Wade Hampton – A Fazio Design Like No Other

Wade Hampton – A Fazio Design Like No Other

by Marc Bender

Wade Hampton is one of those courses that has been on my “must play” list for quite a while for several reasons: First, I have played a plethora of Tom Fazio courses all over the country that were designed at different phases of his career, and I definitely felt I was missing out having not seen what many have touted as Mr. Fazio’s best work. Second, of all the Top 100 ranked courses in the USA, Wade Hampton is one that flies under the radar, creating intrigue, and I love to see great golf courses that aren’t talked about ad nauseam. Similar to other highly ranked courses, such as Yeamans Hall, Crystal Downs, Old Town Club and Gozzer Ranch, you just don’t hear too many people talking about Wade Hampton.

My trip to Wade Hampton took place right in the middle of the Covid-19 virus pandemic. The relevance of mentioning this is that I live in South Florida and under normal circumstances I would have been able to take a short flight to Atlanta and then a manageable 2.5-hour drive to Wade Hampton. However, being extra cautious, I decided to plan a short vacation in nearby South Carolina and decided that driving the whole way would be the practical choice, which meant an 11-hour trip each way.

Similar to designs by Coore & Crenshaw or Pete Dye, you can almost always tell when you are playing a Tom Fazio golf course. However, when you’ve played countless courses by a single architect, it becomes harder and harder to be “wowed” and genuinely distinguish one course from another unless there is something unique about the design or land. One of the hardest things an architect faces when designing a golf course is creating variety and interest for all 18 holes while building a golf course that is still cohesive. Few courses accomplish this rare feat and those that do are consistently and deservingly the top ranked. Of all the Fazio designed courses I have been fortunate enough to play, the gold standard for me has long been Shadow Creek in Las Vegas. Nearly every single hole at Shadow is memorable and special. Shadow is one of those courses that should be on everyone’s to-play list – it ranks inside my personal top 25 in the United States. There are other excellent Fazio courses that I find memorable as great overall experiences such as Hudson National, Galloway National, The Summit Club, Wynn Golf Club, The Estancia Club, Black Diamond Ranch, Whisper Rock Upper Course, Emerald Dunes, Jupiter Hills Club, Pablo Creek, and Caves Valley. The difference between all of these and Shadow Creek is that there are far more individual holes at Shadow Creek that stand out as special and memorable with an overall outstanding 18-hole experience. I have yet to play Gozzer Ranch, Congaree, The Alotian Club,and Frederica, but now after playing Wade Hampton I have seen all the other well-known Fazio designs.

Now that you have the backstory of why the standard was set so high for my visit to Wade Hampton I’m going to share with you why I titled this review “A Fazio Design Like No Other”. I had the privilege of playing my round with Wade Hampton’s Director of Golf, Pete Mathews, and a passionate 20-year member named Steve. Both had a wealth of information on the history of Wade Hampton to share with me and I could not have had a more enjoyable time unless the late founder William McKee or Tom Fazio himself were in our group.

Before I share some specific hole highlights allow me to leave out the dramatic build up and give you the bottom line right now, Wade Hampton is nothing short of an exceptional golf course and experience. Thanks to the incredible vision and execution by the late founder, William McKee, there is not a single detail overlooked at Wade Hampton from the moment you arrive until the second you leave. While the course was built in 1987 and the greens were renovated in 2017, you would think the entire club is brand new, that is just how pristine everything is at this incredibly well-run slice of golfing heaven. The layout of the property is perfect. A nice putting green sits near the clubhouse and it takes a decent length golf cart ride to get to the practice range, practice pitching greens, and a second putting green. A short walk from the practice area brings you to the first tee. Before you walk onto the tee box to start your round, you can’t miss a lifelike statue of Mr. McKee – everyone is reminded who made it all possible each and every time they get to play this course. Mr. Mathews gave me great insight into Mr. McKee’s high-energy personality and driving passion to live life to the fullest, and he made sure Wade Hampton is one of the best golf experiences in the world.

