The Palmetto Golf Club is a monument from the dawn of US golf. Thomas Hitchcock founded Palmetto in 1892 and he also laid out a rudimentary four-hole golf course, which was soon extended to nine holes by Herbert Leeds (the architect and early member of the Myopia Hunt Club). Herbert Leeds and James Mackrell, Palmetto’s first golf professional, extended the course to 18 holes in 1895. Since then, the hands of numerous architects, including Donald Ross, Alister MacKenzie, Rees Jones and, more recently, Gil Hanse, have all tweaked and tuned the course that is in play today at Palmetto.
The Chicago Golf Club has the oldest 18-hole golf course in the USA operating on its original site and the Palmetto Golf Club can reasonably claim to have the country’s second oldest golf course.
The green complexes at Palmetto are a delight and their current size is the result of Gil Hanse's restoration work, which pushed the putting surfaces outwards utilising the existing mounds to great effect. Additionally the bunkers were reworked under Hanse’s stewardship.
Notorious for its excellent two-shot holes on the outward half, Ben Hogan reckoned holes 3, 4 and 5 were the best back-to-back par fours he’d ever played. Additionally Hogan apparently listed Palmetto’s 3rd, 5th and 13th in his all-time list of 18 favourite holes.
With a clubhouse designed by Sanford White (who also designed the clubhouse at Shinnecock Hills) and a who’s who list of golf course architects who have left their impression, it’s no wonder that Palmetto Golf Club is on many people’s must-play list.
Dr Alister MacKenzie was quoted in the May 1933 edition of American Golfer Magazine: “The alterations at Palmetto have been such a success that the Chairman of Bobby Jones’ executive committee at the Augusta National writes me saying, ‘We have only one serious complaint to make against you regarding the Augusta National. That layout you designed at Aiken is liked so well that the Aiken colony does not seem to be the least bit interested in coming over to the Augusta National’.”
Never has the saying ‘drive for show, putt for dough’ been more appropriate than at Palmetto, one of the oldest hole golf courses in the USA. The incredible, yet diminutive green complexes dominate the highlight reel but, in all honesty, the constantly stimulating routing and structure of the course also deserve much credit. The ground undulates and the greens float atop the shimmering emerald beauty like fair weather cumulus clouds in a summer sky.
The history here is palpable and echoes between the trees on this important and memorable property. The clubhouse and general atmosphere is extremely welcoming and understated; southern hospitality in its purest form. The list of architects involved in adapting and crafting the layout is impressive, as is the history of association with some of golf’s greatest characters. Ben Hogan was reputed to particularly admire this place, especially the outward half. I would concur with his assessment, especially in regard to the run of five Par 4’s that open the round.
The first tee shot is a mouth watering prospect that reminds me of the downhill opening shot at another Mackenzie influenced masterpiece, Pasatiempo. It provides an insight into what is to come; enticing fairways that don’t place too much pressure on your proficiency with the driver. The real test comes with the shots into the greens. Precipitous raised surfaces welcome many approaches and the margins for error are small. False fronts are heavily deployed, as are slippery side slopes that can make the most accomplished of golfers look foolish if not played with a marksman’s accuracy and keen eye for detail.
The second green is quite frankly, a marvel; a slippery left to right and front to back ice rink that will raise the pulse and break out the first bout of shakes in the overly thoughtful player. The 3rd is a wonderful par 4, one of the best I have ever played (and one of Hogan’s 18 favoured holes of all time). All I’ll say on that hole is the false front appears more punitive the closer you get to it until it is quite frankly, frightening once you are standing on it looking back at where you have come from. The final mention in this stretch goes to the incredible and more recently redesigned waterfall green on the 5th that trickles with an inevitability from back right to front left.
Having already played some testing golf, the most stringent examination on the course awaits at the par 3 7th. Featuring a table top green, defended to the hilt on 3 of its 4 sides, there is only one miss which is long and a little left. Any other miss will almost certainly result in failure. It has an element of the Postage Stamp about it, not in aesthetics but more in the question it asks of the golfer. The examination is of control of start line and distance, something that should be a basic question to ask a golfer. But it is surprisingly difficult to combine both ielements in one shot with any regularity. Most par 3’s I have played allow for a couple of misses which mean stray shots can be recovered. There is very little chance of recovery here if you fail to rise to the task at hand.
