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Great golf in the present complements Charleston's living past

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

From the architecture-rich downtown to the harbor and Atlantic beaches, the Charleston area offers history, classic Southern hospitality and restaurants, and great golf resorts like Wild Dunes and Kiawah Island.

Charleston - Graveyards
Downtown Charleston has intriguing graveyards dating back three centuries.
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CHARLESTON, S.C. - Here I am, in yet another Charleston graveyard.

I've been wandering around downtown all morning, since just after sun-up. My plan was to absorb the architecture of the old houses in the historic district.

But I was drawn into a cemetery at the Circular Church by the way the slanting light struck the headstones. That started it. Now I duck into every cemetery I see.

Looking at the final resting places of all these people who died so long ago helps me get a sense of time going by. History here has an authenticity to it - this city lives in it every day.

Of course, Charleston doesn't shy from marketing its history - there are guided "ghost tours" in many of these graveyards - or from its reputation as a city of "firsts." First shot of the Civil War. First museum. And, they say, first golf course, opened downtown in 1776.

There are no golf courses in downtown Charleston these days, but the area does have some nice options.

Charleston golf must-plays

Kiawah Island Golf Resort is 30 to 40 minutes away by car, but Charleston claims it for its own. Who wouldn't, with this five-course resort awaiting?

Kiawah Island host an all-star design lineup featuring Tom Fazio, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Pete Dye, whose Ocean course will wow you with scenery then eat you for lunch.

A bit closer to downtown on the Isle of Palms, Wild Dunes Resort is home to two top-notch, nationally recognized Fazio designs. The Links plays among giant sand dunes and, befitting its name, finishes along the Atlantic. The Harbor plays more inland.

Charleston's solid seconds

You've most likely heard about Kiawah Island and Wild Dunes, but there are very good lesser-known tracks around Charleston.

Only 6,593 yards from the back tees but sporting a he-man slope rating of 140 and an imaginative Arthur Hills design, Coosaw Creek Country Club is one of those sly little courses that proves you don't have to be a muscle-bound hamburger to land the knockout punch.

As head professional Mike Benner put it, "There are plenty of ways to test golfers without making them hit it 350 yards off the tee."

A day at The Links at Stono Ferry is as much a history lesson as a round of golf. Quite a few golf-course sights around here claim Civil War ties, but not many go back to the American Revolution.

The ferry site itself dates to the Colonial era; plantations used it to get goods across the Stono. It later served as a redoubt and battery site in both the Revolutionary and Civil wars. The course's back nine opens up to the river and the Intracoastal Waterway.

New ownership has plans to spruce up Legend Oaks Golf Course, currently a fun, relatively easy play (124 slope rating) designed by Pete Dye protege Scott Pool.

"It's already a good track," new teaching professional Tim Keenan said, "but its potential is unbelievable."

Some "links" in the United States stretch the term, but if Patriots Point Golf Links had heather and sand dunes it would fit right in on the Scottish coast.

There's so much water everywhere, the sun is sparkling off something for virtually the entire round. All this beauty culminates in a three-hole finish that wraps around a point of land jutting out into the harbor with historic downtown Charleston in view.

Seabrook Island Golf Course is home to two excellent tracks: Ocean Winds, designed by Willard Byrd, and Robert Trent Jones Sr.'s Crooked Oaks.

Crowfield Golf and Country Club in nearby Goose Creek has a 7,000-yard layout designed by Bob Spence.

Charleston hotels

The King Charles Inn isn't a big, fancy golf resort, and its location smack-dab in the historic district means there are no courses in the immediate vicinity. But they're only a short drive away, and every Charleston visitor should stay in this part of town for at least a few nights.

The building itself is part of Charleston's history. Built around 1830, it was a meeting place for area artists and poets, including Edgar Allen Poe, who used it as a weekend retreat when he was a soldier at Fort Moultrie.

The upstairs lobby was recently remodeled, and another $5 million worth of renovations to the exterior, rooms and parking garage are on tap.

A different kind of location makes the Shem Creek Inn one of the more popular places to stay in town.

The inn overlooks the eponymous creek about five miles from downtown, but the street address - Shrimpboat Lane - tells the real story. This area is home to the Charleston shrimp fleet. Guests can watch the boats heading out to Charleston Harbor and the ocean while lounging on the pool deck with their morning coffee.

Each of Shem Creek Inn's 50 rooms has a private balcony with great views of the creek and the surrounding marshes. A $600,000 renovation of the rooms and public areas was completed last year. There are restaurants, beaches, golf courses and antique malls nearby.

Charleston restaurants

Many gourmands believed Charleston was catching up to New Orleans as the South's most culinarily creative city even before Hurricane Katrina. In dozens of restaurants imaginative chefs are reinterpreting Lowcountry cooking. Here are some of our recommendations.

Charleston Grill: Probably the most formal spot downtown, Charleston Grill is South Carolina's only Mobil four-star restaurant. There's a great wine list to accompany the French and Lowcountry cuisine.

Peninsula Grill: Located in the historic Planters Inn, the Peninsula's menu changes with the tides. The walls are covered with velvet and antique Cypress woodwork.

Magnolia's: You can get fried green tomatoes and grits here. Also buttermilk fried chicken. Imagine ordering wine to go with that - you can. Don't miss the Sunday brunch.

Circa 1886: The restaurant at the, yes, circa-1886 Wentworth Mansion has yet another fine wine list to go with the likes of quail and duck with hazelnut-blackberry vinaigrette. There's a great view of Charleston from the cupola.

Jestine's Kitchen: Jestine's serves up good old-time soul food, Lowcountry style. You'll find Southern food here you thought was extinct: Hoppin' John, Frogmore stew, hog-head stew, deerburgers and more, in an unpretentious downtown setting.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.


 
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