After years of reading about his famous template holes, I finally had the chance to experience my first Seth Raynor design at the Country Club of Charleston. This property provides a striking reminder that even on relatively bland ground, a golf course can be memorable when it presents compelling green complexes and a well-thought-out routing.
While the front nine at Charleston may be flat, it is slightly more exposed to coastal wind. Raynor brilliantly routed holes in a variety of directions, changing the challenge day-to-day. On the back nine, Raynor incorporated a knoll into a few green complexes. While I do not believe that all golden age courses are great simply due to the designer’s name, there is inarguable artistry in the way classic architects built courses which stand the test of time without using any modern machinery. The Country Club of Charleston must be such a treat for members who play there regularly because the test varies daily.
Perfectly manicured throughout, some of the more notable holes at Charleston for me include:
• #3: The Eden hole at Charleston is visually intimidating off the tee, yet there seems to be reasonable opportunities to miss regardless of the day. Given the wide, shallow nature of the hole, accidentally playing to the opposite side actually provides room for an up-and-down.
• #4: The sharp, angled bunkering at the 4th begs for a right-to-left shaped drive, but be careful to not overcook that tee shot and find Dill Creek.
• #7: My favorite hole on the outward nine, this dogleg presents challenge on both sides off the tee, with four bunkers left and the marshland right. Stepping onto this green, I immediately realized the hype behind Seth Raynor. With plateaus in the back left and right portions of this putting surface, there is no shortage of interesting pin locations on this hole. Do not let the beautiful view on the Maiden distract you from the real showstopper – a one-of-a-kind, beguiling green!
• #11: You often hear that television and photographs cannot capture elevation on a golf course. Nowhere in my golf journey has this been truer than the Redan at the Country Club of Charleston. This scale of this green complex is unbelievably terrifying, and with virtually nowhere to bail out, hitting a precise mid/long-iron is a must. Watching players come up short time and time again at the U.S. Women’s Open here was a stark reminder of its sheer difficulty. In a world of long par threes with bland back-to-front slopes, why do more courses not add variety with masterpiece greens like the 11th at Charleston?
• #13: Playing angles at the 13th were interesting to navigate. The superior viewpoint into the green is from the right, though this area is guarded with bunkers and tree limbs. Although this hole is not long at 356 yards, it could be even more compelling if played as a drivable par four. In that case, players would also have the opportunity to challenge the bunkers which bisect the fairway while also avoiding out-of-bounds long.
• #14: With three distinct, massive tiers, precision and deft wedge play is a must at the 14th. Playing angles also are front of mind with this wide fairway, though three centerline bunkers also must be evaded.
• #15: The sole par five on the back nine, the 15th grabbed my attention with the varying nature of shots required. From the tee, it seems clear that a right-to-left shot is preferred, roping around a large angled bunker. To jump the grass wall and also funnel your shot through the chute of trees, one must do their best to hit a dreaded ‘straight’ shot. Depending on your angle, you may have a challenging approach, or a wide open view at running the ball up onto the green.
• #16: The Lion’s Mouth at Charleston lives up to the hype, but again, photographs completely misguided my expectations. Given the severe nature of the green complex, the actual playing area on this putting surface was quite smaller than I anticipated. For that reason, I assumed the hole would play short. At 450+ yards dead into the wind during my visit, the hole actually became a three shotter…and I did end up having a wedge into the green, for my third! I can only imagine how interesting driving on this hole is downwind, as the fairway is peppered with cleverly staggered bunkers.
With diversity in the hole directions, and bold green complexes, Seth Raynor was able to route an absolutely fascinating golf course at the Country Club of Charleston. This course must play drastically different every single day as the wind changes direction. As a golf club member, it is hard to ask for a more compelling adventure than what you will encounter at Charleston.
Date: May 19, 2020