Seth Raynor designed the course at Yeamans Hall Club in South Carolina in 1925. It has been called “a time capsule in Charleston” in appreciation of it embodying all that is good in traditional golf course design (of course that could be said of all Raynor courses). And don’t let a modest course yardage fool you into thinking this is a short course, as several drives have to be played into upslopes which afford little forward ball momentum.
Yeamans Hall enjoys just about the firmest playing conditions of any course on the eastern seaboard of the United States and it is blessed with wide, tree-lined fairways and greens which are a trademark of their designer – all except two are receptive to the running approach shot.
In the late 1980s, many greens had shrunk to nearly half their original size, so the golf club restored the 1st and 13th putting surfaces to gauge the effect it would have on the membership. Such was the impact, Tom Doak was contracted in 1998 to rebuild the remaining sixteen greens and this was done over six months that year with the total putting surface area increasing from 80,000 to over 140,000 square feet.
Unique Raynor design features like horseshoe contours within the green were re-established on the 3rd and 10th putting surfaces and spines dividing greens in two were introduced on the 4th and 15th and, of course, the increase in green size now offers so many new, interesting pin positions.
A feature hole is the par three 6th measuring 180 yards called “Redan” which, as the name implies, is a Raynor remake of the famous 15th hole at North Berwick. The narrow green slopes from right to left and is framed by magnolias and oak trees bedecked in hanging moss. Three bunkers at the back are very much in play as the putting surface slopes steeply into them.
Raynor said of Yeamans Hall in 1925, “this course is going to combine the sandy seaside features… the fairways made beautiful by magnificent live oaks and large pines bordering them… to make one fall in love with golf at Yeamans Hall.”
This course has lost its greens for the second year in a row, which is a shame. I last played this course 10 years ago and the expectations remained high given how much I enjoy the treat of playing an original Raynor course.
The layout looks tired and a little outdated. The greens are in bad shape, and the template holes are subtle in comparison to others in Raynor’s celebrated portfolio. Although no surprise, the land around Charleston does not offer much undulation, which is a shame as it’s the rolling topography that augments the quality of Raynor’s other courses around the country.
With mundane land and hazards that feel a little out of place, Yeamans Hall is underwhelming and may begin to slip in the rankings. The template holes add character and charm, especially the Knoll and Redan – but the course can only offer so much before a larger perspective begins to take over.
Seth Raynor’s template holes abound here. I find their charm not in their sameness but in the subtle differences. Here, for example, the Biarritz’s valley is in front of the green a la Fishers Island. And the punchbowl is not nearly as pronounced as the ones you’d find at courses like Mountain Lake. Moreover, not all the holes are templates.
There’s more fairway bunkering than you’d find at Fishers Island or Mountain Lake. This makes Yeamans more difficult, but not in a bad way. After a simple opening hole, numbers 2, 4 and 5 challenge the tee shot with fairway bunkers and the player has to choose the line (and the club) for the tee shot carefully. Both par 5s require thinking on the second shot as well.
The greens give plenty of challenge as well with Raynor’s characteristic spines bisecting four of them. And the thumbprint, a subtle depression in the middle of the green, shows up not once, but twice.
My favorite of this genre is Yale, but I can think of no other Raynor course I’d rather play than Yeamans Hall.
Charleston, South Carolina has retained its uniqueness and character and has resisted the homogenization that has largely swept most parts of the U.S. South Carolina is still representative of the Deep South and jealously guards its heritage. The club is very discrete and isolated, located off a street marked "No Outlet". Reminiscent of Pine Valley, you have to cross a railroad track and immediately have to stop at a guard gate. Nowhere is there an indication that this is Yeamans Hall Club; it is an un-marked, low-key entrance. After the guard verified my credentials I passed through the entrance to an enchanted setting. With a golf course designed by Seth Raynor, all the typical prototype holes present on his courses are there in classic form. The overall feel of Yeamans Hall is magical. The place has character, old-world charm and a sense of complete isolation from the outside world. More or less, everything is perfect. I like their philosophy and approach, as exemplified in their recommended pace of play, "3 1/2 hours is adequate for four ball match." After our round we had sandwiches - shades of Augusta National - I had a delicious pimento cheese sandwich. Yeamans is much more than a golf course set in an old plantation surrounded by a marsh; it is an experience in Southern charm and hospitality that is hard to beat.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs