Cedar Creek Golf Club - Forget Bump and Run
AIKEN, SC Tall pines line each fairway. The greens are elevated and protected by prodigious bunkers. Lush doglegged fairways reward accurate shots and penalize the errant strike. These are the hallmarks of the Cedar Creek Golf Club near Aiken, South Carolina. This Arthur Hills design will test the skills of the finest shotmakers. Forget bump-and-run here; you either fly it to the green or you are more than likely staring at the near vertical face of a five-feet deep sand trap.
It is a long course, both in distance from the tees and overall mileage around the course. Planned as an integral part of a real estate development (though owned by a separate company) to accommodate a large number of homes, distances between some greens and the next tees can be as much as a quarter mile. The entire course measures over seven miles in length. Combined with the rolling hills indigenous to the Carolina Midlands, walking is for only the most fit (and those with plenty of time). Walking is allowed, except during weekend mornings, but most patrons rent a buggy (as my Irish friend calls carts).
The course seems to begin benignly enough, but looks can be deceiving. Fail to put a slight draw on the ball off the tee on the 422-yard (371-yards from the white tees) first hole and the well struck drive could land in the bunkers on the far side of the dogleg left. The first green is one of the more accessible on the course, though elevated several feet above the fairway.
The course PGA professional, Lance Bailey, considers the par five, 581-yard number two hole their signature hole, and with good reason. It's a must to keep the ball to the left, but not too far left, because the ubiquitous pine woods will gobble up your ball and bury it in six inches of pine straw. A slight draw puts the ball in excellent position for the second shot, which will fly over the crest of a fairly steep hill. Looking down from the cart path onto an elevated green fronted by five bunkers it's a beautiful hole. The downhill, right-to-left sloping lie-leaving the ball above your feet-makes for a difficult third shot into the medium size green.
The 1996-1997 Golf Digest "Places to Play" publication ranked Cedar Creek four stars. On the playing surface, the distance from the championship tees is about 7200 yards; about 6700 from the blue tees, 6300 from the whites, and 5200 from the ladies tees. The fairways were lush, a combination of the cool season ryegrass mixture and the warm season 419 Bermudagrass, just emerging. On the greens, the cool season Poa Trivialis mixed with emerging dwarf Bermudagrass creating a uniform, fast surface. The medium-sized greens sloped from back to front on most holes, but were fairly level side to side.
"Number three is our number one handicap hole," says Bailey. "The landing area during the winter and spring can be soft and you don't get much roll," he continues. Land it too far right on the par four, 439-yard hole and you won't see the green. Only an expert fade around the trees or a quickly climbing shot over them will get you there in two. Water occupies the front approach to the green, providing an extremely narrow neck of turf coming in from the lower left to default to if you can't reach the green.
Hillocks and swales populate the course; in the middle of the fairways and alongside several greens. An errant shot right coming into the sixth green has a good chance of rolling back down the hillside, resting either on or in front of the green. The approach to number seven green slopes right to left with lofty perches and depressions making the ensuing chip shot more than a little challenging.
At the turn, the clubhouse grill personnel will gladly fix you a cooler to go filled with containers of your favorite beverage. If you like a longer break between nines, try the Cedar Creek Salad, which is topped with grilled chicken and is a member favorite. You can replenish the balls lost in the pine straw at the fully supplied pro shop.
The residential development at Cedar Creek has been concentrated along the front nine holes. Heading out to number 10, you enter a dense pine forest. A hook or slice off the tee on the back nine and just go ahead and hit that provisional ball. The par four, 453-yard number 10 requires a downhill drive around a dogleg left. The second shot is hit into the elevated green, which has a bunker protecting its left flank.
The par five, 567-yard 12th hole requires a strategic decision prior to the second shot. You can lay up in front of a series of fairway bunkers along the right side of the fairway, or you can attempt to hit over the right bunkers hoping to avoid another larger trap on the left side.
Large waste areas along the fairways dominate several holes along the back nine holes, including 12, 13, and 14. Land in any of these and your hopes of reaching the green in regulation are dim. Those on the par four 13th and 14th are particularly menacing because they occupy the inside edge of doglegs left and right, respectively.
The par four, 389-yard 18th hole provides a challenge to your staying power. The tee shot must land in the middle of bunkers lining both sides of the fairway. The green is the most penalizing on the course. It is elevated over 5-feet above the fairway with two large bunkers with steep faces guarding the front approach. It slopes right to left and is rather small. An errant second shot and a bogey is wishful thinking.
After you finish this demanding course, you may want to find solace at any of the fine pubs and restaurants in downtown Aiken. Ask for directions to "The Alley." When you find it, you're in close range of good food and plentiful refreshment.
Located in a residential, semi-retirement community, Cedar Creek Golf Club is situated south of Aiken. From downtown, follow South Boundary to Banks Mill Road. Travel Banks Mill Road about 11 miles to the entrance of the Cedar Creek development. Follow the signs to the course.