A classic old Seth Raynor layout dating back to 1921, the course at the Country Club of Charleston is routed across rather flat, marshy terrain around the Ashley River and Intracoastal Waterway. As one might come to expect from the architect, he managed to incorporate some of his trademark replica short holes into his design.
For instance, you’ll find an Eden green at the 162-yard 3rd, a reverse Redan at the 187-yard 11th and a 145-yard Short at the 17th. Other notable holes include back-to-back short par fours at the 364-yard 13th and 333-yard 14th, as well as a terrific 432-yard par four at the 16th, where an enormous “Lion’s Mouth” bunker fronts the green.
Writing in The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses Tom Doak remarked: “CC of C is one of the most unusual Raynor layouts I’ve seen; some of his go-to templates are conspicuously missing, pushed to the sidelines by holes like the Lion’s Mouth 16th that he rarely used anywhere else. Disappointingly, the club’s one iconic hole, the par-3 11th, whose unbelievable plateau green with an eight-foot high false front was cursed by the likes of Ben Hogan, has been softened. I don’t know what the big deal was: I hit a five-iron to about three feet on my only attempt.”
A trio of architects have played their part in keeping the course true to its
original Seth Raynor roots – John LaFoy (1990-1991), Brian Silva (2006) and
Kyle Franz (2016-2018).
Three top amateur events are held here every year: the men’s Azalea Invitational (dating back to 1946), the men’s Senior Azalea and the Beth Daniel Junior Azalea for boys and girls. The club also hosted the US Women’s Amateur championship in 2013.
In 2019 the club staged the US Women’s Open, which South Korea's Jeong-eun Lee won. Six is Jeong-eun Lee’s lucky number and she is also the sixth player called Jeong-eun Lee to play on the Korean LGPA Tour, so she changed her name to Lee6. Fittingly her six under total was enough to win the US Women’s Open by two shots.
I played the Country Club of Charleston on 11/6/2019 for the first time following a round the previous day at Yeamans Hall Club. Both golf courses were designed by Seth Raynor. I played the back tees at 6790 where there are also a combined tee of 6546 and member tees at 6367.
The conditioning was very good.
As I played the front nine, I regretted playing these two courses back-to-back and not having a different course or a day off in between them. There is a lot of similarity in the golf courses in terms of straight holes and the green complexes. To a certain degree it felt as if I were playing the same hole over and over once I arrived at my approach shot as well as on the green. Greens are raised, they have false fronts, they are squared off, they have mounds and slopes, they have bunkers left and right. From the fairway, they look essentially the same.
In reality, the two golf courses are very different. The Country Club of Charleston is on flat land whereas Yeamans Hall has some variation in terrain. The only “hill” at CC of Charleston is manufactured on the dramatically raised green on the eleventh. Perhaps Yeaman Hall’s greens, particularly the false fronts are more dramatic, whereas CC of Charleston’s greens have many more slopes and mounds. At Yeamans Hall there are many more trees whereas at CC of Charleston there are fewer trees, particularly on the front nine. CC of Charleston has a few holes involving water while Yeamans Hall does not. CC of Charleston has Bermuda grass and much more difficult rough to hit from as the ball settles down more than at Yeamans Hall.
I did not think any of the front nine was particularly special. The fairways are wide and once one is on the green the putts seem the same with the exception of one hole. The first hole has no greenside bunkers while two through five have a lot of sand surrounding the raised and tilted green with mounds and tiers to navigate. This is not to suggest that the front nine’s holes are not good; there were simply none that stood out. Others would disagree given the very difficult 225/200 par 3 sixth which is the 17 index hole.
The seventh hole surprised me because it was a dogleg and since I had hit down the right side with trees on my right, I did not realize my wonderful recovery shot was actually aimed at the fourth green instead of the green well off to my right.
A point about the seventh green; it has a huge mound/knob on the left center of the green that is nearly impossible to remain close to the hole from a putt from the back of the green without the ball going down the steep slope in front or off to the left. Many players would praise the green whereas I found it unfair.
