CHARLESTON, S.C. - You'd be hard pressed to find Charleston sorting through the symptoms of an inferiority complex. The Holy City is home to some of the east coast's best restaurants, museums, and architecture.
Tourists come from around the world to get a glimpse of Fort Sumter, the Battery, and the Slave Market. They spend hundreds, even thousands of dollars on Civil War memorabilia, antebellum antiques, and local crafts and artwork.
Yet, despite the hallmark of the country's first golf course (the Harleston Green and South Carolina Golf Club circa 1786) and the presence of healthy heaping of inland and coastal courses, folks don't typically come to Charleston just for the golf. Not even from humble, regional origins like Charlotte, N.C. and Atlanta, and not even for world-class resort courses like those found at Kiawah, Wild Dunes and Seabrook Island.
This mind-boggling trend troubles Doug Schmidt, president of Charleston Golf Partners, and he's taking the town to task with the way it markets its golf wares.
"The challenge is to get people into the mindset that they should bring their clubs when they visit," Schmidt says. "We should be going after the drive market because we are in proximity to so many large east coast population centers.
"Atlanta is four and a half hours and Charlotte is three, and there are thousands of golfers in those big cities looking for a place to get away and play 36 holes a day. We can offer an alternative to Myrtle Beach that should turn some heads."
Charleston's offerings to the dedicated daily fee golfer have improved drastically over the past ten years, and its resort facilities are the one Low Country blip on most savvy golfer's radar screens. Nicklaus, Dye and Fazio put the town on the golfing map with their resort layouts at Kiawah and Wild Dunes, and Arnold Palmer recently upped the daily fee ante with his RiverTowne Country Club in Mt. Pleasant.
All told, over 20 golf courses are available for public consumption in the Charleston area, most of which are accessible for ridiculously low greens fees during the summer and winter months. The kicker? No two courses are more than 40 minutes apart, and a good number of tracks are located within a couple minutes of each other.
"I tell people you can get almost anywhere here in 20 minutes," Schmidt says. "And what most people don't realize, because of the popularity of the beaches, is that summer is one of our offseaons when it comes to golf."
In fact, on a typical summer weekday you might find that you have the course to yourself. Four-hour rounds are the norm in the offseasons, and 3.5 hours is a realistic number on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons.
While the majority of touring golfers opt for the resort course itinerary, a four-day golf gorge of quality, affordable, daily fee courses awaits those "willing" to forgo another five hour round in the Grand Strand or another $150 trip around the links in Hotlanta.
Whether you're coming in from Charlotte, Atlanta, or Washington D.C., driving half a day and playing half a day isn't a possibility on the way to Charleston, it's a done deal. Interstate 26 is the primary corridor into Charleston from points north, south, and west, and Crowfield Golf and Country Club in Goose Creek is located just ten minutes off the highway.
An afternoon tee time at this Bob Spence/Tom Jackson designed layout will provide a sufficient introduction to Charleston area daily fee golf. Crowfield winds its way through the dense hardwoods of the former Middleton Plantation - an Antebellum holding that originally consisted of over 20 acres of gardens, a lawn bowling green, fish ponds and canals.
The course is semi-ferocious from the tips, playing to just over 7000 yards amid the thick Low Country air. Spence never met a mound he didn't like or a green he couldn't hide a dinosaur under, and you'll find both at Crowfield.
The word on the street is that Spence wasn't much for putting, so the majority of the greens feature hole cuts that funnel the ball towards the cup. Case in point being the par four opening hole with a middle left pine placement - just stick your approach on the left side of the green and enjoy your two-putt.
After negotiating Crowfield (and the surreal mounding on the par five seventh hole), head to Los Arcos in Goose Creek for a Mexican supper that will stick to your ribs. No worries, you'll get your fill of Low Country seafood over the next three days, so kick back and enjoy a cold cerveza and hunker down on some chicken fajitas and sopapillas (Mexican Elephant ears).
For the elusive first eight hours of sleep during your Charleston golf gorge, point the car east on I-26 towards downtown, get off at the East Montague Avenue exit (213B), and bed down at the Sheraton North Charleston. The full service hotel has experienced a Renaissance under current general manager Alex Chamblin (an ex-Ritz Carlton guy), and is an ideal homebase for the next three days.
Pretend for a moment that there's a brand spanking new Arnold Palmer signature course that meanders through the marshlands of the Wando River and Horlbeck Creek in Mt. Pleasant. Could you deny yourself a round at this sure-to-be award-winning course on the first day of your trip? Er, no.
