From Old 96 to the coast, South Carolina golf can boast

CLEMSON, S.C. -- Mention South Carolina golf and Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head Island or Kiawah Island spring to mind.

But there's a lot more to the Palmetto State than the coast. It features hills and rivers and streams and a whole lot of history. And green fees, by and large, that are very reasonable.

Starting in the northwestern part of the state, a golf journey east to the Atlantic Ocean covers four of the state's 11 tourism regions -- each with their unique traditions, flavor and terrain.

The trip starts with a flight into Greenville/Spartanburg in the middle of the Pendleton District on Interstate 85 between Atlanta and Charlotte, N.C.

It ends on Hilton Head Island in the Lowcountry, where you'll find the famous Harbour Town Golf Links and dozens of other great golf courses.

In between, the journey stops at a major university, a historic bed and breakfast and a golf course just a few miles away from the sport's first major championship. Here's a sample of what South Carolina has to offer in golf, dining and sightseeing:

Golf in South Carolina's Pendleton District

At the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, according to locals, "water falls and history calls," meaning there are plenty of waterfalls, streams, rolling hills, lakes, historical buildings and markers in an area with which much of the country remains unfamiliar.

Perhaps one of the jewels is the Walker Course at Clemson University. Designed by D.J. Victor and opened in 1995, the 6,911-yard layout is home to the 2003 NCAA champion Clemson golf team, but it allows outside play. This is a golf course that winds up and down hills and along the shores of Lake Hartwell, making it one of the more picturesque and challenging experiences in the state.

The last five holes are particularly good, including the signature, par-3 17th, which plays over a lake to a green surrounded by bunkers that appear to form a Clemson Tiger's paw. The 18th is a good risk-reward par 5 that also brings water into play, but the golf course is solid throughout. As a bonus, visitors can stay at the James F. Martin Inn, which features extremely comfortable accommodations at a reasonable rate.

Another golf option in the region is the The Rock at Jocassee in Pickens, just outside of Spartanburg. Designed by Russell Breeden, The Rock can play a little quirky, but with its dramatic elevation changes, doglegs and mountainous beauty, it's a lot of fun.

Formerly known as Table Rock Golf Club, the golf course sits in a valley near Table Rock State Park. The signature hole is the par-3 eighth, which features a sliding rock waterfall, where kids once played but aren't allowed today.

For dinner, check out Calhoun Corners Restaurant in Clemson. Next to the old train station and train museum, it offers an Old World ambiance and a wide selection of seafood, steaks and pasta with a local flair.

Golf in the Old 96 District

To the east, the Old 96 District includes plenty of historic property on South Carolina's Freshwater Coast and three counties that border Georgia. Taking its name from a colonial outpost called Ninety-Six, it's also the birthplace of the confederacy, which explains the plethora of historical buildings and sites to explore.

If you want to play golf in this region, you might want to try Hunters Creek Golf and Country Club in Greenwood. This splendid, 27-hole layout plays around a large lake and over dales through a hardwood forest. Designed by Tom Jackson, the golf course measures just less than 7,000 yards from the tips. Greens and conditions are top-notch, and the staff and membership of this semi-private club are most hospitable.

Golf in Thoroughbred Country

As the name implies, Thoroughbred Country features a legacy of polo clubs and horse stables. But its history reaches far deeper, with Civil War battle sites, plantation homes and unique rivers.

Explore historic Aiken near Augusta, Ga., home to one of the oldest golf courses in the South. Opened in 1912, with a portion of its design attributed to John Inglis, Aiken Golf Club showcases fairways graced by Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Patty Berg and even the late Fred Astaire. The golf course is also one of the first in the country to feature forward tees. And although it measures only 5,734 yards, this recently renovated par 71 is anything but a pushover. Here, you'll find oddly shaped greens with undulation that heightens the difficulty of putting, a few challenging doglegs and plenty of deep, penal bunkers.

A few miles to the southwest sits North Augusta, where you'll find the River Golf Club. Designed by Jim Fazio, it's is a 6,847-yard layout along the banks of the Savannah River. With water and wetlands on more than half the holes, the golf course is a popular choice for players on both sides of the state border, especially during the Masters tournament each April. It also features large bentgrass greens , overseeded annually, so it's a great choice in the early spring or late fall.

For dining, check out the historic Rose Hill Estate, transformed into a bed and breakfast. On the highest point in Aiken, Rose Hill, the first property listed on the National Register, is a 10,000-square-foot, shingle-style Dutch colonial that formerly served as a retreat for VIPs. Today, it features beautiful gardens, a wedding chapel and the Sheffield Bar, which offers an extensive menu of local favorites and spirits.

Golf in the Lowcountry

While the rest of the state certainly offers plenty of great golf, the Lowcountry remains the region with the most quality. It includes dozens of terrific golf courses, but we're going to narrow it down to three for our itinerary.

The first stop comes on Edisto Island, where Fred Couples reportedly showed up recently to play a relaxing round at the Plantation Course at Edisto. This relatively short course, measuring 6,175 yards, plays longer and more difficult than its yardage, with water hazards and extensive bunkering throughout its all-paspalum layout, renovated in 2006.

Designed by Tom Jackson, the golf course meanders through coastal marshlands and natural lagoons around Spanish moss -covered live oaks. On-site villas and excellent dining make for a great stay-and-play destination.

Moving down the coast, you'll find Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort, which includes three big-name designer golf courses. Among them is the Robert Trent Jones Course, renovated in 2002. The golf course features dramatic par 3s, wetlands and its signature hole, the par-5 10th, which overlooks the Atlantic Ocean.

And although about two dozen good golf options exist in the Hilton Head Island area, a round on Harbour Town Golf Links remains a must for any first-time visitor. Located at Sea Island Resort, Habour Town hosts the PGA Tour's Heritage Classic. Known for its signature red-and-white lighthouse, Pete Dye's masterpiece finishes by looking into the gales of the Calibogue Sound. Although most know Harbour Town for its last three holes, the interior of the golf course offers plenty of highlights as well, including a great collection of par 3s and the unique par-4 13th designed by Pete's wife, Alice Dye.

Sea Pines and Palmetto Dunes provide plenty of dining and luxury accommodations for convenient stay-and-play packages. The area delivers nearly an unlimited supply of things to do, notably fishing, sailing, shopping and visits to lighthouses, historical buildings and museums. There are also scores of other accommodation options and more than 250 restaurants, including Red Fish, which features an extensive fine menu and more than 1,000 bottles of wine.

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.
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From Old 96 to the coast, South Carolina golf can boast
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