GIBBES ISLAND, S.C. - Those who have heard of the Secession Golf Club - who are many - may have a different perspective of those who have played it - who are few.
You may think the ultra-exclusive private golf course, with its throwback, Confederate-sounding name, its Civil War-era cannon sitting outside the clubhouse and its secession flag whipping in the marsh breezes, is a 100-year-old club with old geezers sitting on the porch drinking bourbon and swearing the South shall rise again.
Not really. Secession didn't open for play until the fall of 1992, though the idea for the club was spawned in 1985. And it is far from an insulated, good old Southern boys club.
It is one of a few "national" golf clubs scattered around the country. It has 750 members, of which only about 50 are "local." It is true that only the "right" kind of people are ever considered for membership - note that the majority of the current members have handicaps in the single digits - but it is also true that there are many from the northern reaches of the country.
"It is the responsibility and duty of our members to carefully select future members to ensure that we maintain the spirit and character of our membership, which is dear to us," a brochure for the club reads.
The club takes its name from the Articles of Secession that were drafted in nearby Beaufort in 1861, resulting in South Carolina's withdrawal from the Union, but the "War of Northern Aggression" is treated with both reverence and irreverence here.
For example, they hold a tournament every year, a North vs. South members event fought with golf clubs instead of muskets. The winners get to turn that cannon, which can indeed fire ordnance, in the direction of their enemies of so long ago. This year, you might be interested to know, the cannon is facing in a southerly direction, defending the homelands of the Yankees.
Members here are likely to belong to two or three golf clubs in the area, like Chechessee Creek Club or Old Tabby Links on nearby Spring Island. They are also likely to fly in on their private planes to the nearby airport or be driven to Beaufort by private limo so as to indulge in local spirits without fear of local law enforcement officials.
It's a walking-only facility, so as not to disturb the hallowed grounds, with an excellent caddie program.
What of the course itself? You may know the answer to that, since it is routinely ranked by every magazine who does such things as one of the top golf courses in South Carolina, as well as the South.
It is a reputation well earned. Secession is a superb course, an homage to Scotland and the roots of the game itself, set in a spectacular Lowcountry setting. It's essentially Scotland - with its stacked-sod bunkers - set down in the South Carolina coast, with its broad marsh views and moss-draped oaks.
Now, the Lowcountry has a mess of Scottish-themed courses, but none who's beauty is so on display as here. It could be described as links-like, in that there are few trees to mar the exceptional views of the marsh that seems to leap into sight at every turn, changing colors with the seasons and time of day.
Though most will never get to play Secession, it would behoove you to do so if the chance should ever arise; perhaps you know a friend of a friend of a member. Walking this course - with its views, ambiance, character and just plain outstanding golf - is a rare treat.
Maybe you can become a cop in Beaufort: Secession opens once a year to local military, police, fire and emergency services personnel.
It is pure golf here, no tennis, swimming pools or development of any kind. In fact, when P.B. Dye took over from Pete Dye, who was busy at the Ocean Club at Kiawah Island for the Ryder Cup Matches, and tried to move too much earth, he was replaced by Bruce Devlin.
Devlin's low-key approach and sensitivity to the natural surroundings was more in harmony with the club's wishes.
Secession recently underwent a serious renovation, in which all 18 greens were replaced with mini-Verde. They don't overseed, and they don't paint.
Also, club officials collaborated with local authorities in an arrangement that allows the club access to as much as 1.2 million gallons of treated effluent a day, while the club provides a recycling service.
Chechessee Creek Club is a good place to stay within striking distance of Hilton Head Island, and you can get in some good golf on the course to boot. Chechessee Creek has 10 cabins now, most of them privately owned and for rent to members. They conform to the aesthetic standards of the club, with hardwood floors, old-time fixtures and working fireplaces.
The wide porches have barbecued grills, and they all have either golf course or marsh views and sometimes both. They come as small as two bedrooms up to four.
January 24, 2008