Featuring tees and greens sown with a new type of paspalum grass that’s tolerant to heat and salt, the course at May River Golf Club is a Jack Nicklaus design that serves golfers staying at the award-winning Inn at Palmetto Bluff resort.
Bordered by rivers and dotted with lagoons, marshes and tidal sloughs, the sandy-soiled fairways of the layout are routed through dense woodland close to the meandering May River.
During construction, sand was specially imported from Ohio as its angular consistency allows bunkers to be built with steep flashed faces. More than thirty trees were also transplanted from around the property, giving the finished course a more seasoned appearance.
I had a chance to play May River over Thanksgiving week while on the Palmetto Bluff property with my family. Though I'm not overly familiar with Nicklaus designs, I had recently visited and enjoyed the affordable and public Pauley's Plantation near Myrtle Beach, and his collaboration at Sebonack on Long Island is one of my all-time favorite golfing experiences. May River didn't quite live up to that high standard, but it did not disappoint.
To some extent, I expected May River to fit within the generalized Nicklaus design mold I had in my mind: long and muscular, with thick rough and narrow fairways. I could not have been less correct. Generous landing areas, very little rough to speak of, and putting surfaces/green complexes that were both terrifying and delightful - May River was a treat to play. I shot the worst 18-hole round since the pandemic began and still found it impossible not to enjoy the course.
Highlights include the wonderful set of par-3s... none of them overly long, but each well guarded by intimidating hazards or bunkers. Hole 11, in particular, presented a challenge mainly produced by the back-right pin placement on the gigantic putting surface. And while the best defense on most holes was the mown aprons that deflected any mishit chip shots, or sucked back any poorly struck approaches, sand traps that dotted fairways and surrounded greens added a touch of beauty and terror. Holes 3 and 8 boast some of the more audacious examples of such fairway bunkering, while the restraint used on #10, with a tiny center-line bunker placed directly in the ideal landing spot, and miniature pot bunker on the left side of the green, provided a perfect example of the "less is more" concept.
Overall, a fine course in meticulous condition. The greens were a bit quick considering Nicklaus's use of bold contours, but they certainly matched the wonderfully hard fairways, which added at least 10 yards to most of my shots from the tee. A few par-4s blended together in my memory (despite having taken several photographs of each hole), but overall a wonderful test that provides players with ample opportunity to execute on golf's greatest joy: the recovery shot!
May River is a gem in the low country of SC. The course is immaculate in conditioning and plays much longer than the yardage shown. Even while playing during a dry spell recently the course was soft and not providing much roll. There is a great combination of holes and each one is set up as a separate world. The par 4's are very nice and offer a great mix of creativity. The 5 par 3's are interesting and require a few different clubs. The five 5's are a good mix. We had the pleasure to walk with caddies as the club endeavors to prioritize their caddie program. The course is described as public but play requires a stay at a very top $ hotel or via an invite from a member. A Nicklaus design which could be considered one of his best.
May River at Palmetto Bluff is one of Jack Nicklaus’ best designs. It is in superb condition. The golf course as presented offers variety that one will not find in other golf courses. It is beautifully manicured and maintained.
The course measures 7171 from the back tees, 6513 from the Cedar tees, and 6065 from the Hickory Tees. It also offers a combination tee at 6323 yards. Due to the cold air and the rain in the morning we chose the combination tees which proved to be a good choice due to the heavy air and many plugged balls. It was only on the greens that the balls rolled a bit.
There are five par 3’s and five par 5’s on this par 72 course. They do vary in length as follows:
Par 3 – 206/185/159 then 175/154/139 then 169/146/128 then 190/167/143 and finally 234/190/171.
Par 5 – 565/535/511 then 555/509/489 then 556/503/485 then 535/462/441 then 570/527/502.
More importantly the holes are designed very differently while the green complexes are also completely different.
Trees and water do come into play as one would expect in this low country course which is primarily flat with a few raised greens, but not overly raised. There are not many false fronts but there are run-offs on many holes typically to one side or behind the hole.
While the fourteenth is listed as the signature hole, a par 3 with water down the right side, I did not find there to be one outstanding hole. Instead I found a series of very good holes and one truly horrible golf hole, which is the seventh.
With regard to the seventh, I am certain people either love it or hate it. There is likely no in-between. It is a short par 4 of 336/309/277 which looks fairly narrow from the tee with marsh and bunkers down the entire left side and trees on the right, yet the right side of the fairway does open up. The issue is the green where a left pin is on a green that looks only as wide or deep as a table top with no relief if you miss it. The smart play when the pin is on the left side is to hit one’s drive as far right as one dares to provide a better angle to that pin. If one comes essentially straight at it, one is faced with a shot that needs to be judged perfectly as to distance. The shot to the left pin must have a lot of height to stop the ball on the small green. There is green to the right which is much larger but leaves an uphill long putt where a two putt is definitely in question.
The first time I played this hole I did not mind it as the pin was in the center of the green. The second time that pin was in that left side and I hated the hole as I felt it lacked adequate strategy.
