The course at Ohoopee Match Club in rural Tattnall County occupies just a small portion of a 3,500-acre estate that was once used for onion production. Now owned by entrepreneur and "angel" investor Michael Walrath, this low-key property is where the proprietor and his friends enjoy playing golf far from the madding crowd.
Gil Hanse has set out twenty-two holes across a rolling, forested, lakeside landscape, with wide, sandy soiled fairways routed around stands of mature oak trees. The design of the clubhouse, lodge, and cabins was inspired by agricultural buildings in the local area, enabling the entire project to tie in effortlessly with its surroundings.
Four extra holes – A, B, C and D – can be used with 14 modified holes on the main course to form an alternative “Whiskey Route” layout. Holes 2 to 5 are eliminated, replaced by the four additional holes, and par fives at holes 6 and 11 become par fours. The long par three 13th and short par four 14th reverse pars and the remaining ten holes are played from forward tees, resulting in a 5,610- yard par 69 course compared to the 7,319-yard par 72 Championship track.
Half-par holes provide the course with numerous risk/reward opportunities, making it ideal for match play, as intended. The Ohoopee Match Club is a winter season course which opens from autumn through to spring and is closed during the hot summer months. No golf carts are allowed and walking caddies are a mandatory requirement when playing here.
Our regular contributor Paul Rudovsky visited in November 2018:
“It is brilliantly strategic in design and reminded me of The Old Course at St. Andrews and Kingston Heath in the Melbourne Sandbelt in this way. The fairways (with one exception) are overly wide and extremely generous. But, almost without fail, if you want a playable safe approach shot, you had to flirt with real trouble (generally difficult bunkers or scrub bushes and random high grass…there is no “manicured rough) off the tee.
Trade-offs abound at Ohoopee, and the golfer is left to make the decisions. And that is (1) exactly as it should be, and (2) superb architectural design. The greens are large and resemble “mergers” of several bowls… with the bowls separated by reasonably high ridges within the green. In many ways the greens reminded me of Hanse’s work at Streamsong Black.
One of the great things about this course is it has 18 superb holes… and they “weave” together into an outstanding routing. The “ebb and flow” of the course is brilliant and, with the exception of from #1 green to #2 tee, the walks from green to tee are short. The property has about five different “looks/feels” and the transition from one to another is seamless.
The conditioning is excellent. I do not know how deep the sand goes here before one hits clay or rock, but this place had been inundated with rain before our arrival…and when I teed off on #1, I literally had to press hard to get the tee in the ground. I was pleasantly shocked.
The clubhouse was designed by the same architectural firm that designed the clubhouse at Chechessee Creek… and it shows. Comfortable, functional, simple, and inviting are words that immediately come to mind.”
The land identified for the golf course just outside Cobbtown, GA was once a thriving onion farm within the Beaver Creek Farm plantation, and even the possible platform for a high-end car racetrack - but it laid dormant for several years. Ideal sand-based terrain occupying the Ohoopee sandhills was destined for greatness, and thankfully an incredible gentleman brought a dream to life. In 2018, this exclusive private club with an award-winning golf course designed by Gil Hanse opened for play with so much to celebrate. As you get closer to the property, the dirt roads that meander up to the elegant clubhouse and the cottages (housing up to 48 people) give you a sense of the isolation and tranquility that awaits you. The design of the clubhouse, pro-shop and cottages was inspired by agricultural barn structures in the local area. There are 22 holes on offer and two golf course routings. The Championship 18 holes at approximately 7300 yards can be modified into a “Whiskey Routing” which introduces (swaps in) 5 shorter holes adjacent to the championship layout and reduces/modifies the length and par of select other holes on the championship layout (eg: 6th, 11th, 13th, 14th). It’s a very novel concept and provides a shorter 5610-yard (par 69) challenge to complement the longer routing. While many of the longer holes from the championship routing are taken out of play for the Whiskey Routing, it increases the amount of fun you have with your wedges to make a birdie and win a hole. It goes to show how talented modern-day architects are exploring the boundaries of their imagination to build such unique courses never seen before by modern players (eg: Tom Doak’s ‘The Loop’).
