Daniel Island is an area northeast of Charleston, squeezed between the Cooper and Wando Rivers. The north side of the island revolves around the Daniel Island Club, which hosts golf courses by Tom Fazio and Rees Jones (making it the only private club in South Carolina to do so). Jones came in after Fazio’s Beresford Creek course and added the 7,500 yard Ralston Creek option (about 300 yards longer than Fazio’s from the tips).
The course winds its way around surrounding residential developments, while offering scenic views out across the native salt marshes prevalent in the area. At its most daring, those marshes become part of the challenge during Ralston. For example, the Cape-style No. 8 invites players to take an advantageous line across the marsh to an angled fairway. Distance isn’t the only name of the game, however; those who hit it farther along a less risky line may find they have a better attack angle to the green (although a longer approach shot) on this lengthy par four.
The South Carolina Lowcountry is, in my opinion, among the finest settings for golf in the world. My recent visit to the Daniel Island Club only further bolstered that impression. Recently, I was fortunate to play as a guest at the Ralston Creek course. The quality of golf and hospitality of the entire club left a very positive impression on me. My strongest praise goes to Chris Edwards, the Director of Golf Operations, and Joey Franco, Superintendent, who both are clear leaders in their field. From arrival to departure, Daniel Island was great.
The course conditions at the Ralston Creek course were beyond phenomenal. The fairways offered tight lies, and the greens were firm. These extended to the practice facilities. Unfortunately, my morning tee time limited the daylight I had to warm-up. Should you ever have a chance to visit the Daniel Island Club, I urge you to arrive at least two hours in advance. With two large putting/chipping greens, a driving range full of quality targets, and even two areas to work on 40-70 yard shots (a rare amenity), the practice facilities were among the most comprehensive I have seen in 210+ courses played.
Driving to the course, one passes through the Daniel Island Club neighborhoods. As such, I incorrectly assumed the course would play narrowly through the residential complexes. In fact, the holes had exceptionally wide corridors and housing was never intrusive. Among the more notable for me include:
• #3: Playing to a whopping 618 yards from the tips, this par five is equally as daunting from the forward 500+ yard tees. The preferred angle on the first shot is right, though a well-placed bunker guards that side. A layup is next for most players as the green tucked behind a pond. This putting surface was among the most memorable on the course, set almost like a Biarritz. My approach landed on the front, and putting down and through the valley to a back pin placement was adventurous.
• #8: The fairway at the par four 8th plays nearly perpendicular to play. Players must carry as much marshland as possible while also avoiding bunkers that bank the fairway’s end. An interesting open slot is available for longer hitters who can work the ball from right-to-left. Most important, though, is giving yourself a preferred wedge distance to this multi-tiered putting surface.
• #9: Both beautiful and treacherous simultaneously, the par three 9th plays over a gorgeous stretch of coastal waterway. It appears a run-up option may be possible from the left side, but in fact, this is a true all-carry, do-or-die hole.
• #13: From a strategic architecture standpoint, the 13th at Ralston Creek has to be among my favorite Rees Jones holes, especially given the otherwise uninteresting land on which it was built. From the tee, the hole clearly turns to the left, and players may think their only option is to hit a shorter drive or lay-up metal to a fairway that is pinched by relatively short trees to the left and a massive bunker right/long. However, if one is playing from the proper tees, the better strategy may actually be aggressive over the short clump of trees to a wider area farther down the hole. I love this routing because it is so deceptive with virtually no dirt moved. Should one unsuccessfully attempt to clear the trees, it is still a recoverable hazard. A thought provoking design concept!
• #14: Playing right up against Ralston Creek itself, the tee shot at the 14th was compelling. Players must cut off much of the waterway to reach the diagonal fairway, and the closer one hugs the creek, the better angle they are afforded to this multi-tiered green. An interesting hump in the middle of the fairway added interest, also, as a well-struck drive may catch some tricky bounces.
• #15: Capping off a very exciting stretch of three holes, the 15th departed from the other holes on the course by offering a collection area left of the green. While this bail out was appealing, chipping from the basin was no simple task.
• #17: The very short 17th hole was another strategic, tricky two-shotter. With a wide fairway, having the proper angle into this shallow, broad complex with left and right terraces was essential. Again, breaking from the norm, an interesting chipping area existed on the right side of this green.
There are two aspects of the Ralston Creek course that keep it in my ‘solid’ rather than ‘stellar’ category. The first was a lack of variety in distances on its par fours (and to a lesser degree, its par threes). During my round, I hit driver on all 14 par fours, and I used one of three clubs for my approach shots on 12 of the 14. This may have been due to the day’s wind, but by simply moving tee boxes, there could have been far more variety in club selection.
Second, the green complexes got a bit repetitive with so many fronted by bunkers and surrounded by rough. Given the firm nature of the greens, any ball that landed near a front pin often bounced at least 5-10 yards past the hole. With bunkers pinching entryways on all but 3 holes, run up shots were not really an option. I believe Ralston Creek could create quite a bit more architectural interest by removing some bunkers and modeling greens after 15 and 17, incorporating more collection areas and rumples.
All in all, my round at Ralston Creek was lovely. This property is yet another Lowcountry charmer. If you receive an invitation to play, it is well worth the trip. Then again, who ever needs significant convincing for a Charleston getaway?