Overall I would say the par 3’s are the weakest part of the golf course and they are not “weak.” However, the par 5’s and most of the par 4’s are superior.
The first hole is a par 4 of 429/404/375 going essentially straight out with a small bunker front right and a larger bunker on the right side of the green. The fairway is wide. The green falls off behind.
The second hole is a par 3 of 206/185/159 which is fairly straightforward, only requiring to avoid the large bunker on the left side of the green.. It is definitely the worst of the par 3 but it is an okay golf hole.
The third hole has water down the right on most of the drive and is heavily treed left with the trees pinching in on the left side nearer the green so that a drive down the left will be blocked by those trees. The is a single small bunker right of the green and a series of larger bunkers to the left side nearer the green and continuing behind the green. It is a good golf hole.
Four is the first par 5 of the course at 565/535/511 and the hole is a double-dogleg with a large fairway bunker to be avoided on the tee shot. The second shot has to thread bunkers left and right to a green that has small bunkers on three sides eating into it as well as a tree on the left. The green is raised and is sloped. It is one of the better greens on the course.
Five is a mid-length par 4 of 442/421/401 where the tee shot needs to avoid trees on the left eating into the fairway. There is another large bunker left of the green and two smaller ones in front. It is a tricky hole because it is straight but plays as a dogleg left.
Six is the first par 3 over water with bunkers right, front and a small one in back. You have to carry wetlands but if you are slightly short you do have a chance at recovery. A pin position on the left side requires you to clear that bunker while not pulling it far left to go into the rough area. It is a very good par 3 as the green has a ridge in the middle.
Eight is a long par 5 dogleg left with bunkers down the entire left side for the second shot. The green is protected both left and right. For the medium length hitter, this is definitely a three shot hole and requires three good shots.
Nine is a long par 4 of 471/447/411 with some trees to navigate on the right side and a large bunker front right protecting the green. This is perhaps the most difficult hole on the front side.
The tenth kicks off with a par 5 requiring a decision on the second shot depending on the wind. There is a marsh about 50 yards wide that one can either lay up and leave a shot of 180-160 yards to the green or try to clear the marsh with the second shot. The green is elevated but has three bunkers to the right side and a smaller one right. Scattered near the green are four other smaller bunkers for the shot pulled left to avoid going to the marsh that is to the right side of this green.
Eleven is a lovely short par 3 with water down the left side to a green slightly raised with a fall-off behind.
Twelve is a short dogleg left par 4 of 402/362/323 with sand down the entire right side.
Thirteen is a long par 4 of 472/412/380 that has bunkers scattered throughout the drive and near the green. There is water down the right side for the poorly hit tee shot.
Fourteen is the so-called “signature hole” over the water/marsh with a large bunker front right and a smaller one on the left.
Fifteen is a par 5 that one should play down the left all the way in for the best angle to the green as there is a waste area down the right side ending about 240 yards out and then trees biting in on the right side as you approach the green. The approach shot to the green is a blind shot as there is a mound in front but the land is sloped down towards the green about ten yards short of it. Many balls can run through this green if hit too deep into the green.
Sixteen is a par 4 of 436/399/368 and plays as a slight dogleg right and is heavily treed on either side.
Seventeen is the long par 3 with excellent bunkering left and right as well as a waste area short of the green to the left. The green has a tier/spine running through it pushing balls right to left.
Eighteen is the final par 5 and has water both left on the tee shot, then right as you near the green at which point it also fronts the right side of the green which sits diagonally left to right.
Hopefully one can see from my descriptions how much variety there is in the shape of the holes whether a par 4 or a par 5. The par 3’s have good variety in length. The greens are not “crazy” but have subtle breaks and enough mounds and humps to influence putts. The defense of the course can be trees, sand, waste areas, water, or even the routing itself.
May River at Palmetto Bluff is a golf course one could play over and over, whether a high index player or a very good player and one would not be bored. It has so many good holes, with the exception of the seventh.
May River Golf Club at Palmetto Bluff A 45 minute jaunt from Hilton Head Island but definitely worth the drive. Designed by the legendary Jack Nicklaus, this is in my humble opinion, the best golf course that I have experienced in coastal South Carolina has to offer“. And we have already played Harbour Town Golf Links, The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island not mention Palmetto Dunes, Tidewater & True Blue. Every hole seems better than the last. Pristine conditioning and 1st class all the way. According to Nicklaus “no expense was spared to preserve and protect one of America’s treasured landscapes”. True to his words, Nicklaus gently created a masterpiece with minimal disturbance to the existing property yet maximum impact by using the existing live oak trees and the May River as his canvas. “The crowned greens are reminiscent of those found at Pinehurst No. 2”. At 7171 yards from the Oak tees, with a slope of 140 and a course rating of 75.4, this golf course is not for the faint at heart. To read more about golf in South Carolina visit http://golftravelandleisure.com/category/united-states/south-carolina/