William McKee statue - Wade Hampton Golf Club

Wade Hampton has a routing and flow that feels like it was just meant to be this way. One of its unusual features is that, to my knowledge, it’s one of only two courses ranked in the top 50 on any list that both starts and ends with a par-5 {Shoreacres in Illinois is the other}. I think that’s a super cool and distinguishing feature. For a good golfer, a par-5 is a great hole to start and finish your round with because every good golfer mentally prepares for what should be a great birdie opportunity and most often a straightforward par. Thus, for a good amateur golfer or a professional, Wade Hampton starts and finishes with what should be a positive memory.

So, with that preamble, I am ready to share my journey through Wade Hampton with you.

Wade Hampton Golf Club 1st hole

The highest elevation on the golf course comes on your very first tee shot, which is one of the most forgiving on the course. The hole is somewhat reachable with a well-placed, long drive that finds the center or right side of the fairway. As Mr. Mathews pointed out, his solid drive that wound up on the left side of the fairway left him nearly a blind lay up. My drive luckily found the right side of the fairway and gave me a terrific view of the entire approach to the first green. Even though I hit a decent drive, with 284 yards left, reaching in two was not a high probability. The approach to the moderately sloped first green allows for any type of shot and a great birdie opportunity. By all standards a terrific opening hole.

Wade Hampton Golf Club 2nd hole

Don’t be fooled into thinking that Wade Hampton is a pushover because the first hole was not very difficult; I assure you when you arrive at the 2nd tee you had better wake up really fast as you are about to play a hard hole. I have no doubt that many have started their round by making birdie on the opener and following it up with a quick bogey on the 2nd. The 2nd hole is a brute by all standards. You can’t miss the majestic view from the tee which is shaped by a mountain far in the distance, fescue is in view right of the fairway, trees left, and beautiful bunkering in the distance. Now, take a deep breath as you must quickly focus on this very long and challenging hole which requires a moderately uphill tee shot that makes you want to swing out of your shoes. After finding the fairway, you have a slightly downhill approach shot with a generous opening to a large green. More likely than not you will face a long approach shot. Like the first, the 2nd green has some moderate movement, but nothing too extreme, finding the putting surface in regulation is the big challenge. This is a fantastic par 4 that excites you for the holes still to come.

Wade Hampton Golf Club 3rd hole

After arriving at the 3rd tee, Mr. Mathews provided some great insight as to how the final course routing came about. Originally, the 3rd hole did not exist in the routing and the first several holes were in a different order. Luckily, Mr. Fazio and Mr. McKee eventually discovered the land where the 3rd hole resides, It’s hard to imagine anyone not absolutely loving this hole. The 3rd hole at Wade Hampton is one of the greatest par-3s in the world. When standing on the tee it just has the look of a hole that is a canvas painting, one that simply cannot be real. Golf holes that are not surrounded by the ocean just don’t look like this in real life. Yet, after a few seconds of digesting the beauty and setting, you realize the hole is in fact real and you actually have to hit a tee shot. Beyond the beauty of this hole, the design is equally awesome. With water fronting the entire left side of the green you definitely want to play to the right side or center of the green to have a birdie or par opportunity. Just right of the green is a hill that usually yields a generous bounce onto the putting surface, which is always a fun feeling when that happens. We played the hole at 195 yards and with a back left pin... a thought flashed through my mind that this would certainly be the most unreal hole on which to make a hole-in-one. Can you guess what I did next? That’s right, I hit a towering 5 iron that missed the green no less than 20 yards to the right. That left me in knee high fescue grass with a sidehill downhill 40-yard shot. I subsequently hit a miraculous lob wedge to 9 feet from the hole, followed up by a curling putt that went right in to save par. With no intent to brag, I sure felt good when Steve told me that was the greatest three he had seen on that hole in his 20-years as a member of Wade Hampton. Like the 7th at Pebble Beach, the 12th at Augusta National, the 17th at TPC Sawgrass and the 16th at Cabot Cliffs, the 3rd at Wade Hampton is a par-3 that one will never forget.

