Promoting excellence in South Carolina golf course design and operations
through competitive rankings, education and public advocacy.

Top Golf Courses in South Carolina Announced For 2020

 

For Immediate Release  

Contact: Michael Whitaker, 864-907-1949 or mikew@scgolfpanel.org

Congaree Golf Club

The newest golf course in the state turns out to be one of the very best.

Congaree, a Tom Fazio design tucked off I-95 about 20 minutes north of the Georgia state line, came in at No. 2 in the first ranking of modern courses by the South Carolina Golf Course Ratings Panel.

Congaree opened, very deliberately, without fanfare in 2017 and for much of the golfing public, has remained largely under the radar. But enough of the 125-member golf panel have experienced the golf course to see it poll second only to the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Resort among the best courses built in the modern era.

"Those panelists who have played the golf course could hardly have been more enthusiastic," golf panel executive director Michael Whitaker says. "Each of them was impressed by the peaceful setting, the routing, variety and challenge of the greens complexes, and also the conditioning. It is a golf course designed to play firm and fast and it behaves accordingly."

Congaree was initiated by two of the wealthiest men in the country at the time - Robert "Bob" McNair, of The McNair Group and owner of the NFL's Houston Texans, who died in 2018, and Dan Friedkin, of the Friedkin Group. Both had golf course ownership interests in the Carolinas before developing Congaree, McNair with the Golf Club at Briar's Creek on Johns Island, and Friedkin with Diamond Creek Golf Club in Banner Elk, NC. Their vision with Congaree was for the golf course to be a vehicle as much as a destination, as a means of generating financial support for the Congaree Foundation, a non-profit enterprise delivering educational, vocational and golfing opportunities for underprivileged and deserving youth.

In one of the first of very few sanctioned reports on the club, Forbes said: "The story of Congaree is one of hope, inspiration and giving. It's a story of making a difference, both locally and globally, through golf and life lessons both on the course and off ... while there is no initiation fee, Congaree's "ambassadors," as they're called, are encouraged to not only make a financial contribution to the charitable Congaree Foundation that's separate from the club, but to take an active role in interacting with youth and sharing their life experiences, both good and bad."

While Congaree was clearly the freshest face on the modern list, the golf panel could not go past arguably the most familiar course as the No.1 classic course in the state, Harbour Town Golf Links, at Sea Pines Resort on Hilton Head Island, and home of the RBC Heritage presented by Boeing.

That made for an auspicious double for the late Pete Dye, who designed Harbour Town with Jack Nicklaus, and who also crafted the Ocean Course. In all, Dye's name is beside seven courses on the modern list. That's an impressive feat but is still less than half the number designed by Tom Fazio, who has a staggering 16 in the top 50 modern courses in the state. Fazio also made it onto the classic course list, with the Links Course at Wild Dunes Resort on the Isle of Palms.

For the purposes of the exercise, the golf panel used 1980 - so Wild Dunes scraped in by one year - to separate modern courses from those built during what it termed the classic era. "In analyzing the history of golf course development in South Carolina, it became obvious to us that there was a major shift in course style and construction budgets beginning around 1980," golf panel executive director Michael Whitaker says. "From that time forward, most courses were built in conjunction with a real estate development or as part of an upscale coastal resort. After 1980, very few courses were built to solely satisfy just the golfers ... They were built with an emphasis on the "wow factor" to attract holiday customers or sell custom homesites. "We decided to split our ranking lists into classic (designed and created before 1980) and modern (designed and created from 1980 forward) so that our rankings would better reflect the type of courses that were built during each era, and to give us a chance to honor some additional deserving courses."

Perhaps the most notable beneficiary from the entire exercise, modern or classic, was the prominent ranking earned by Aiken Golf Club, coming in at No. 7. Aiken opened in 1912 but has spent the vast majority of its 108 years in the shadow of nearby Palmetto Golf Club, which came in at No. 3. Aiken has endured the good, the bad and the ugly in its time, as a resort, a municipal course, a private facility and now as a semi-private operation.

"As the ballots came in, here's this steady flow of support for a course that, frankly, is almost pre-classic," Whitaker says. "It's on a tiny property in the middle of town and doesn't even stretch to 6,000 yards. Yet, it is full of strategy and challenge and people simply love playing it. The ranking is a tribute to the hard work of owner Jim McNair Jr. and his family, who have owned the golf course for more than 60 years."

It is also a nod to the long gone and largely unknown John Inglis, the head professional credited with the course design. Though he may have been a disciple of Donald Ross, Inglis who was Aiken's pro from 1915 to 1939, is conspicuous by his anonymity when compared with the other architects in the classic list's top 10. Although Aiken has had the golf panel's attention before now. Last year it received a special honor from the panel as a Hidden Gem on the state's golfing map.

Awards for the top-ranked modern and classic courses were presented during a banquet at the golf panel's annual spring kick-off event at Pawleys Plantation Golf and Country Club in March.



