A.W. Tillinghast's career resulted in a dense mass of championship-caliber courses in his native northeast, however his travels only resulted in a handful of southern entries, including singular clubs in Tennessee, North Carolina, Florida, and South Carolina. Rock Hill Country Club is the aforementioned South Carolina example, located just across the border from Charlotte.
The reasoning for the rare southern exposure was A.O. Joslin, a former New York well-acquainted with Tilly's Westchester County work, who lured the architect — relatively late in his career (1932) — to create nine holes for the new Rock Hill course, then public-access.
Arthur Hamm, then the head golf pro at Charlotte Country Club, would design a second nine a decade later. The club would become private during the '50s and, many years later, Kris Spence was contracted to restore Tillinghast's design while taking a more heavy renovating hand to the Hamm nine.
The Carolinas are blessed with one of the widest arrays of ecosystems in the continental US. For the traveling player, great golf can be found from the peaks of the Appalachians, to the rolling Sandhills, to the marshes of the Lowcountry. With such incredible settings for the game, it is no wonder that countless classic and modern architects have left their mark across the two states.
Intriguingly, some of the highest ranked courses here are not those with naturally fantastic sites. Instead, renowned architects left lasting marks by following the adage that “18 great greens naturally lend themselves to 18 fantastic holes.” Course reviewers across the globe do not spend their time analyzing the terrain at Donald Ross’ Pinehurst #2 or Seth Raynor’s Yeamans Hall, but instead focus on the artistry on their putting surfaces.
A.W. Tillinghast’s unheralded work at Rock Hill Country Club – and subsequently, Kris Spence’s restoration – fits this category. Situated just outside of Charlotte’s sprawling bustle, Rock Hill Country Club is a fantastic escape with an intimate, secluded ambience not found on the many residential courses closer to uptown. While the routing maximizes the natural undulation, it is the magnificent green complexes and strategic corridors that make the course worthy of a strong ranking in South Carolina.
Every single green at Rock Hill presents new challenges and opportunities. The severe spines jutting in from the outer rims of many greens make every edge seem even more slippery. Only a player with a creative spirit, varied shot-making ability, and a willingness to take on risk will find themselves with birdie putts at Rock Hill.
On some holes, the center of the green may be the most sensible option. This is certainly true at the treacherous par four 4th, the downhill par four 10th, and the short par three 17th. Any aerial shot that can stick the landing may provide the player with a safe two-putt option to an outward pin placement. Conversely, many other holes welcome and reward run-up shots. The open par three 2nd, the testing par five 7th, and the curling 11th all can be taken on from the ground. Even more enthralling are those greens where the golfer might play away from the hole entirely. At the par three 6th, members can take a links style approach and bounce tee shots off a bank right of the putting surface. Balls bound down towards any pin placement.
While Rock Hill Country Club has no weak holes, those which stand out most employ both phenomenal green sites and fantastic, blind hole corridors that enable strategic options. On the front nine, the par five 7th is exceptional. Off the tee, players must choose how aggressive to be with Sahara bunkering bisecting the fairway. It may be possible to reach the green in two, but the putting surface abuts out-of-bounds long and right, tempering the desire to play aggressively.
On the back, the par four 16th leaves a lasting impression. This bunkerless hole doglegs to the left and begs the player to bite off as much as they care to chew off the tee. The green complex is absolutely beguiling and may make any member second guess the choice to pull driver. Guarded in front by raised mounding, the putting surface is inimitable, sloping hard down a few distinct tiers from front-to-back and inviting most players to fly the ball. In most cases, a shorter approach provides no advantage. Players will need the utmost spin control to hold their wedge on this masterpiece of a green.
Great architects’ designs remain timeless because they provide a distinctive experience on any consecutive round. Thanks to the unique questions it asks its players, A.W. Tillinghast’s work at Rock Hill Country Club breaks the mold of so much repetitive, residential golf in the greater Charlotte area. Rarely in the modern era does a player need to consider whether they need to aim at a green at all, yet this decision occurs constantly throughout a round at Rock Hill. Its set of 18 standout putting surfaces are among the five most memorable this writer has encountered in 150+ courses played across the Carolinas, and it should rightfully earn a place on the list of any classic golf aficionados in the Piedmont.
PC of 7th & 18th hole: RHCC member Mike Cavallo