While we are discussing par 3’s, it has to be noted just how uniquely memorable the short holes are at Palmetto, another shared trait with Pasatiempo. There are no soft touches and each one requires intimate knowledge of the green site and near perfect execution to allow the chance to steal a par. A player leaving without a disaster on one of the short holes is surely on for a tidy score.
Hole 12 brings in to play the only significant water on the course and is aptly named ‘Pond’. It sweeps right to left before rising to a green that must not be missed to the right. It’s strikingly simple and maddeningly difficult in equal measure and provides one of the most expansive vistas of the course, looking back down the fairway from the green’s lofty position.
This course rates in the highest echelons of the 435 courses I have played. It constantly dares you to hit the correct shot while clearly stating where not to go. It persuades you to hit away from the trouble (and the target) and cleverly disguises the correct course of action. But with increasing regularity, it contrives to trap you with the very hazard that was in plain sight all along. It is not a course to take too seriously with a card in your hand. It’s a course to be played with friends, to be appreciated for it’s technical merit and to be absorbed in to your being so as to be carried with you in to your latter years, as one of those memories that will never be erased.
Palmetto’s rhythm and variety are delightful. The handsome bunkers and great green complexes fit smoothly into the hilly and somewhat rugged terrain. There are many different and great features, one great design after another. Similar to the Augusta National, the game gets amped up the closer you get to the green. Approach shots, recovery shots, and putting are challenges for the scratch player, but eminently enjoyable for the lesser player.
The course is in a suburban setting with a busy road on one side and a forest of tall trees on another side. Out-of-bounds is a factor on the periphery holes. There are some steep downhill and uphill sections with ridges and valleys. There are only 56 bunkers, but all are distinctive and in key places. However, there are no bunkers around greens 2, 4, and 16. Water penalty areas are few. There is a small pond in the right rough just off the 1st tee that is also just in front of the 14th tee. This configuration demonstrates how compact the whole layout is. The only other water is a large pond that produces a challenging cape- type tee shot on the dog leg left par 4 12th hole.
The greens are fantastic. Even though they were recently punched the speed was about 11. They are medium-to-small in size and fit perfectly into the sloping terrain. The average depth is only 27 yards with the shallowest (#16) 20 yards. The only one at 30 yards or deeper is #16 at 35 yards. The shapes and contours are outstanding: elevated, undulating (maybe even tending to wild), false fronts, mounds, knobs, slopes, and hollows.
There are severe falloffs around some greens like the pictured par-3 7th hole. At 180 yards it fits perfectly into the sloping terrain at the left; if you miss the green the ball will go racing down the severe slope to the right of the green.
The very first green immediately grabbed our attention. The approach has a substantial uphill tilt to a small round green pinched by fronting bunkers. The green has a steep false front and the rest of the green slopes severely from back to front with a ridge back left and a mound back right. Coming off this green we knew we were going to see really imaginative greens for the rest of the round.
The only slight negative about the course is that the last three holes do not have quite the zing of the first 15. From 15 green there is a long circuitous walk past the clubhouse to the parking lot and the 16th tee. After dealing with rolling terrain this par 3 hole is dead flat. The next hole has a totally blind tee shot. Finally, #18 is only 306 yards with a sea of sand and eight bunkers (14% of the course’s total). These are not bad holes; they just do not flow with the rest of the course.
“Hidden gem” is a way overused term, but Palmetto Golf Club stands at the top of that list for me.
Palmetto may well of been the biggest surprise of 2018 for me. I had heard great things about this untouched classic gem that flew very much under the radar and in the shadow of its Augusta based neighbor however, the course, the club and the general vibe there was absolutely wonderful. It’s characterized by fairly small and undulated greens putting a premium on solid ball striking and short game. Many of the greens have fall offs that make you really think twice if not shake in the knees when you are about to hit your approaches.
The routing is tight and compact and even though it’s a hilly property this is very much a walking course. It’s also most certainly not without it’s fair share of old school quirk which is something I love. If there was an area to be critical about that would be the tightness of the property and feeling they had to cram in a couple holes to finish off the round. These holes work their way around the clubhouse and while they do provide an intimate feel and a kind of interconnectedness to the course I’m not sure they are ideal. The holes themselves were still very interesting.
