There is golf beyond Hilton Head Island, Myrtle Beach and Kiawah Island in South Carolina. Plenty of it, in fact. And while it's not quite on the level as the aforementioned famous destinations, it's a great value and probably worth considering if you're looking for a laid-back buddy or weekend trip. These are the mostly unsung courses of the Gamecock state and well worth exploring.
From just south of Charlotte across the state line to Columbia and into the golf-centric little town of Santee, there's a wealth of enjoyable golf courses that don't come anywhere close to breaking the bank.
If you're looking to some gems under the radar for an inexpensive buddy trip, driving along the South Carolina highways away from the coast might be the way to go. Let's take a look:
Santee: Golf's Little Big Town
Simply put, this could be the best value golf destination in the country. And what's remarkable is that a town with less than 1,000 people in population has 15 golf courses (three in Santee) within 45 minutes, and none them cost more than about $50 to play.
So it doesn't take a genius to figure out that it's not the locals who support these golf courses, but visitors, and Santee does everything it can to attract golfers to the area. (It's also worth noting here that the large freshwater Lake Marion also attracts sports fishermen from all over the state and North America.)
"Golf is the main lifeblood of our community," said Donnie Hilliard, mayor of Santee, which is located just off I-95 in the south central part of the state. "It creates an environment where we can bring in people who wouldn't ordinarily come here."
The good part about Santee is that it also has a couple of thousand hotel rooms, and plenty of restaurants to accommodate those golfers. And those are more than reasonable, too. Among them is the family-run Clark's Inn, which has been recently renovated and features one of the best breakfasts you'll find anywhere in the area. In addition to another dozen or so hotels, there are also golf cottages at Lake Marion Golf Club, so you can set up some pretty economical golf packages that include accommodations on or off the golf course. And later this year, Santee will be adding more rooms when a new Fairfield Inn opens.
As for the golf, it runs the gamut, but if you wanted to just go to Santee and not leave, there are three courses all within a couple of miles of each other.
The courses are Lake Marion Golf Course, Santee Cooper Country Club and Santee National Golf Club. None are spectacular, but they are attractive, solid regulation length courses designed accommodate a wide range of golfers, especially seniors, juniors and ladies.
Lake Marion has wide fairways but challenging greens. Santee National has rolling fairways and five lakes. And Santee Cooper Country Club provides a nice parkland setting.
Lake Marion is also adding a new attraction that should be a hit with all its players. It's an 18-hole, 35,000-square-foot putting course called "Palmetto Traverse," which will be located adjacent to the Lake Marion Villa & Townhouse Complex. The layout has been designed by golf course architect and Donald Ross restoration specialist Kris Spence and Spence Golf Design and should open in Augusta.
The putting course will include a pair of small bunkers within the surface area, and a small central grassy island with a sitting area and landscaping. The internal contours include plateaus, terraces, swales, rolls, valleys, spines and slopes that will provide abundant variety testing the best player to beginner.
"The green will include most every feature a golfer might experience when playing golf around the world," said Spence, who is based in Greensboro, N.C.
Santee Cooper, as well, has an added attraction – it's massive golf shop. The club is the largest distributor of FootJoy golf shoes in the state, with more than 2,500 pair in stock at discounted prices. It also has a large selection of other shoe brands, such as Skechers. Golfers travel across the state just to stock up on shoes.
And for the last couple of years, Santee has played host to the Santee Winter 4-Ball Classic. Conducted in early December, it's a mixed-format tournament that includes three rounds of golf, accommodations, meals, free clubs, balls, shoes and prizes for $350. The weather can be on the cool side, but the value is so good, it attracts players from all over North America, including Canada.
Outside of Santee, there are five additional courses on the north side of Lake Marion, like the Tom Jackson-designed Wyboo Country Club, all within 25 minutes of Santee. And a little farther away near the near the community of Summerville, there are another half dozen or so courses.
Mountain to Midlands: so many choices
This is a region that stretches from Rock Hill, a suburb of Charlotte, west to Greenville and all the way down to Aiken through Columbia. You can choose from dozens of golf courses that are interesting, in good shape and mostly bargains compared to similar courses in other parts of the country.
Starting in Rock Hill has some built-in advantages. First of all, you can fly into Charlotte, which offers directs from all over the world, often at a relatively cheap fares.
From there, its only 40 minutes or so to Rock Hill, where there's a region called Olde English District. There you'll find all sorts of restaurants and shops as well as a dozen or so golf courses.
Two of the courses are historic private facilities that are only available if you book packages (which are quite reasonable) through Golf Packages of South Carolina.
One is Rock Hill Country Club, an A. W. Tillinghast design that opened in 1934. The other is Camden Country Club, a Donald Ross design established in 1903.
Some other favorites in the area include Springfield Golf Club, Edgewater Golf Club and Carolina Lakes, with its pristine setting of streams and ponds along the Catawba River.
While you could certainly spend a weekend or longer in the Rock Hill area and Charlotte for that matter, if you make your way south down Interstate 77 for a little more than an hour, you'll find yourself in Lake Murray Country (with more than 650 miles of shoreline) around the state capital of Columbia, the largest city in South Carolina with nearly 135,000 people and more than a dozen golf courses open to the public.
Among them is the home course of the University of South Carolina Gamecocks golf teams, Cobblestone Park as well as the P.B. Dye designed Windermere Golf Club and Oak Hills Golf Club, a Steve Melnyk and Davis Love III layout that's very popular.
As you might imagine, there's lots to go with golf, including an abundant craft beer scene that includes the Twisted Spur in Columbia's downtown Vista entertainment district as well as the Hunter-Gatherer Brewery & Alehouse and Old Mill Brew Pub, both on main street and within walking distance from each other.
From Columbia, you could zigzag back up to the northwest part of the state toward the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Greenville-Spartanburg area, which offers more than 15 quality golf courses with reasonable green fees (almost all well under $75).
This is the Upcountry Region of the state, and two favorites are nearby university courses, including The Walker Course at Clemson University with its tiger paw, par-3 17th, and The Furman University Golf Club are must stops when visiting this part of the State. The Preserve at Verdae, carved out of the Carolina Forest, is located in mid-town Greenville, while Woodfin Ridge Golf Club and River Falls Plantation provide some of the more dramatic settings in the area.
The city of Greenville, by the way, is one of the fastest growing cities in the State, home to BMW and the Michelin headquarters too.
And finally, if you head to the southwest part of the state, you'll find another dozen or so courses in historic Aiken.
Located just across the Savannah River from Augusta, Ga., Aiken is home to one of the oldest golf courses in the South, Aiken Golf Club, which opened in 1912, with fairways graced by Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Patty Berg and even Fred Astaire. 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 highly-acclaimed River Golf Club, designed by Jim Fazio, along the banks of the Savannah. Other courses in the area you can put in your package include Cedar Creek and Persimmon Hill Golf Club, to name a couple.