Avoid the hazards -- and the gators -- on the scenic Sanctuary Golf Club at Cat Island in Beaufort

BEAUFORT, S.C. -- A word to the wise about playing the Sanctuary Golf Club at Cat Island.

Don't arrive a few minutes before the tee time. Show up early. Hit a few range balls. Stretch a bit.

The first three holes (all demanding par 4s) set the tone for what is a difficult -- but gorgeous -- test of target golf through the tidal marshes.

Joe Matheny, the head golf professional at the Sanctuary, said the start can make or break a round.

"You want to be loose," Matheny warned. "... I've seen really good players start 6-6-6."

The Sanctuary is what its name implies, a peaceful, serene layout where only a few houses spoil the beauty of the South Carolina Lowcountry. A renovation in 2009 by Jeff Brauer made the 6,673-yard course more playable, improving all the bunkers (while removing some and adding others) and increasing the size of most greens by 20 percent.

Back-to-back par-3s at no. 4 and no. 5 hug the marshes, continuing the strong stretch right off the bat. The layout settles into a solid rhythm through its midsection before a stirring crescendo for the final four holes.

The par-3 16th green and 17th tee sit on the shores of a beautiful bay, although the tee shots on both holes are as treacherous as they come. If your ball does end up in the water, don't bother looking for it. The gators don't give them back.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed and photographed more than 1,000 courses and written about golf destinations in 20 countries for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfpass and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.

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Avoid the hazards -- and the gators -- on the scenic Sanctuary Golf Club at Cat Island in Beaufort