Wade Hampton Golf Club 5th hole

After playing the challenging but enjoyable par-5 4th hole I was looking forward to seeing the hardest hole on the course, the 5th. The 5th hole is framed phenomenally well. Standing on the tee the framing of the hole makes it clear that you want your drive to be on the right center of the fairway. A Fazio signature going back to at least 1987 is his usage of trees that define holes and approach shots. Placing trees just off of fairways or obstructing an approach shot with a tree on one side of a green is a consistent Fazio signature that you are welcome to either love or hate but better get used to navigating. Standing on the 5th tee 3 very tall skinny trees guard the left side of the fairway. A pulled tee shot will likely hit these trees and a hooked tee shot will leave you even worse off with nothing more than a pitch out unless you can work the ball like Bubba Watson out of dense bluegrass rough or pine straw. At 455 yards from the back tee, you are going to have somewhere between 155-175 left into this green if you are a reasonably long hitter. Add about 15 yards for the severe uphill approach shot to the shallowest green on the course and you have all the challenge you’d ever want on a single golf shot. As if that were not enough, the closely mown area short of the green ensures that if your approach shot comes up even a yard short your ball will roll 30 yards down the hill leaving an extremely challenging up and down. A couple of things to note, remember when I said earlier that not a single detail is overlooked at Wade Hampton? Well, one example of this as that the hill behind this green has the Wade Hampton club logo mowed into it, surrounded by fescue. I love this feature and it further demonstrates the pride that this membership and the agronomy team have in their course. The other detail not to be missed on the 5th hole is that this is one superb green complex. It runs diagonally and is pretty severe from back to front and left to right, as well as a bit shallower on the right side of the green. It would be nice to see the back left section of this green enlarged a little bit since the approach shot here is so severely uphill, it seems likely will come into the green with a lower trajectory and I am not sure that the left back section of this green is receptive to receive anything less than a perfect shot at that trajectory without the risk of winding up long and leaving yourself a treacherous and delicate pitch shot. The pin for my round was front right and I was quite pleased to make my 4 and head to the 6th hole. Must give a shout out to Mr. Mathews who hit his approach shot a yard short of the green and then watched his ball roll back 35 yards down the hill, only to follow that up with a beautiful pitch shot to one foot to save par.

Wade Hampton Golf Club 6th hole

As I headed to the par-3 6th tee, I had the natural expectation of a letdown hole compared to the par-3 3rd. How could any hole compare to that? It couldn’t and the 6th didn’t, but I have to tell you the 6th hole is a darn good and fun par-3 that goes downhill over two creeks that merge to form a peaceful flow of water guarding the entire front of the green. The backdrop is absolutely beautiful and on nearly any other course, this hole would be considered a signature hole. While the 6th only plays about 150 yards when factoring in the downhill, this green has plenty of movement that can easily cause a 3 putt to sneak up on you. As a matter of fact, we played to a front right-side pin placement and Mr. Mathews pointed out that a front left pin is devilish and that most golfers don’t realize how fast this green putts from right to left. I tried this putt and can confirm that this is spot on. Kudos to Steve who just barely missed a hole-in-one here as his tee shot never left the stick and literally just missed flying into the hole.

If you have read my other reviews, you likely know that I am rarely one to give nearly 18-hole coverage of a golf course. How many holes can really be that special that a course deserves more than a few individual hole highlights? More often than not, the answer is only a few, but by now you are starting to get a feel for how special Wade Hampton is since I can’t seem to skip many holes in my review, and we are just through the first third of the course.

The 7th, 8th and 9th holes all move right to left, I would only call the 8th a true “dogleg”. Even so, as a fader of the ball off the tee (as I am), you still have plenty of room to find each of these three fairways. And trust me, each of them requires you to hit the generous landing zones or you will be hard pressed to par any of them. All three of these holes are par 4’s and they each have plenty of challenge. Interestingly, the 7th is on relatively flat terrain. The 8th plays from a super elevated tee {that requires a 90 second cardio hike up about 40 steps that will remind many of us we should spend a bit more time on the treadmill}, followed up by straight uphill approach shot to the green. The 9th tee shot is slightly downhill followed by a straight downhill approach to the green. Each of these holes rewards players who find the right side of the fairway leaving the best angle to approach the green.

