par 3maneuver his shots down the narrow, winding, tree-lined fairways while trying not to hit an errant shot out of bounds or into the many hazards guarding the large, wildly sloped, fast greens. Unique course features include the immense double green shared by the 1st and 17th holes, and the quaint 16th, par 3 with remnant remains of the fieldstone stairway leading up to elevated tees. The challenging aspects of this 5,734-yard course are not truly reflected by its distance.

           The next stop…The River Golf Club in North Augusta, only minutes away, but worlds apart. Set along the Savannah River, and clubhouseonly three miles from Augusta National, this 6,847-yard Jim Fazio design features a traditional coastal feel with its moss-draped live oaks, flat fairways, meandering fairwaysseveral lakes and streams. Beautiful plantation homes grace the fairways. The final four holes will test your accuracy and “guts” as you are faced with numerous water carries intersecting and running alongside fairways and greens with dramatic pot bunkers guarding pint-sized greens. The River Club has conveniently located four-eight bedroom villas along its 18th fairway, making it a perfect setting to stay and play. Only minutes from Augusta National, it’s a great place to stay if you’re attending the Masters.

           This kaleidoscopic journey culminates in Edisto Island. A semi-tropical island located about 45-miles south of Kiawah Island. Edisto BeachThis tranquil island, void of commercialism, is accentuated by numerous creeks and rivers meandering through salt marshes toward the ocean. Tucked away is The Plantation Course at Edisto, “an emerald emerging from the rough”. Fully renovated in 2006, it’s been redesigned and replanted with salt water tolerant, Paspalum grass, eliminating winter overseeding.  Harbored in moss-draped 1st holegiant live oaks, magnolias and towering palms, this uniquely sculpted masterpiece features lush, narrow fairways that meander through coastal marshland. Natural lagoons frame fairways and intersect in areas to gobble up your ball. You will be distracted by the abundance of wildlife, especially alligators lurking in the lagoons. General Manager, Leland Vaughn describes this 6,175-yard course as “pinpoint” golf; to score well accuracy reigns over distance. The Plantation Course offers golf packages at great prices, on-site 4-bedroom villas, great selection of food at The Plantation Grill, and a well-stocked pro shop…a perfect choice for those attending the 2012 PGA Championship at Kiawah Island.                              blue heron

              So, for your next golf trip, get off-the-beaten path…explore South Carolina’s hidden gems.

 Useful websites:

www.pendletondistrict.org   www.sctravelold96.com   www.tbredcountry.org  www.southcarolinalowcountry.com   www.golfattherock.com       www.walkergolfcourse.com    www.hunterscreekcc.comwww.aikengolfclub.com    www.rivergolfclub.com        www.theplantationcourseatedisto.com