The tenth hole is very different from the front nine as another dogleg, this one to the left. The green complex is well bunkered in front with a swale behind it to a false front and then another large swale in the front center of the green running horizontal. The green is the star of the hole but it was nice to see another dogleg.
Eleven is probably the most famous hole on the golf course, a par 3 of 177/165 as the land falls down from the elevated tee to a very raised green. Is it 8 feet high? 10 feet high? It is the most amazing false front I have ever seen. There is a ridge running down the left side of this long and narrow green with that huge fall off to the left to a long bunker below. The back of the green slopes away so many balls hit slightly long can run through the green. It appears the bail out area is to be short of the green, but it is no guarantee to make four. I am sure most people love this sort of “redan” hole but I thought it to be too quirky. It is unique but overly done for me.
From 13 on through the finish is the highlight of the golf course. I liked every hole as they were different than anything that had come before. There is a very good mix of short and long holes. The final three in particular are a lot of fun, beginning with a par 4 of 464/436 with the best green on the golf course. The sixteenth’s green is raised with a backstop in the back right and a bunker cutting into the middle front of the green. There are huge false fronts on both sides. While I was pretty tired of false fronts by this point, they work beautifully on this hole. A green at CC of Charleston would not be complete without a swale somewhere on it and there is one here as well.
The seventeenth is a par 3 of 164/154 and is surrounded by sand on all sides. It is the “island green.”
The eighteenth is a very long par 4 of 482/462 playing into the wind for us so it felt as if it were 520 yards to another false front but perhaps the largest and longest green on the golf course. The false front is steep but does not make up as much of this green as it appears from the fairway.
I am glad I got to experience CC of Charleston, particularly the back nine which has wonderful variety with fairway bunkering and green complexes.
As I finished and drove away thinking about Yeamans Hall and Country Club of Charleston, I wondered about architects such as Seth Raynor. People rave about the “template” holes that they admired in Scotland and brought to the USA – cape, redan, biarittz, eden, island, etc. If given a compliment, one could say they were inspired. On the other hand, were the architects of this time prone to copy rather than do something original on their own. It is a good question.
Your final sentence in your review of CC of Charleston is quite interesting and worthy of critical analysis. There are far too many people giving a "pass" to the old-time architects when they constantly use template holes from one design to the next. If someone like Jack Nicklaus or Tom Fazio does similarly their effort is branded as being nothing more than formulaic or cookie-cutter outcomes. In neither situation should praise be provided but often it's simply those active now who bear the heavier burden of critical rebuke.
Frankly, both old-time architects and those in current times often follow similar patterns in their work. Architects will often fall back on "tried and true" concepts because frankly it is those concepts that likely got them noticed and hired for future work commissions. I have come to the conclusion that often architects do their best work early on because it is likely not reined in through the need to be commercially successful. Such an impulse comes later on as clients want more of the "earlier" efforts and, as a result, such architects crank them out like hamburgers off the grill from McDonald's.
There's also the issue that reviewers will give a wide lane of acceptance to architects they personally favor and if another architect attempts the same thing their effort would be labeled nothing more than copy cat redundancy.
Seth Raynor was a very talented architect who learned well from his time with Charles Blair Macdonald. But, frankly, his work was repeated continually and it is through such efforts at Camargo and Fisher's Island that truly is noteworthy. The others he produced are often repeat versions again and again and often quite good but not really breaking any new ground of special note. What's ironic is that as much as people claim they wish to see creativity they often eschew it and rave about predictable redundancies.
It is amazing how many people will give the "benefit of the doubt" to someone from long ago but just as quickly condemn those who follow the same pattern in modern times.
Originality is something that should be highlighted far more so because not everything created by the old-time architects is worthy of high praise on the altar of golf course architecture. Age is not a sure sign of anything accept that it is old. Conversely, something that is "new" can be vapid.
If people were simply to play courses without automatically giving weight -- or substracting it -- based solely on the name of the architect a much more observant review would likely be the outcome and much fairer placement of such courses in the hierarchy would likely be the net result.
