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.
Date: March 07, 2021