The simplicity and natural presentation of the course is the epitome of minimalism. The teeing grounds have no signs or markers, just some subtle platforms to tee off. The front of the tee boxes are used for the Whiskey Routing. The scorecard itself has par 3.5, 4.5 and 5.5 holes, which further highlights how “par” is just a concept and nobody cares what you shot – it’s all about winning your match! Hence one of the underlying philosophies of the club’s existence to facilitate matchplay. Along with the clubhouse, the warm hospitality, the sensational food, the outstanding professional staff, the brilliant caddies and the feeling of belonging – the playing conditions at Ohoopee Match Club are so pure, and borderline flawless. The grains of Tif-Eagle grass seed used on the greens and fairways provide for a magnificent canvas to play. With only circa 50 members (so far) and limited play, the course already looks very healthy in just its second season. Top marks to the green-keeping crew.
The opening two holes play along a large body of water and are the only holes with water in play. Throughout the course, consistent features include wide fairways, sandy waste areas that are easy to hit from, and appropriately contoured greens with some difficult (small) platforms offering especially difficult pin positions. I was a big fan of the design of the putting surfaces, all of them having great challenge and variety without being unplayable – especially the ‘all world’ 3rd and 9th greens. During your tee shots and approach shots, the placement of natural hazards throughout the golf course are constantly asking you to make decisions. There is an abundance of risk-reward scenarios depending on how aggressive you want to be to win a match. Being a conservative golfer, I often opted for less than driver to play into the more generous landing areas, but the options are all around you and where the strength of your game may be. The topography is relatively flat, but certainly has some movement as you progress through the course. On certain flatter fairways, the first time you see the greens ahead of you, you don’t get the sense of the scale and contours on the greens themselves, and often offer up a nice surprise as you enter the dance floor. I often commented on how the simplicity of a small raised mound at the front of a green is enough to hide all the surprises on the green from your view from the fairway. Once you enter the more forested areas, you don’t really see other holes on the course, which is especially true on the front nine. I enjoyed how the personality and feel of the routings changed as you reach the 10th green and get exposed to the massive expanse of open prairie land. There is currently a fenced off area housing 3 zebra, soon to be joined by wildebeest and giraffe!
The first hole is a moderate length par 4 with a generous fairway and a slightly downhill approach to the green. The second hole is essentially a par 5 where your drive crosses the lake into a diagonal fairway running right to left. Bite off as much as you can chew. Ohoopee Match Club is a real birdie fest right from the start. The third is a very long 600+ yard par 5 that moves from gently from left to right and has a large raised bunker complex about 100 yards from the green, which is the main point of focus. The risks and rewards are all there in front of you. The 4th hole on the championship routing is ironically the only man-made hole on the course. You’d never ever know it, but the fairway level was raised up 6 feet with dirt which was excavated from a hidden area behind trees to the left of the fairway. It’s the first short par 4 on the course, and as mentioned above, the mound that protects the front of the green dictates how aggressive you can be with certain pin positions. You can tee off with anything from a 6 iron to a driver and hopefully avoid the gauntlet of bunkers depending on your choice. The 5th is a moderate length par 3 with one of the largest greens on the course. It’s all carry over waste areas to the green and due to the topography, you don’t realise that the green has about 5 subtle levels. Gil’s mastery of deception is on full display. The Index 1 comes at the very long 6th hole. It’s a blind drive over widespread vegetation and dog-legs right to left to a particularly contoured green. A bad drive here will put you and your partner in a bad spot! This tough blind drive is taken out of play on the Whiskey Routing and the hole is played from a tee box much further up on the upper plateau. The 7th is another long par 5 through a tunnel of trees. The green sits below the level of the fairway and only comes into sight for your 3rd shot. This green is small and shallow, and arguably the firmest on the course. Even the softest of pitch shots land on concrete, and it’s very possible that the architect wants a bump and run shot into this beast. Do whatever you can to hold the 7th green. The 8th is the longest par 3 on the outward nine with a long carry over waste area and into a green surrounded by trees. Another par 3 green with significant depth and contour, that you can’t really appreciate until you’re on the surface. The scale is quiet notable. The opening nine closes with another short par 4 fraught with bunkers at 135, 200 and 250. Club selection off the tee will be a big decision as the raised green demands a lot of respect given the contours and the surrounding fall-offs into no-mans land.