Let’s take a look at the last three holes on the front 9 in a bit more detail. The approach shot to the 7th hole is one of my favorites on the course. The 7th is the shortest par-4 on the front 9, leaving a short approach shot, yet the green has 3 distinct sections to it and you better make sure that you hit your approach on the proper section or you will have a very challenging putt; yet if you play too aggressively, each of these 3 sections are very well protected, just the way a short approach shot should be on a championship golf course. If the pin is back left (as it was the day I played the course), you do not want to go long, or you will have a treacherous chip shot that is very hard to stop near the hole. I know from experience as I did go just a yard over the green and was quite lucky to hit a bladed wedge to about 5 feet which easily couldn’t gone 30 feet past the hole down a ridge to a different section has I not pulled off the shot. A front left pin brings the water fronting the green into play and a right-side pin is much shallower with two well placed bunkers behind the green. The 7th is as good a hole under 400 yards as you’ll find anywhere. Add to that a gorgeous setting off the tee and behind the green {which are two totally different views} and you have a hole that like the 6th could be another signature hole on most other golf courses.

The 8th hole is a little bit different story. I feel every Fazio course has at least two or three “discussion” holes. These are holes that you can either love or hate. Here’s the deal with the 8th at Wade Hampton, it’s not a very long hole and if you hit the fairway off the tee as you should, the approach shot while uphill is quite manageable as you are hitting a relatively short iron approach shot. But if you miss this fairway, it’s a severe penalty, because the false front on this green is dramatic and your chances to get up and down are not very good. Once on the green, there are no easy putts. This is a green where making nearly any putt is quite challenging as it’s hard to read the green and a 3-putt is a real possibility. Miss the green on the wrong side of the pin and getting anywhere near the hole is just about impossible. Nobody ever said golf was supposed to be easy and having a couple of holes that can play extra tough isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I can see many thinking this is a great medium length par 4 and I can see others not liking this hole at all. The hole is beautiful to look at but was not one of my favorites on the course. One of the unique features of Wade Hampton is that the fairway areas from about 30 yards short of the greens are mowed at just a shade about green height, more on this later, but if you didn’t know any better you would think these closely mown areas are actually part of the green, the grass is that tight and rolls that purely. If you putt off this grass you could be fooled into thinking you are on the actual green since the ball rolls so well off of it. More on this later when I discuss conditioning. As to why the 8th isn’t one of my favorite holes, I think the false front is too severe and the chances to get up and down from the area short of the green is overly tough. The argument against what I am saying is that these are the types of holes that keep a golf round interesting as it progresses and having a few holes with drama is a great thing. For me, I’d soften the degree of this false front a good amount to offer golfers a better chance to recover.

Wade Hampton Golf Club 9th hole

The 9th hole at Wade is wonderful, one of my favorites on the course. Mr. Mathews told me in the fairway that this is his favorite approach shot on the entire course and I can see why. This is a generous fairway to hit, but don’t be get complacent because you MUST hit this fairway or a double bogey or worse can quickly creep on you. If your tee ball finds the far-left side of the fairway, you have four tall Fazio-esque trees that obstruct the left side of the green. You don’t want your approach shot to wind up on that side of the green anyway, but nonetheless, it makes for a much harder approach shot as your effective area to hit your approach shot is shrunk. As you can see in the picture here it’s a majestic setting with a green that has just the right amount of movement. After finishing this hole, you will definitely want to look backwards as you have another great view to enjoy.

Wow, that was a lot of words to describe only 9 holes, I promise the back 9 will not be nearly as long but surely feature plenty of highlights. For an opening 9 holes, you’d be hard pressed to find a better and more balanced 9. Outside of the 8th hole, I absolutely loved the front 9.

