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.
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