The 10th hole on the championship course is reminiscent of the drive on the 6th. It’s a dog-leg right to left with a climb up to the rising fairway. Your line off the tee is certainly asking for a right to left ball flight as the approach shot is through a corridor of trees. As noted above, upon reaching the green, you behold a vastly different vista in front of you. Endless open views of peaceful prairie land. At this point in the routing, you’re basically at a T Junction along the course boundary and can go in two opposite direction. Upon leaving the 10th green, you either turn right to play the 562-yard par 5 11th with Hells Half Acre waiting for you, or you turn left and commence the A-B-C-D-E shorter Whiskey Routing holes (with notable holes C & D being par 3s where you walk across the championship 10th fairway to get to hole D tee box). When you play both routings in totality, the genius behind the course-plotting options really all begins to make sense. Continuing with the championship routing, Gil’s homage to Pine Valley at the 11th hole is a visual delight as you behold the mighty Ohoopee sand-ridge being incorporated into the design. As it typical with the par 5s at Ohoopee on the main course, they are all 3 shot holes and have the smaller greens on the course. While the 12th hole is labelled as Index 2, I personally thought into a mild wind, it’s the toughest driving hole on the course. You have to squeeze a big drive down the left side to avoid a massive bunker complex on the right side, and the landing area on the left is somewhat blind given the rolling contours in the fairway. It’s a hole you want to play many times to get familiar, and comfortable, with the demands. Another large bunker complex presents itself about 80 yards short of the green on the right-hand side of the hole. It has been shaped in a way that it looks like a little mountain of bunkers that will hamper your ability to see all of the green. You really must hug the entire left side of this hole, and into the wind, it’s an absolute beast. The 13th plays as a long par 3 of about 200 yards on the championship course, while on the Whiskey Routing, the same hole is played further back at about 265 yards as a short par 4. It has the Biarritz green with the dip coming at the front of the very large green that pitches from back to front. The pin was in the dip for my rounds which was great fun, but pin positions towards the back of this mighty green are another animal altogether. The 14th is another short par 4 with the possibility of less than driver off the tee, however this approach shot is visually quite different to the rest. It’s a long (thin) raised green with significant undulation towards the back. The sides are also raised up and shaped to make it particularly difficult to hold the green. Arguably the most severe green on the course along with the 7th. Once again, the short par 4s require numerous decisions and will make the difference in a match. Ironically, this hole is played as a par 3 on the Whiskey Routing from about 190 yards and is a hugely difficult shot to execute in any playing condition. It isn’t until the 15th hole where you see the second instance of a hole that predominantly moves from left to right. In a recent storm, a large tree was struck causing a big branch to collapse towards the elbow of the dog-leg. Rather than removing the branch, the club decided to preserve its location and have secured it against the trunk. It now serves as the line you take off the tee where a fading left to right tee shot will help you find the fairway to this moderate length par 4. We are gifted with a gem of a short par 3 at the 16th hole where it’s all carry over a sea of bunkers. The view from the par 4 17th is glorious, and if you’ve seen photos of Friar’s Head, you may well think you’re on Long Island for a moment. The elevated view down to the hole offers a meandering fairway squeezing its way through large heaving waste areas and a small perched green protected by menacing deep bunkers. It’s one of the stronger holes on the back nine and a real treat. The closing hole is a short par 4 and gives every player a chance to make a birdie, or whatever it takes to be brave to win a match. While the fairway is reasonably generous, there is a waste area all the way up the left-hand side and you can’t see the green from the fairway. The putting surface is behind a gentle mound and it’s all about trusting your yardage with the approach. You don’t need length to make golf exciting or challenging! Overall, Gil’s presentation of the championship routing at Ohoopee Match Club will be a delight for players to experience and no doubt no two rounds will ever be the same. As expected, it’s all about decisions, decisions, decisions…
This destination venue plans to be closed approximately June 15th to September 15th each year during the summer months due to its southern location. I truly congratulate the owner for creating such a special place, and while it’ll mostly be a private retreat where small groups fly in and out, you’re guaranteed to leave with new friends and an appetite for more. It’s understood that the great courses only get better with successive plays. The club continues to innovate its offerings in the pro-shop including new logos for select merchandise of the Whiskey Routing, in addition to some upcoming merchandise using a logo of a zebra eating an onion. I was smiling during my entire visit, and above all else, I finally found an onion that didn’t make me cry.