Being there in cooler temps the dormant Bermuda provided lightening fast greens and extremely comical putting experience I will not soon forget. I consider putting my favorite part of the game and on the 6th hole, which is one of the toughest on the course and a long par 4 that plays uphill to a deep two tierd green sloping back to front, I managed to hit the green in two, landing on the right front portion. The flag was back left and about 45-50 ft away. My putt was uphill and at the end up onto the upper tier. The ridge ran slightly diagonal away from my position and the putt was about a 15 ft breaker so not easy by any sense of the word. It left and I had a great feeling about it as I watched it slow and nearing the hole having read the break correctly, or so I thought. About 2.5 ft away from the hole while slowing the ball took a hard turn left and almost came to a stop, then started slowly moving, worst feeling ever. I watched it pick up speed slowly to the slight drop to the lower tier and I’ll be damned if that ball didn’t work it’s way all the way back down and passed me 25 ft to my left then roll back off the green and 30 yds down the hill.
I guess you had to see it. And that’s how you go from a 3 to a 6 rather quickly Palmetto style.
I can’t emphasize enough what a great course it is. If you ever have a chance to get there I’d jump on it immediately. You won’t regret it and make sure you also take a look at their old locker room. This is where the likes of Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson came every year to play in the Devereux Milburn Memorial Trophy event.
I played this course during the last US Masters Week and although I have heard/read how good it was, I have to say my impression was even better than expected. It is located not long from Augusta, maybe a 30-40mins car drive which is not bad and while at The Tournament week this is one of the best golf courses you can play in the area together with Sage Valley but really different in what to expect. While Sage is perfection, this is pure golf history and one of the best set of 18 greens I have ever played: fast, sloped, tough to read, tougher to play and really fun, birdies will not come easily!
Club House is a small one, but pretty much the original since it was opened in 1892 y with a charming board of winners with some really big names from the game's history.
As all courses in the area, crew and staff know how special that week is and everybody is set to make your day really special.
And not as many of the proshops of the courses visited, this one is really good with a big variety of stuff and design which will for sure spend some money on it.
Course plays really tough, I tried playing concetrated and focused to post a good score but both approach shots and putting made it extremely tough. Every small mistake was punished with at least a bogey, short game is as demanding as you can expect and this is one of the best features of the course, you HAVE to get all your wedges working and even the bump & run chip will be necessary.
A great test, the touch from Mackenzie in every green and mantained at the highest level even when a small tornado hit the course 2 days before I played it.
Par 3 6th with that small tough green was one of the best ones, very similar to 14th at Los Leones in Santiago de Chile. Par 3 11th downhill was one of the greats as well, were tries hide the wind (as in Amen Corner at Augusta National) and it is tough to get the correct club.
Dog leg 12th over the water is the other great, where the more brave you are with the line of the tee shot, the easier and shorter the approach shot uphill will be.
I've read final 3 holes are "weak" and cannot share that: 16th is a very tough long par 3 where holding ball on green is maybe the toughest hole on the course, 17th is a nice downhill par 4 where again approach shot needs to be extremely precise.
And finally 18th might not be nice from the tee, but you need to be sharp. I went for the green and missed, had a really tough job to get the final par.
If you travel to Augusta and want to play a really good golf course, this is the one. You have everything a golfer will appreciate from an old golf club.
It didn’t take very long for me to realise why Clifford Roberts complained to Alister MacKenzie that his members at Augusta National preferred to play MacKenzie’s course up in Aiken, SC! Things at Palmetto haven’t changed much over the past 100 years since MacKenzie completed the work.
It’s truly amazing that this course has never appeared on any Top 100 list as its architectural credentials are simply fabulous. Its greens and visual deceptions are equally as impressive as the site that hosts The Masters.
It started as a 3-hole course in a tri-angular routing, that now play as holes 16-18 on the backside of the clubhouse. This collection of holes is arguably the weakest on the course.
It’s not a terribly long course, but it has iconic features recognizable across the world which offer up one of the most enjoyable walks in golf. Short-game aficionados will be tested to the max. As with all of MacKenzie’s masterpieces, the player is offered tremendous width off the tee, leading towards an immense challenge around the greens.