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.”
Of the most recent new courses to open to very positive reviews, the two that I played that exceeded the high acclaim I had read or heard are Tara Iti and Ohoopee Match Club. Some others, such as Streamong Black, were very close to the expectations while others I will not name here fell a bit short. I am eager to play Sheep Ranch and Dunbarnie Links.
Ohooppee Match Club, designed by Gil Hanse, is a gem across every measure whether one is referring to the accommodations, the staff, the facilities, the food, the service, or the golf course (s). The setting is magnificent and reminds me of two of my other clubs, Ballyneal and The Renaissance Club. There is a sense of solitude and contemplation while being completely relaxed yet experiencing joy. It truly is a magnificent place.
Located approximately 90 minutes west of Savannah near Cobbtown and off of dirt roads for the final miles, it is located on a former onion field.
In his review, Fergal has provided a good overview of the golf course and facilities. In just eight short months from his visit, (I played it on June 1-2, 2020), the pro shop has added some interesting items. I did not intend to purchase as many items as I did but they were irresistible.
The large putting green which has lights for nighttime competitions is mounded and contoured much like the one at Ballyneal, with the exception of this one has a single three feet high mound with a cup placed at the top. The driving range is wide and pleasant as you walk through the opening in the “barn” to access it. There is also a small fitness center for those who want to stretch, lift or do cardio. There are several “bar” locations although the patio overlooking the lake is perhaps the best spot. The rooms in the main clubhouse are off of a barrel ceiling. The rooms in the “barns” are perhaps even better. The locker room has perhaps the best showers in the world.
The chef produces a unique and amazing menu for you. You simply show up and the meals have already been decided for you. One’s taste buds explode as the flavors are very compelling.
The typical trip for a guest is perhaps one day which goes from lunch to lunch. Obviously sometimes members and their guests stay longer. You simply do not want to leave Ohoopee, it is so good.
Can a great golf course play second fiddle to a great chef and facilities…..at Ohoopee Match Club that is possible.
Yet the golf course is genius. It is absolutely genius. Adding the “extra” four holes while shortening several other holes to make the Whiskey Routing” course in effect creates two golf courses for essentially the price of slightly more than one course. The extra holes are on some of the best land. Playing into other holes from different teeing areas one does not always recognize the hole from the “big” course. The whiskey routing has a stop with whiskey and a shot for each player. Of course you stop, toast being there with your friends, and enjoy the setting.
I had first heard the term whiskey loop after my third visit as a member to Ballyneal but that is simply playing a few of the holes to shorten the time. The Whiskey Routing at Ohoopee Match Club takes it to a whole new level as it is a different course that is simply fun, fun, fun.
Match play is the desired play here as opposed to stroke play. I took a picture of a coaster that said “no one cares what you shot.” As further evidence of the ethos at Ohoopee Match Play, on the main course there are six holes with “half” scores. Alistair Mackenzie and Donald Ross stated many times that par is irrelevant, only one’s final score is. They also valued match play, even alternate shot, as worthy alternatives to stroke play.
We played the main course followed by 15 holes of alternate shot on the Whiskey Routing, followed by the Whiskey Routing the following morning.
There is very good variety in the holes on the main course with doglegs, tee shots out of “chutes,” fairways that narrow, fairway generously wide, greens that are above you, valleys fronting the greens, greens sloped back to front and front to back or left to right or right to left. On the main course the par 5’s are as long as 659 yards down to 497 yards (4.5). The par 4’s are as long as 525 (4.5) down to 312 yards. The par 3’s range from 139 to 251 yards. On the Whiskey Routing all of the par 3’s are below 200 yards while the par 4’s only go to 393 yards and the two par 5’s are capped at 499 yards. As Fergal mentioned, playing for birdies is encouraged here.
