The small town of Beaufort is where the original Articles of Secession from the Union were drafted in 1860, and Secession Golf Club is named after the momentous act that led to the breakaway of eleven southern states and the five turbulent years of civil war that followed.
Situated on Gibbes Island in the heart of the South Carolina Low Country, Secession sits in perfect isolation among the tidal inlets with no housing on or around the property, offering members and their guests a real get away from it all environment.
A round here is enhanced by the club rule of walking the course with a caddie, enabling players more time to take in the surroundings, especially as fourteen of the fairways are laid out along scenic marsh land.
With tee positions named after generals that fought in the American Civil War (from Jackson at 5,512 yards up to Grant at 7,035 yards) and holes named after battles that took place during the conflict, the golf experience at Secession is one of the most unique to be found anywhere.
I played Secession Golf Club on November 4, 2019. The golf course was originally intended to be designed and completed by Pete Dye, but Mr. Dye shifted his focus to The Ocean course on Kiawah Island, P.B. Dye then was asked to finish his father’s work but wanted to add some features that were inconsistent with the vision of the founders for this club. Bruce Devlin was then asked to complete the design. He did not change much, if any, of Mr Dye’s original routing but did do the bunker placement and their size and depth. Mr. Devlin determined the shape and slope of the greens. In the end, Mr. Devlin is appropriately accorded credit for the design which was opened for play in 1992.
There are five values for the club and the members with a couple mentioned here. First is that it is a walking only course and will be done with a caddie. A second value is that the club is focused on relaxation from the moment you enter the front gate. There is lodging that can accommodate 80 people, of which there are several rooms in the plantation style clubhouse. The club has a wonderful practice facility.
Approximately two of every three members are single digit indexes from many of the finest clubs around the world. I know two members very well, and one is scratch and the second is a six.
Secession is named for the Secession House in nearby Beaufort where the first meetings were held for South Carolina to formally secede from the United States prior to the start of the Civil War. Yet the real meaning of the name “represents an opportunity for our members to secede from the pressures of their everyday lives and for the Club itself to secede from what golf clubs have become. We intend for Secession to focus on the game itself and its great traditions, while fostering an inclusive, relaxed and unpretentious atmosphere.” Indeed, the club logo is of crossed flags, which is inspired by the crossed USA and Scottish Lion rampart flags at the top of the Carnegie Shield.
The course very much meets the ideals and goals of the club. It is a gem situated in the heart of the Low Country. Water is prevalent on sixteen of the holes, yet the course is very fair and playable. When I asked after the round what I thought of the course my instant answer was “fun and very playable.” Being in the low country, it is flat and perhaps the easiest walking course I have ever played. One can run up a high score here although they should not, yet one can also have a very good score, particularly if you are a longer hitter.
A goal of the founders for the course was that it be a Scottish-style links-like golf course. After playing the course, it is clear that the desires have been achieved due to the brilliance of the pot bunkers both in terms of depth, length, and placement. Secondly, a player can choose to try to run the ball onto the green as a strategy. This is the case whether you are 220 yards out or trying to play a 20-30 bump and run. With the exception of the seventeenth hole, playing the ball onto the green via the ground is always an option. The course set-up presents players of all capabilities various options with their shots. It is not always a “strategic” course on many holes, but certainly there are enough holes requiring thoughtful decision-making.
The greens are very subtle in their breaks. Having played the River course at Kiawah Island Club the day before where the greens are very mounded, ridged, sloped; this is very different. The greens do not have tricky speeds or too many undulations. The greens roll very true but seem to have small breaks about 2-3 feet out that are harder to spot. I think the greens are terrific.
The conditioning of the course is one of the best I have ever seen from fairway to bunkers to the greens. The nearby trees and landscaping are maintained. It is pristine.
The first tee is at the back end of one of the largest putting greens I have ever seen. This putting green sits between the eighteenth green, the clubhouse behind it and two chairs to sit and watch people take on a very daunting first shot.
