Myrtle Beach, South Carolina has long been a top destination for winter golf. It certainly has been a popular choice for many Canadians. But in my recent travels I was directed by a friend to a new part of South Carolina that really caught my attention, a small community called Santee, located near the central part of the state.
It is my understanding, in talking with PGA Golf Professional Todd Miller, Santee and its three courses have been favorites with Canadians for many years.
Miller is general manager of Santee Cooper Country, Lake Marion Golf Course and Santee Cooper Golf Packages and Villas.
Within the boundaries of this small, rural town, just a short iron from Interstate 95, these three golf courses are not more than 10 minutes apart – Santee National Golf Club, Lake Marion Golf Course and Santee Cooper Country Club. This trio forms the core of the local golf offering. Within an hour’s drive of Santee you can easily find another eight to ten courses.
While Myrtle Beach features a potpourri of designers that include names like Nicklaus, Palmer, Player, Couples, Norman, R.T. Jones, Dye, etc., Santee’s three courses were designed by highly respected architects but designers whose names are not that familiar to the average golfer…Eddie Riccoboni (Lake Marion), George Cobb (Santee Cooper) and Porter Gibson (Santee National). Cobb actually designed the Par 3 course at Augusta National which hosts the world’s best each year prior to the season’s first major, The Masters.
After having played all three layouts I can easily say this community is blessed with some outstanding and well maintained golf courses. It was easy to see why the area has become a “golfers’ stopping place.” To be truthful, it was a treat to play these venues after being in Florida for the month of April. The sunshine state was having too much of a good thing, “sunshine” and as a result conditions were dry and golf courses were showing signs of the drought. This is not a knock on Florida courses it was just that the half dozen or so I played were struggling with water issues.
My first round in Santee was Santee National opened in 1989. The course stretches out from 4,728 yards from the forward tees to 6,858 yards from the back tees. This course gives you that southern feeling with white sand bunkers, mossy live oaks and greens that are Champion Bermuda.
There is variety here through the tree-lined fairways with lots of dogleg holes and water that spark the shot-making imagination.
George Cobb’s Santee Cooper design, opened in 1967, is set among the tall majestic southern pines. Its condition was superb and something I hadn’t encountered, especially in Florida, was a number of elevation changes in the design. The course played 6,578 yards from the back tees with Bermuda fairways and miniverde Bermuda greens.
Water was incorporated in the design of a number of holes but nowhere more evident that on the Par 5, 7th hole. This hole, in particular, sticks out in my mind because of the degree of difficulty it presents from 150 yards to the green. The fairway narrows considerably at this point with a left side hill and a row of tall trees. On the right side of this narrow approach is water. It all presents some interesting choices.
Santee Cooper is part of the Santee Cooper Resort, a residential gated community, so if you fall in love with the place you can buy your own property.
The Lake Marion course opened in 1978. It features miniverde greens, pine tree-lined fairways, water and lots of bunkers. The course, like the Santee Cooper and Santee National, was in excellent condition. All three courses were a treat to play and are open year round. They had full practice facilities, attractive and well-stocked pro shops and of course, refreshments and food. Lake Marion and Santee Cooper each had carts with GPS.
As a side note, Lake Marion is a man-made lake. In 1941 the Santee Dam on the Santee River was constructed to build a reservoir as part of a hydroelectric project.
Other courses within the hour radius include Beech Creek Golf Club, Calhoun Country Club, Coosaw Creek Country Club, Foxboro Golf Club, Hillcrest Golf Club, Legend Oaks, Links at Lakewood, Orangeburg Country Club, Pine Forest Country Club, Shannon Greens Golf Club and Wyboo Golf Club.
Having the three courses in town has allowed the local accommodations folks great opportunity to package their products. These golf vacations packages have often been referred to in testimonials by travelers and golfers as the best value packages on the East Coast,
There are several accommodations properties in the area catering to the golf market but my place of lodging for three nights was the historic Clark’s Inn and Restaurant in the centre of town.
The restaurant, which also features and English-style pub, was opened in 1946 by William E. (Bubba) Clark who established the business in an old bus station after returning home from the Second World War. The restaurant was moved to its present location after the Interstate Highway 95 opened in 1971.
The inn, with its southern plantation appearance, has a variety of room choices plus there are attractive gardens and outside pool.
The ultimate stay in Santee might be the Lake Marion golf villas and townhouses. The villas, located along the golf course, have been refurbished plus there have been new townhouses added. They all have two bedrooms, two bathrooms and are well-equipped for great golf vacations. There is an outdoor pool and hospitality clubhouse. Golf packages can also include breakfast.
For international travelers Santee is an easy drive from two international airports in South Carolina in Charlotte and Charleston. (www.SanteeCooperGolf.com)