Morning of Day Two begins bright and early at the RiverTowne Country Club , and you'll be a better man, if not golfer, for it. This Palmer Group designed course set on the lagoons of the Wando garnered an Honorable Mention form Golf Magazine in its 2001 "Top Ten Places You Can Play" awards. With it's strong design and scenic routing, other prestigious awards are sure to follow.
The front nine is wide open and windswept, while the back nine is treelined and chalked full of hidden lateral hazards. RiverTown is nothing if not dramatic: greens protrude into marshes, tee boxes provide jaw-dropping panoramas of the Low Country landscape, and approach shots through stiff coastal breezes test club selection and ball striking.
For an afternoon round, one need only look across the street from RiverTowne to Dunes West - one of Charleston's most respected and revered daily fee courses. Toledo, Ohio based architect Arthur Hills designed the course, which plays through a myriad of grass dunes and coastal bogs.
Dunes West is one of the most playable courses you'll find in these parts. Landing areas are as wide as Canadian football fields, and Hills does a workman-like job of making position "A" visible from the tee boxes. As is the Charleston norm, the greens at Dunes West are borderline diabolical and have pinpoint approach shot written all over them.
After 36 holes, it's a short drive out to Isle of Palms and one of area's most patronized eateries. The Boathouse Restaurant at Beach Inlet in Isle of Palms churns out some of the best seafood and steaks in town while coming off as something like neighborhood pub.
There's an outdoor bar upstairs, equipped with the obligatory acoustic guitar player, ice-cold long neck beers, and "you must be kidding me" views of Charleston Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean. Grilled fish is the house specialty, but the fried oysters and house pastas are a close second.
Golf does not get more convenient than Patriots Point Golf Links, located just five minutes from downtown on the shores of Charleston Harbor, and that is where Day Three begins. An early morning tee time at this Willard Byrd designed course will get you a glimpse of a Charleston sunrise and a front row seat to watch the massive container ships coming into port from the Atlantic.
Patriots Point claims to be a links course, but the setting is parkland all the way. Flat fairways and greens, shallow bunkers, and holes that run parallel to each other give the course an old fashioned municipal feel. Water is in play on nearly every hole, but none more so that the par three 17th, one of Charleston's most famous one shotters. The hole plays just 150 yards from the back blue tees, but the pint-sized green juts out into the Harbor's swirling breezes.
Day Three's afternoon round is hosted by the Rees Jones designed Charleston National Country Club in Mt. Pleasant, but not before a couple of slaw dogs at Jack's Cosmic Dog. Nothing on the menu at Jack's will run you more than a five spot, and the crisp, skin-on French fries smothered in chile are the stuff of legend.
Charleston National, with its enviable setting along the marshland and lagoons of the Intracoastal Waterway, was originally pegged as a private facility until Hurricane Hugo got a hold of it over a decade ago. The devastating storm changed the routing of a few holes, but the layout is still one of the most unique around. The front and back nines were flip flopped, and a number of holes on the back crisscross the marsh and are connected by creaky wooden cart bridges.
Downtown stands firmly between Charleston National and the Sheraton North Charleston, so a visit to Garibaldi's for dinner on Day Three is a forgone conclusion. Located across the street from the famed Slave Market and the popular local tavern Henry's, Garibaldi's is known for its seared Flounder braised with a tangy apricot sauce and its Grouper stuffed with crabmeat. Neither dish appears on the menu, but both are available almost year around.
The getaway day calls for 27 holes of pristine inland golf at the Wescott Plantation in North Charleston. Wescott is actually owned by the city, but the Michael Hurdzen designed layout takes the definition of municipal golf course, chews it up and spits it out. The three nines are cut through thick strands of Carolina hardwoods and the setting is more reminiscent of North Carolina or Georgia than it is the Low Country.
The entire facility oozes a peaceful vibe that is augmented by Hurdzen's use of low profile bunkers, tranquil water hazards, and clearly defined landing areas. There is absolutely no guesswork involved or head scratching required at Westcott - the entire course is out in front of you. The par fives are brilliantly designed to encourage risk/reward opportunities, the par threes vary in length and prevailing wind, and the par fours rotate nicely between dog leg lefts, rights and straightaway holes.
Day One: Crowfield Country Club (843.764.4816)
Day Two: RiverTowne Country Club (843.216.3777), Dunes West (843.884.7779)
Day Three: Patriots Point (877.709.5053), Charleston National (843.884.7799)
Day Four: Westcott Plantation (843.871.2135), Sheraton North Charleston: (888.747.1900)