We played the Lee tees at 6653. The back tees are “7007” named Grant. The back tees are typically not put out as they are rarely used. On our round, the course played closer to 6800.
The first shot of the day on this par 4 of 360/345 dogleg right looks much more terrifying that it actually is, although that is highly dependent on wind direction and speed. We had a calm day so while it looked like it required a 220 yard carry, the actual carry for a straight shot favoring the left and not trying to carry this cape hole, was only 180 yards. Obviously, the farther right one goes the longer the carry but the closer you are to the green. The fairway looks very narrow from the tee. It is slightly wider than it looks but overall is relatively narrow so a big hitter who tries to drive the green but hits it too straight can run through the fairway. Hitting a straight shot safely to the left leaves a shot no more than 155 in.
The green is relatively flat with a slight fall-off behind and to the right into the marshes. It is fronted by a single bunker front right.
The ball not hit with enough height or has too much speed will run through this green. One of the members hosting us generally tried to land his ball short of most of the greens to run it on. In this case his ball ran through the green. My first look at a pot bunker prompted a question as to how they are made. All of the bunkers are made from recycled astro-turf from UK football (soccer) fields. These bunkers are pretty much indestructible having survived two hurricanes and numerous floods from storms. The bunkers certainly look like real grass.
The second hole is 151/140 but with a front pin plays only 125. There is a bunker front left and the green is surrounded on all sides by water. The green is fairly large and it is a simple shot.
The third hole is a par 4 of 447/400 from a tee shot that plays to a wide fairway with the water down the entire left side. There are a couple of trees to consider on the left side as well as mounds that can kick a ball into the water or back onto the fairway. The second shot requires a carry over wetlands/water at high tide to a very long, large green with a single bunker back left. Based on the pin, the club used for the second shot could vary by as much as three clubs. It is a fine hole.
The fourth hole requires a tee shot over the marsh again with water/marsh down the entire right side to the slight dogleg right. There are trees and a large bunker on the left to consider on the tee shot. The green has water on the right and behind with no room between the edge of the green and the fall off. There is a single pot bunker front right and a single tree behind the green. The green falls-off to the left side. This hole is visually attractive but not as dangerous as it looks.
The first par 5 comes next at 512/500 going back the other way from the previous hole. It has water down the left side and requires you to cross it with your second. The big hitters reach this green in two. This hole has two very large bunkers with the right one feeling like it is closer to you than the one to its left. But it is an illusion as the right bunker actually is farther from the green than the other one. It is quite startling as you get near the hole and realize you have been tricked by your own eyes. This is the first raised green with fall-offs on all sides, but more dramatically on the right side. This green also has a ridge in it while the previous holes had been merely slightly sloped. This is a cleverly done hole.
Six is a short par 4 of 354/340 dogleg left with water down the water side to the green and behind it. Trees are on the left side of the fairway. There is a single pot bunker behind the green.
Seven is a par 4 of 406/389 with a pond down the entire right side, biting in a bit to the right edge of the green. A denser amount of trees line the entire left side. The fairway is wide so finding it should not be an issue. The green has a slight rise to it near the middle and was the first green that had a bit of speed to a putt that approached the back third of the green. There are no bunkers on the hole and it does not need it.
Eight is a par 3 turning back the opposite way from seven and is 203/182. Water lines the right side and cuts in a bit to the front half of the green continuing around it. The green is relatively flat. There is a single bunker back right. This is a par 3 one will see often across the southern states.
After playing some short/medium length holes, the next five are long and will test one’s game.
Nine is a long par 5 of 600/567 and we played it into enough breeze that it required two clubs more for my third shot. It has several trees down the right side followed by some pot bunkers, and then thicker trees down the left followed by three pot bunkers, ending in two pot bunkers left of the green, albeit well short, and another bunker behind the green. It is a very good, long but fair, par five.
