PAWLEYS ISLAND, S.C. -- While playing Willbrook Plantation Golf Club, one gets a history lesson throughout, thanks to a series of interpretive signs around the property telling the story of the rice plantations that once stood where the course does now.
You'll see a chimney erected at the site of the plantation manor, a sign marking the slaves cemetery, a sign pointing out that back in the 1700s, plantation owners marked their properties with mounds hand-dug by slaves.
Designed by Dan Maples, Willbrook Plantation Golf Club was selected among the top 50 courses for women by the former Golf for Women magazine in 2005. It takes a traditional approach among centuries-old live oaks adorned with Spanish moss.
The golf course begins with a well manicured tee box on No. 1, next to a dike that once controlled the water levels of the rice plantations. That waterway accompanies you for much of the round, but it's not often overt, instead lurking a good distance off the fairway. You have to be pretty far off course to find water.
Maples, however, does narrow and widen his fairways, so pay attention. For example, on No. 2 there is a bunker left and a block-out tree right, so threading your shot is necessary. Those stately live oaks are pretty, for sure, but their draping branches coated with Spanish moss can knock down a lot of shots.
Maples employs bunkers well, using them as vision blockers, too, as on the front par 5s, Nos. 5 and 8. If you approach from the right, bunkers will give you a blind shot to the green.
Distance and location is critical on No. 4, a par 4 with a water carry off the tee and another almost exactly 100 yards from the green.
Willbrook Plantation Golf Club's short par-3 sixth hole is a beautiful, nearly island green with enough dry land to keep most shots out of the drink. Its intimidation is visual more than actual. At the tips, it's only 147 yards, 127 from the whites on down to 87 yards in front.
Matt Cunningham of Virginia, a 12-handicapper, enjoyed the course.
"It was tight and the island green at 6 was pretty," he said. "I'd play here again. The price was reasonable."
Dan Lee, also from Virginia, noted the scenery.
"The big thing was all of the oaks and the Spanish moss," Lee said. "We don't have that at home. I liked the grass. It's very well kept.
"You need to be a decent golfer," Lee added. "This (course) isn't for beginners."
The back nine uses more elevation changes, including a slight incline to the well guarded green on No. 10. It seemed the back was a little tougher and employed more hazards of solitary trees, larger bunkers, more water and a tie-lined waste area that would punish dribbled shots off the 13th tee. For example, large bunkers create visual noise on No. 11, with a similar elevated crowned green. Many of the greens are crowned and were medium speed. It's a little congested between the green on No. 12 and nearby tees.
The 15th hole at Willbook Planation G.C., a par 5, is a formidable hole in which course management is critical. It's an easy water carry off the tee. A bunker and trees block out the left side as the fairway dips down in front of another water carry, and then up to the well-guarded green.
The rest of the round requires well placed shots in order to approach the offset elevated green on No. 16, navigating trees on the par-3 17th and navigating the meandering par-5 18th past a lot of live oaks. Those trees are what you'll remember of your golf game, and the history lessons along with way will remind you of the South's history.
Willbrook Plantation Golf Club is a relaxing course with a good pace to it and an ebb and flow of tough holes paired with easier ones. There's enough subtle danger that you'll want to play the course again with that information in mind. It likely would lead to an improved score. In summary, it is a subtle course that doesn't overpower its surroundings, but becomes part of it. And that low-keyed approach will require the same of your game, a nice easy round of 6,722 yards from the tips and a 72.6 slope and 133 rating.
September 17, 2010