As we arrived on the 10th tee, I briefly thought to myself, can the back 9 equal the front in terms of quality, variety, interest, etc.? The short answer is almost, but not quite.

Wade Hampton Golf Club 10th hole

The 10th hole is a hard dogleg to the right with a tricky angle to hit the fairway. Very long hitters have a shot to reach this green in two, but the vast majority of us will be laying up and its critical to approach this green from the proper side. Why? Because this is the most dramatic green on the entire course with a rippling effect of 3 distinct tiers that can embarrass you quickly if you are putting from the wrong one. All in all, the best part of the hole is the approach shot and green and my favorite green complex on the course. While many will probably find this green to be torturous I thought it was fantastic.

The 11th is a slightly downhill medium length par-3. Keep in mind, the standard set earlier in the round for par 3’s at Wade Hampton are unlike just about anywhere else based on the high quality of the 3rd and 6th holes. So, I wouldn’t call the 11th a letdown per se but it certainly doesn’t have the drama or memorability of the two par 3’s on the front 9. The 11th at Wade is just like any other gorgeous and solid Tom Fazio designed par 3. It’s just not the hole you are going be talking much about after your round, and that is perfectly fine.

The 12th is in theory a reachable short par-4. At 317 yards going uphill, there’s a handful of younger kids that can give it a go, but for most of us, it’s a layup and a precise wedge for a great birdie opportunity. The hole is solidly designed with a majestic backdrop of the mountains. From the tee the majority of the green cannot be seen as it extends all the way to the right side. The green has very little movement to it, it’s just super wide.

After stepping off the 12th green, Mr. Mathews asked me “so, what do you think of the first 12 holes at Wade Hampton? I responded by saying “it’s a very special place”. Then Mr. Mathews said, “If Mr. McKee were here he would say the last 6 holes is where the course begins.”

And on that note, off we went to the 13th. The 12th was the first of five par 4’s in a row. I always find it challenging for an architect to captivate a golfer and keep their interest when you have a series of so many par 4’s in a row. Fortunately, Mr. Fazio did not disappoint in living up to this standard.

Wade Hampton Golf Club 13th hole

The 13th offers a controversial tee shot depending on which tee box you play from because of two tall trees that stick out on the left side and make the already intimidating tee shot that much tougher, especially if you are a left to right fader of the ball. Similar to the 9th hole, the tee shot and landing area is plenty wide but missing the fairway by much is going to yield a severe punishment. The hole is not overly long, but it isn’t short either. It’s 446 yards from the Fazio tees (the tips) and 406 from the second set of tees, which by the way are called the McKee tees. I actually found the tips here to be an easier and better looking tee shot because the golfer feels as if they have more room off the tee, just because you are further back from these two trees that I refer to (as you can see in the picture). A smart golfer that has enough length off the tee can hit a 3 wood off the McKee tees here and will probably be better off. After navigating your tee shot, you are in for a fun and inviting approach shot. The green is huge and offers several different pin placements, a couple of which were expanded and added after the recent green’s renovation just a couple of years ago. This is superb green that is perfectly fitting for the hole. I really love this hole overall and if it were me, I would either take those two trees down that obstruct the view off the tee because you have two great fairway bunkers right past them to protect this hole or I would move the McKee tee box over at least 10 yards which would create a better tee shot. But, guess what? I do not have the golf course portfolio that Mr. Fazio does, so if he thinks these trees belong as they are, so be it!

Wade Hampton Golf Club 14th hole

The 14th hole is wonderful. When standing on this tee, you just know you are playing a special golf course. It’s the perfect “14th hole”. It’s not brutal and not easy. Five perfectly placed fairway bunkers frame this hole along with tall trees and the mountain in the distance. All of these fairway bunkers are very playable, which is a great thing because the hole doglegs right and goes uphill, so you really want the golfer to have a recovery option if you find one of these bunkers. This green is the just the right size for the approach shot. You must have good distance control here because going long on this hole is a BIG no-no, as all three of us found out. The green is pitched severely from back to front, so you want to try and stay below the pin. Easier said than done because there is a brilliantly placed greenside bunker right in front of this green so optically a smart golfer reminds themself to hit enough club to get over this intimidating bunker. Just an awesome hole all around.