M. James Ward
M. James Ward,
I agree with your comments. It is one reason why most times one should play a golf course at least twice before reviewing it because you see more due to different shots and the truly memorable holes stick out.
At Yeamans Hall, many loved it and others would not go back as they felt it was "another Seth Raynor." At Country Club of Charleston, the ones who liked Yeamans Hall did not like it as much because it was not as good as the day before and they also felt they had already played it in a sense.
Mike Strantz did some interesting work at Bulls Bay, his renovations at Monterey Peninsula Shore and of course, Tobacco Road.
What will be interesting in the future is whether the work of Gil Hanse, Tom Doak, Coore & Crenshaw, Mcklay Kidd, and a few other "miniminalists" will stand the test of time. Some of their courses obviously will, while others likely will not because they are more of the same such as Hidden Creek.
Seth Raynor built two classic golf courses in the Charleston, SC area in the 1920s; Country Club of Charleston may pale in exposure to its more famous neighbor, Yeamans Hall Club, but it certainly is worthy of substantial praise in its own right. In 2019, the club hosted the United States Women’s Open and held up nicely against some of the best players in the world.
The front nine sits on the less topographically exciting part of the property – one of the flattest sections of a world-class golf course I’ve ever seen – but there are some interesting holes. The “Eden” par three hole, #3, features a strong green complex with a false front divided from left to right by a spine and surrounded by bunkers. #5, the appropriately named “Narrows”, is a reachable par five that appears wide open at first glance, but induces doubt into the player’s mind with several cross bunkers in play around its tight fairway. The green has several very subtle tiers that confuse the player into thinking their putt has more slope than it does. All in all, despite the flatness of the terrain, there are no weak holes on the outward side, along with some nice views of downtown Charleston and the bridge connecting it to James Island.
That said, the inward nine is where the course really shines; it’s one of the more fun and exciting nines I’ve ever played. It begins with #10, a dogleg left par four along the river bordering the course, featuring a green cut into thirds from front to back by a magnificent swale. Then comes the beast: #11, the reverse “Redan”. This thing is just... magnificent. Pictures don’t do the scale justice – the false front is at least 10’ in height and the slopes leading into the bunkers are extremely penal. #12 and #13 are solid par fours, climbing the slight ridge that highlights most of the back nine, and are followed by two of the best holes on the golf course. #14 is a short par four that presents multiple options on both the tee shot and approach. The fairway bisects a creek and is dotted with a small set of bunkers, making layups difficult, but the slope of the uphill approach and green complex should make the player wary of attempting to carry the hazards to provide a short approach. My layup worked well, and with the pin on the top left tier of the “Double Plateau” green, my full wedge stopped quickly and I was rewarded with my only birdie of the day! #15 is a par five that forces the player to choose whether to lay up short of, or attempt to carry, a grassy berm between some encroaching live oaks about 130 yards short of the green on their second shot. #16, the “Lion’s Mouth”, is one of the more unique green complexes I’ve ever seen. The rear of the green is a punch bowl, whilst the (false) front of it wraps around the eponymous bunker. As I learned the hard way, the prudent approach is to eliminate the bunker entirely and attempt for the back of the green. #17 is a devilish par three with a larger-than-appears green surrounded by a massive front bunker. Finally, the home hole features a long, uphill approach to yet another elevated, undulating green.
As I mentioned, oh, those greens, those greens! Many of them were so subtle in their breaks that they completely fooled me; I’d play a 10-foot putt a cup outside one side, only to find the putt to be straight or sometimes break the other way. On top of that, they were the quickest Bermuda surfaces this Yankee had ever played on. I hadn’t experienced many Macdonald/Raynor/Banks style layouts in the past, so the subtleties were a bit unexpected, but it made for an interesting challenge. One doesn’t truly know how to play one of this style of course until he/she plays it at least a few times. I hope to have the privelege of doing so here at Country Club of Charleston again someday.
Played August 22, 2019