Briar’s Creek is situated on St.John’s Island, South Carolina and was opened in 2002 as a private club. The course architect was Rees Jones (who has left his mark on more than a dozen US Open and PGA Championship venues over the years) so a pedigree was established here right from the beginning.
Set in 900 acres, Briar’s Creek was constructed with minimal tree removal by using open spaces that already existed. Farmland, woodland and wetland were all preserved to ensure the golf course is barely in view from adjacent properties. Wildlife, and in particular, birds like the white ibis, wood stork and bald eagle continue to prosper in their natural habitat in and around the course.
The course features many Carolina Low country landforms - wandering rivers, creeks, marshes and saltwater estuaries. Both sets of nine holes play beside a saltwater marsh which is both an obstacle and an avenue to sensational views of Briar's Creek and the Kiawah River. The inland holes border fresh and salt-water wetlands, weaving their way through oak tree woodlands.
Personal service is all-important at Briar’s Creek where you play when you are ready, not when a tee time dictates - as there are no tee times! And if you feel as if you have the golf course to yourself as you play, you just might be correct, as membership is limited to only 300.
The signature hole at Briar’s Creek is the par four, 447-yard, hole 16. Bunkers threaten the tee shot on both sides of the fairway. The Bermuda grass putting surface is protected on the left by more sand – which actually keeps you out of the marsh further left! Towering oak trees provide a backdrop to a green at a hole which can often be the card wrecker of a medal round.
Working in the Low Country requires a deft skill because it's very easy to overwork the terrain and have the finished effort stand apart -- rather than naturally blending in. Sometimes architects can successfully do the unnatural outcomes -- see Bulls Bay in Isle of Palms as an example.
The routing generally follows a north/south and south/north flow yet the holes are quite varied and work in concert with the Low Country. I actually believe Briar Creek is much more natural to its setting than the nearby heralded Ocean Course at Kiawah.
One of the strengths of Briar’s Creek is that holes are angled so that when water becomes an issue to avoid there are clear angles of attack for the player to consider before executing. You can take on a more aggressive line or choose a more safer course of action. The boomerang par-4 9th is good example of this type.
The downside is that the actual bunker style is fairly similar to what one sees at other Rees Jones courses. Having a bit more creativity on the actual appearance and sizes would have added a good bit more to the overall aesthetics of the layout.
The round concludes in stellar fashion with a first rate par-4, par-3 and par-5 finish. The 18th truly an eyeful and includes a mega risk/reward finisher.
The other concerning aspect rests on the obvious stacking of tee pads that Rees Jones routinely includes with his efforts. A bit more imagination -- placing them in different locations, sizes and angles would have helped matters. Not all need to be lined up like airplanes waiting to take off.
Some of the greens are also on the vanilla side -- unlike the resourcefulness Pete Dye followed with Harbour Town on Hilton Head. A bit more craftiness would have really bolstered the experience
Nonetheless, Briar’s Creek is clearly a main contender for a top 20 placement in the Palmetto State. How the course is missed, thus far, is quite amazing.
M. James Ward