South Carolina's Top 50 MODERN Golf Courses for 2020
Courses Designed and Created From 1980 Forward

RED = New to Top 50    P = Available for Public Play    PR = Private Club

2020 MODERN RANKING

COURSE

1

Kiawah Island Resort - Ocean Course P

2

Congaree Golf Club PR

3

May River Golf Club (Palmetto Bluff) P

4

Sage Valley Golf Club (Graniteville) PR

5

Secession Golf Club (Beaufort) PR

6

Kiawah Island Club - Cassique Course PR

7

Long Cove Club (Hilton Head) PR

8

Cherokee Plantation (Yemasee) PR

9

Caledonia Golf & Fish Club (Pawleys Island) P

10

Bulls Bay Golf Club (Awendaw) PR

11

Chechessee Creek Club (Okatie) PR

12

Colleton River Plantation - Nicklaus Course PR

13

Kiawah Island Club - River Course PR

14

Colleton River Plantation - Dye Course PR

15

Old Tabby Links (Spring Island) PR

16

Cliffs at Keowee Vineyards (Sunset) PR

17

Cliffs at Mountain Park PR

18

Musgrove Mill Golf Club (Clinton) PR

19

The Golf Club at Briar's Creek (Johns Island) PR

20

Wachesaw Plantation (Murrells Inlet) PR

21

Haig Point Club (Daufauskie Island) PR

22

Belfair Golf Club - East Course (Bluffton) PR

23

Cliffs at Glassy (Landrum) PR

24

Grande Dunes Resort Course (Myrtle Beach) P

25

Belfair Golf Club - West Course (Bluffton) PR

26

The Reserve at Lake Keowee (Sunset) PR

27

Debordieu Club (Georgetown) PR

28

Kiawah Island Resort - Cougar Point Course P

29

Dataw Island Club - Cotton Dike Course PR

30

Tidewater Golf Club & Plantation (Little River) P

31

True Blue Golf Club (Pawleys Island) P

32

TPC Myrtle Beach (Murrells Inlet) P

33

Daniel Island Club - Beresford Creek Course PR

34

Dataw Island Club - Morgan River Course PR

35

Cliffs Valley (Travelers Rest) PR

36

Thornblade Club (Greer) PR

37

Daniel Island Club - Ralston Creek Course PR

38

Sea Pines Resort - Atlantic Dunes (Hilton Head) P

39

Cliffs at Keowee Springs PR

40

Kiawah Island Resort - Turtle Point Course P

41

Kiawah Island Resort - Osprey Point Course P

42

Sea Pines Resort - Heron Point by Pete Dye P

43

Prestwick Country Club (Myrtle Beach) P

44

Berkeley Hall - North Course (Bluffton) PR

45

Wexford Plantation (Hilton Head) PR

46

Callawassie Island Club PR

47

Barefoot Resort - Dye Course P

48

Cliffs at Keowee Falls PR

49

Grande Dunes Members Club (Myrtle Beach) P

50

The Legends Resort - Heathland (Myrtle Beach) P


South Carolina's Top 50 CLASSIC Golf Courses for 2020
Courses Designed and Created Before 1980

RED = New to Top 50    P = Available for Public Play    PR = Private Club

2020 CLASSIC RANKING

COURSE

1

Sea Pines Resort - Harbour Town Golf Links (Hilton Head) P

2

Yeamans Hall Club (Hanahan) PR

3

Palmetto Golf Club (Aiken) PR

4

Greenville Country Club - Chanticleer Course PR

5

The Dunes Golf & Beach Club (Myrtle Beach) P

6

Country Club of Charleston PR

7

Aiken Golf Club P

8

Camden Country Club PR

9

Orangeburg Country Club P

10

Wild Dunes Resort - Links Course (Isle of Palms) P

11

Surf Golf & Beach Club (N Myrtle Beach) PR

12

Furman University Golf Course (Greenville) P

13

Country Club of Spartanburg PR

14

Forest Lake CLub (Columbia) PR

15

Greenville Country Club - Riverside Course PR

16

King's North at Myrtle Beach National P

17

Florence Country Club PR

18

Pine Lakes Country Club P

19

Columbia Country Club PR

20

Palmetto Dunes Resort - RT Jones Course P

 



Background On SC Golf Course Ratings Panel

Overview

The South Carolina Golf Course Ratings Panel is composed of golf enthusiasts representing a diverse range of occupations, handicaps and backgrounds. These individuals have been charged with the task of identifying the best that South Carolina golf has to offer.

Objective and Purpose

The objective of the South Carolina Golf Course Ratings Panel is to promote excellence in SC golf course design and operations through competitive rankings, education and public advocacy. The Panel serves as an ambassador for golf in South Carolina by striving to stimulate and facilitate the promotion and marketing of outstanding golf courses, resorts, and real estate developments.

1) South Carolina’s Best Courses – Bi-annually (in even-numbered years) members of the Panel identify their choices for the “50 Best MODERN Courses” and the “50 Best CLASSIC Courses” in the state, public or private.

2) The Best Courses You Can Play – Bi-annually (in odd-numbered years) the Panel releases a listing of the best non-private courses in the state. Every resort, public access, and daily-fee course is eligible for this elite listing.

How We Rate Them

In determining their ratings panelists consider the following criteria:

  • Routing – How the course flows from hole to hole in harmony with existing topography.
  • Variety – Degree to which the course demands a full range of shot requirements.
  • Strategy – How design features test course management.
  • Equity – The course’s capacity to reward good shots and penalize poor ones.
  • Memorability – The distinctiveness of the golf course and its individual holes.
  • Aesthetics – The degree to which scenery and surrounds lend to the enjoyment.
  • Overall Golf Experience – Includes all elements of the course: practice areas, clubhouse & more.

Structure

The Panel consists of 125+ members, twenty-five percent of which represent each of the following geographical regions: The Upstate, The Midlands, The Lowcountry, and The Grand Strand.

Categories of Membership

  • Golf Industry – individuals who have a direct connection to the golf industry
  • Players & Coaches – individuals who excel at playing or coaching the game
  • Media – individuals who report on golf for one or more media outlets
  • Business & Industry – individuals who utilize golf within the business community

 

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