A consecutive par 5 awaits the start of the back nine going in the opposite direction at 556/531 dogleg left with a tee shot through trees on both sides, which come into play again on the right for a second shot and by the green on the left for the third shot. This green does have a bit more slope on the left front.
The next tee is a par 4 dogleg right with a pond known by members as “Lake Stupid” to avoid all the way down the right. The left side of the fairway has mounds. The greenside bunker on the entire right side between the green and the pond is deep and narrow and might be the first bunker I have seen of that length that is nearly 90 degrees vertical. It is an impressive sight. The green is raised a bit throughout and is long with a single bunker back left. It is another very fine golf hole.
A similar length hole turns back the other way and is another long par 4 of 450/431 with mounds on either side of the fairway as well as a collection of trees on the left to avoid on the tee shot and trees nearer the green to avoid on the approach. Another pond is on the left side of the green but should not be in play.
The final long hole in this stretch is a par 4 of 460/430 requiring a carry over marsh/water of about 180 yards to a landing area. Trees are on the left side while a single bunker, a few trees and those mounds are on the right side of the fairway. A second shot has to go over the marsh again to a green that sits up a bit with three bunkers. There is a bit of landing area in front of the green and to the right side as a bail-out option. It is a terrific golf hole.
As good as thirteen is, I liked fourteen even more. It is a shorter par 4 of 385/374 with the fairway running out at about 250 yards. The green sits off to the left of the fairway and the water/marsh comes right against the green with two trees behind it. There is room to go slightly long. It is another visually attractive hole. Our pin was as far left as it could be and I landed nearly as far right as one could get but because the greens are so pure and less undulated it was a putt one only needed to judge the right speed.
Fifteen is likely the weakest hole on the back side but after 10-14 it is good to pause a bit. It is a par 3 of 213/190 playing again over water with a carry of 170/150. The green is simple to read.
Sixteen is the final par 5 and a birdie opportunity provided you get the tee shot in the center or left side of the fairway. It plays at 497/487 with a tree’s limbs giving the illusion of hanging over the tee box to make you feel like you have to hit a low tee shot. There is a carry of about 190 yards to the fairway over marsh/water then taller rough. Trees line both sides of this sharp dogleg right. Just after the trees on the right are three pot bunkers so if you hit the trees and think you might get a break, then is a good chance you will be in one of those bunkers. Four bunkers are on the right side to catch the second shot or near the green. That greenside bunker is large. The green has the marsh right behind it so players attempting to reach the green in two need to be precise with their length. This green is one of the more tilted ones on the golf course back to front.
An island green awaits the next tee shot, a short par 3 of 135/130 with the green itself being about 40% of the size of the famous island green at TPC Sawgrass for the Players Championship. There is no bailout option. With wind this hole has to be a bit frightening but we did not have wind when we hit our shots.
Eighteen is a lovely cape hole to the left. It is a par 4 of 440/416 but for the big hitters plays about 330 if they want to try and drive the green. However, the entire left side is marsh/water and a pond is on the left side of the fairway about 120-80 yards from the green. The green has two bunkers on the left side and three smaller pot bunkers on the right with the green situated between mounds on either side. The clubhouse and that large putting green are part of the visual attraction to this golf hole. It is a splendid hole and a splendid way to finish the round.
Water does not factor into only two holes – the back-to-back par 5’s of nine and ten. Yet Mr. Devlin provides plenty of room off the tee so while the water has to be considered, it should not actually come into play that often. One definitely has to consider the water on holes 8, 11, 13, 14 and 17.
This is a delightful course to walk. As mentioned, the club has five values and they achieved every one of them.
A peaceful golfing utopia which makes you feel like you’re miles from anywhere. This club is like a retreat where you can experience wonderful golf and outstanding southern hospitality. The course itself is dead flat, but with pot bunkers and forced carries, it has plenty of teeth. For years I had heard of how memorial the experience is at Secession, but the golf course with its gorgeous backdrops grows quickly on you from the first tee. Bring your A game.