The 15th hole is the 2nd hardest hole on the golf course. It plays uphill, feels like a narrow area to hit your tee shot, the approach shot to the green must be flown onto the surface or it will roll back some 30 yards; on top of that, the green is a real torture test, hit the wrong spot of this green and your ball also could roll right off the front of it and down the hill. All I can tell you is any 4 on this hole should be greatly appreciated. Like the 8th, it’s a hole to love or hate. This is just the type of hole that can make or break your round. If you are having a good round, a par here will go a long way to helping you finish strong. I have to imagine you hear more heartbreaking stories about the 15th than any other hole at Wade Hampton.

Wade Hampton Golf Club 16th hole

The 16th hole is another very challenging par 4. It’s long and requires two really solid shots to hit this green in regulation. The entire right side is guarded by tall trees with a water hazard viewable in the distance. The fairway has loads of humps and bumps likely leaving you anything but a flat lie as you hit your approach to this green, which is all carry, meaning do not come up short. As long as you don’t miss your tee ball to the right, this hole is much more manageable than the 15th you just played. You can more likely make a double bogey on 15 compared to 16 and you will surely make more pars on the 16th over time than you will on the 15th. The look backwards on the 16th after finishing the hole is even nicer than looking forwards and that is the picture you are looking at here. Like the 9th, this is a view you want to take in and enjoy before heading to 17.

We now finally arrive at the last par-3, the 17th. Hard to believe there are only 2 holes left in the round. Will there be a letdown or will this course finish as strongly as it started?

Wade Hampton Golf Club 17th hole

The 17th it’s a dramatic par-3 with the mountains as the backdrop, a narrow creek that runs just short of the entire front of the green and all the way around the back-right side. This green is about 50 yards deep and has some great pin placements. The back-right pin becomes narrower and makes for a much longer hole since the green is so deep. Mr. Mathews astutely pointed out that many don’t recognize the creek really comes into play for that back right or middle right pin placements. Finally, you have two tall signature Fazio design trees that guard both sides of the green forcing you to hit a “field goal” with your tee shot to hit this green in regulation. A fantastic bunker is left of the green, but it probably does not get much activity because they cannot use a pin on the left side of the green since the left tree impedes that pin position. I love everything about this hole except for the positioning of the tree on the left side. The concept of these two distinguishing trees is great and creates uniqueness. However, this would be an even better hole if this tree were moved just 6 yards to the left. This would open up the entire left side of the green that is currently not usable for a pin placement and create an even more stunning view. I totally respect the current design of this hole recognizing that golf courses in general can be boring and redundant; Mr. Fazio did many distinguishing things to create Wade Hampton and its these unique features that lead to great discussion and memories. Reality is, there is still plenty of room to put your ball onto this green, so is the location of this left tree really that bothersome? I would like to ask Mr. Fazio if he positioned this left side tree where he did to intentionally create controversy and offer a memory each time that a golfer hits this tree? Either way, this is a great hole, even in spite of my wish for this tree to be about 6 yards further left of where it is.

As we walked off the 17th green, Mr. Mathews was kind enough to share one final bit of Wade Hampton history with me. When Mr. McKee and Mr. Fazio were working on the routing, Mr. McKee said to Mr. Fazio, “what do you think is the most exciting par-5 in golf?” They discussed this for a bit, and both concluded that it was the 13th hole at Augusta National Golf Club. Then Mr. McKee said, “the only thing that would make the 13th at Augusta National better if it were the 18th hole instead. At that moment, the 13th hole at Augusta became the inspiration for the 18th hole at Wade Hampton.

