No doubt, many have been sparked to hop in their car or board a plane and head to Charleston for their own golf get-away in the nearly 12 months since the curly-haired wunderkind from Northern Ireland captured his second major. And just as certainly, many of those same traveling golfers, once they arrived in the Holy City, built their playing itineraries around the numerous oceanfront courses at one or more of three island resorts in the Charleston area.
Nothing wrong with that. Kiawah, Seabrook Island and Wild Dunes collectively offer nine courses – 162 holes – that would delight any traveling golfer. But the resort offerings comprise less than half of the golf available to visitors and guests of the area named the No. 1 tourist destination in the world by Condé Nast Traveler magazine in its latest rankings and golfers who fail to venture beyond those gated resort communities deprive themselves of some of the best – and certainly most affordable – golf the area has to offer.
One course setting the standard for quality, challenge and value is the Golf Club at Wescott Plantation, a 27-hole, daily fee operation located just a short drive from the downtown peninsula via I-26. Owned by the City of North Charleston and managed by Classic Golf out of Atlanta, Wescott, as locals call it, is as far from your typical “muni” as midsummer-2013 Rory, with his sackfull of new equipment, is from his PGA-winning form.
From the time you enter the spacious plantation-style clubhouse until you walk off your 18th – or 27th – hole of the day, Wescott Plantation provides an atmosphere more befitting a private club or even one of the high-profile resort courses in the area than a daily fee operation. And though it’s a few minutes removed from the ocean, there’s no mistaking its Lowcountry heritage as all three nines wind their way through forests of tall Carolina pines and centuries old live oaks, along and over cypress marshlands and against backdrops of drooping Spanish moss.
“Pure and traditional... Wescott is not only a first-class golf course, it's a first-rate walk through nature,” a well-traveled Shane Sharp wrote in describing the facility for WorldGolf.com.
Wescott Plantation was designed by Dr. Michael Hurdzan, whose Erin Hills layout in Wisconsin will host the 2017 U.S. Open. Hurdzan, who commanded U.S. Army Special Forces during a 30-year military career that saw him rise to the rank of colonel, has been recognized as one of golf’s most environmentally conscious architects. The 2013 Old Tom Morris Award, the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America’s most prestigious award, and the 2007 Donald Ross Award, the highest honor given by the American Society of Golf Course Architects, are but two of many honors and awards Hurdzan has won, both in golf and in his military service.
Hurdzan took full advantage of a Lowcountry setting that was once part of one of the area’s oldest working plantations in designing all three nines at Wescott. And while Oak Forest, Burn Kill and Black Robin flow nicely into one another, regardless of the 18-hole pairing one plays, there are subtle yet discernible differences in the challenges these three loops present. It is almost as if the good doctor wanted to intensify the examination as the golfer moves from one nine to the other.
Oak Forest, a name taken from the original plantation, is the most hospitable of the nines, with generally generous fairways and approach areas that forgive not-so-egregious errors in either judgment or execution. Assuming one has cleared the marsh with the tee shot at No. 2 and avoided the lake at the par-3 third, Oak Forest gives players a good chance to get under par at the reachable par-5 fourth hole, which plays just 528 from the back tee.
But from there, the challenge stiffens. The fifth is a monster par-4 at 459 – a dogleg right that demands accuracy off the tee to avoid bunkers right and marsh to the left and a long, precise approach to reach an elevated green protected by bunkers left, right and long. The sixth – a short par-4 with a Redan green sloping away from the player from front right to back left – provides a brief respite, but the challenge is rejoined at the seventh hole, a long, well bunkered double dogleg par-5 that twice bends to the right as it covers all but three steps of 600 yards, and doesn’t get much easier at eight, a 200-yard par-3 with a diagonal green guarded tightly by a lake front left, or nine, a dogleg left par-4 stretching 431 yards from the back.
Burn Kill steps up the challenge with three par-4s in the 430-450 range, a 223-yard par-3 that is mostly over water and a par-5 that measures 613 yards from the tips. Though a bit tighter than Oak Forest, Burn Kill still gives the player ample room to play and even shape shots to generous fairways and greens that seem perfectly sized to the shot they demand.
While each of the nine holes on the Burn Kill loop is a strong test, the last two are particularly memorable. The par-3 eighth is just 188 yards from the black or back tee and only 172 from the blues, but Hurdzan’s design requires shots from either of these tees carry a scenic stretch of Lowcountry marsh to reach a crowned putting surface. Don’t be surprised if several deer are grazing on the wetland flora, even as your tee shot sails over their seemingly oblivious heads. For players opting for more forward tees, Hurdzan provided a much less intimidating approach by locating the green and red markers 90-degrees to the left of the longer tees.
Burn Kill’s final test could be its sternest. The par-4 ninth is 449 yards on the card, but a back pin can easily stretch that well beyond the 450 mark. Hurdzan uses bunkers to gently turn the fairway left, then right in the landing area. More bunkers flank a narrow opening to a green that widens beyond its midpoint. The strategic green design demands precision when the pin is cut in the front portion but provides more room as the approach shot gets longer.
Roughly a hundred yards shorter than Burn Kill but tighter than either of its sibling nines, Black Robin is easily the toughest of the three nines at Wescott. Here, Hurdzan strategically uses hazards – natural wetlands as well as bunkers – to create angles and define optimal scoring opportunities. A classic example of the designer’s strategic brilliance is the short, par-4 second hole. Just 355 yards from the back tees, this little beauty plays slightly uphill to a tight fairway that bends sharply right at the top of a ridgeline. The drive needs to finish short of a bunker at the outside of the dogleg to set up a short wedge approach to a narrow green guarded by a small pond to the right. It’s a devilish little hole that proves difficulty isn’t always dependant on length.
Speaking of length, it should be noted that any combination of nines at Wescott, from the back tees, provides an 18 of more than 7,100 yards. Wescott’s “tournament course,” which includes Burn Kill and Black Robin, boasts a slope rating of 138 and a course rating of 74.5. But five sets of markers guarantee playability for players of all skill levels. Slope ratings from middle or white tee combinations are in the low 120s and forward tee markers set the course at just over 5,000 yards, depending on the nines.
As for value, the average green fees at Wescott are in the $60 range, a fraction of what the resorts charge for their premier offerings, and stay-and-play packages available through Charleston Golf Inc., a cooperative marketing effort representing a number of area courses and hotels, include Wescott for as little as $119 per night. (www.charlestongolfguide.com)
So the next time you think of golf in the Lowcountry, consider the resorts, certainly. But if you’re looking to make your budget go farther, look beyond the more expensive, high-profile courses and add Wescott Plantation to your dance card. It may be a few minutes from the beaches, but when you experience the quality of the golf, the ambiance of the clubhouse, the hospitality of the staff and the value of the price, you’ll agree with South Carolina Golf Insider Bob Gillespie, who told readers of DiscoverSouthCarolina.com, “It is well worth the effort to find.”
For more information and/or tee times, call 843-871-2135 or 866-211-GOLF (4653), or go to www.wescottgolf.com.