I did prefer the Whiskey Routing to the main course, and not only for the shot of whiskey. I thought the holes were more fun and the four new holes to be as equally good as the ones they replaced. From some of these holes there is a lovely view of a “savannah” that you do not get from the main course almost as if on a safari in South Africa. I’ve been on a safari and Ohoopee Match looked a lot like what I remembered.
As to the main course, I felt the course really started on the fifth hole, a short par 3 with a lightening fast back to front green with a bowl behind the green to run balls onto the green much like a combination of a redan and punchbowl.
The course begins and ends with par 4’s that offer wide fairways and somewhat blind shots into the greens, with the first hole playing downhill and the eighteenth set atop a dune with 30 yards between the green and a deep, wide bunker. The eighteenth green is about forty yards from the clubhouse bar and patio.
The main course is 7325 holes from the farthest point of the tee while the Whiskey Routing plays at 5610 but one can drop their tee almost anywhere on the holes.
This is a course designed to encourage birdies and bold play given the wide fairways and the somewhat larger greens. However, if you stray into the foliage and trees you are often met with a shot blocked by a fallen dead limb or a tree blocking your view to the green, or perhaps in native grasses. On one of the extra holes, a par 5, there is a very nasty bunker down the right side where there is raised grass near the front of the bunker creating a channel about 15 inches wide. The only option is to putt down the channel back into the heart of the bunker. Yes, I found this channel on round two of the Whiskey Routing, to which the member said, “I did not know that existed. Too bad.”
There is a lot of movement in the land on the holes. For those holes where the fairway is flat or flattish, there is likely a raised or sunken green.
The walks between the greens and next tee have all sorts of interesting bushes, flowers, and grasses that make it absolutely stunning. On the Whiskey Routing the course is also defined by burnt wood designed to look like stakes to define the starting point of the hole.
The doglegs sometimes are confusing as to what one can carry or not to find the optimal line to the green. I enjoyed the optical illusions created by the use of the trees and plants on these doglegs. There are long forced carries over sand and scrub similar to Hell’s Half Acre at Pine Valley. There are chances to run a ball onto a green. There are times where you must play target-like golf given the shelfs and plateaus on the greens. There are narrow greens and odd-shaped greens. There are greens with false fronts or ridge lines that can send a ball caroming around a hidden bend only to see it reappear three-four seconds later.
As for whether this is a world top 100 golf course, I would say yes. It can play easy. I had four birdies on my first round and lipped out a 45 feet putt on the final hole to just miss halving our match when I played safely to the left of that fronting bunker only to later discover I could have gone right at the pin given the 25 yards between the bunker and green.
It can play difficult. The next day, the second time around the Whiskey Routing, I had to pick up my ball four times in my match, having no possibility of helping my partner try to halve the hole. You simply cannot stray from the fairway as it is 50-50. One time I hit a blind luck recovery shot from 120 yards up a hill fronting the green to 2 feet to halve the hole. The next time I was stuck between two dead tree branches with a two inch backswing.
The bunkering, green surrounds, and contours on the greens are excellent. There are redan like greens, Biarritz style greens, or little mounds fronting the greens that can stop a ball or send it in a way that you might not want.
Combined with the uniqueness of having essentially two golf courses, one is always visually excited, surprised, and eager to play the next hole.
Mr. Hanse and the owner built a magnificent place, one that I believe will stay in the top 100 for some time. I would certainly rather come play here than at many courses currently ranked in the top 100 because at some point on the courses you will use every part of your game. You have to make decisions often about a side of the fairway or being bold or laying back.
As to whether this is Mr. Hanse and Jim Wagner’s finest work, I would say yes. While the setting is not as gorgeous as Castle Stuart on a sunny day, the course is much more interesting. It is also better than Boston Golf Club which is excellent. Adding in his work at Streamsong Black and his restorations or re-designs at Winged Foot, Oakland Hills, Aronimink, Los Angeles Country Club, and Sleepy Hollow, they certainly have established themselves in the history book of top golf designers forever.
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.