Wade Hampton Golf Club 18th hole

The 18th at Wade Hampton is a site to be seen. It’s more of a modest dogleg to the left than the 13th at Augusta but similarly it has a narrow creek running down the entire left side of the hole and on top of that it has 8 fairway bunkers that guard the entire right side of the hole. At 535 yards from the McKee tees longer hitters that can thread their drives into this fairway offering a chance to knock it on this green in two shots. There is a generous opening to bounce your approach shot onto the green creating even more temptation it’s borderline whether to give it a go. The only place worthwhile missing is to the right of this green since there is water covering the entire left side of this approach shot. This green has hardly any slope so just about any putt is makeable to end your round on a high note. This finishing hole has everything you could possibly ask for, quality design, excitement, beauty and most of all a hole that should ensure many lasting memories for the membership and their guests. Mr. McKee easily accomplished his goal of making this one of the most exciting finishing holes in golf. I’d love to see an additional tee box added at 510 yards on the right side that the club could rotate into play which would create even more excitement as it would tempt players to thread the needle between the slew of fairway bunkers and water that runs up the left side. Players would be forced to tee off with a 3-wood laying up short of most of the trouble or taking on the bunkers and water where is successful would leave just 210-230 yards to this green. I think the members would really enjoy this alternate tee option to play on certain days.

Before I wrap this up with a couple of final thoughts, I would not be doing Wade Hampton justice if I did not mention the agronomy program. I’ve previously said that Peachtree Golf Club was likely the best conditioned course I had ever played; I can say with confidence that the conditioning at Wade Hampton rivals Peachtree and the greens rolled every bit as good. Kudos to Eric Shomaker, Director of Agronomy and his team including Assistant Superintendent Colby Major and everyone else who takes great pride in keeping Wade Hampton at this level of conditioning. Very few courses are able to maintain this many different grass cuts, five to be precise when you include the thick rough, light rough, the fringe, the greens, and a closely mown area fronting the greens that rolls so pure, it’s like you are actually on the greens. Each and every blade of grass at Wade Hampton is as pristine as if you are looking at a perfect picture as opposed to real grass. Standing on the third tee, I recall thinking that I really did not want to take a divot and botch up these incredible tee boxes. The greens rolled at about a 12 on the stimpmeter which is the perfect speed relative to the slopes and there was not a single putt hit in my group that even came close to leaving the ground. I got around Wade Hampton with only 25 putts and 10 on the entire back 9. This would not have been possible but for greens that roll this perfectly.

Wade Hampton Golf Club

A big thank you to Pete Mathews, who provided tremendous insight throughout the round sharing many of the nuances that were taken into account when building the course in 1987 and renovating it just a couple of years ago. Playing with Pete helped me understand many aspects of the architecture and we had a great time out there. It was fun to have Steve join us who is very passionate about golf and Wade Hampton. The entire club offers genuine hospitality that makes members and guests feel welcomed.

Wade Hampton is clearly a world class golf course and one of my favorites. I haven’t seen every mountain course in the world, but it would be unlikely I’d ever find one better than this. Some very creative work was done to build a course in the mountains that doesn’t make you dizzy with the typical terrain change one would expect. There are a few points during the round where the elevation change and backdrops remind you that you are in fact in the mountains, but overall, you would think you are just playing a fantastic golf course with moderate elevation change thanks to some great routing and architecture by Tom Fazio. Comparing Wade to the other modern era top ranked courses in the USA, it’s right near the very top of my list. If I were forced to rank it specifically, I would say that only Sand Hills and Friar’s Head are better in the modern era of architecture. Whether or not Shadow Creek is better is tough to say; from a creativity standpoint, Shadow Creek is #1 in the world for me based on the fact that a satellite view shows you there was nothing on that land but desert and now when you look at the property, you are convinced you are playing golf in Vermont or North Carolina, but surely not in the middle of the desert in Las Vegas. As it relates to pure architecture, overall it’s a coin flip, but Wade Hampton and Shadow Creek are definitely #3 & #4 on my top modern courses list. In case you were curious, Ballyneal rounds out my top 5 best modern era courses. I hope to have the opportunity one day soon to play Wade Hampton again, what a treat!

Marc Bender

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