Old Carolina Golf Club in Bluffton, S.C.: Off the beaten path but well worth the drive
BLUFFTON, S.C. - The tree canopy marking the entrance to Old Carolina Golf Club is reminiscent of the stately Avenue of the Oaks across the street at Belfair Plantation. Of course ultra-private Belfair is the playground of the privileged few. To gain access to the luxury lifestyle and golfing riches contained therein requires a bare minimum outlay of half a million dollars, and in most cases, significantly more than that.
Old Carolina Golf Club, by contrast, is a lovely daily-fee property where even high season, prime-time greens fees will provide enough cash back from a $100 bill for a burger and a few beers. Afternoon rates, shoulder season and combination packages with sister course Old South Golf Links can minimize the associated costs drastically, making this Clyde Johnston design one of the best values in the region.
Affordable, sure - but is Old Carolina Golf Club worth it?
Fine, so it's affordable, but is the golf course worthwhile? It certainly is. Built on the site of a former thoroughbred horse farm, Old Carolina G.C.'s serene setting in a series of high-grounded meadows is unlike most area golf courses. There is a smattering of houses on the property as well as an unsightly power line, but little else distracts from the pastoral location. The course is less than a minute from US 278, but there's no hint of the commotion or traffic buzz that are part of the equation at other golf locales located on the same high volume corridor.
Old Carolina Golf Club plays 6,800 yards from the tips, 6,400 from the blues and almost 6,100 yards from the whites, with slope ratings of 145, 135 and 127, respectively. Neighborhood ball hawkers must have a field day prowling the grounds at dusk. Water and wetlands are abundant, influencing 16 holes directly. Only on the first and 10th, simple and straightforward par 4s well under 400 yards from the blue markers, can players be assured they'll hole out with the same ball they teed up with. That is provided they don't hook (on the first) or slice (on the 10th) over the OB fence onto adjacent Buck Island Road.
Mounding on a golf course smacks of artificiality, and there's a ton of it at Old Carolina. For some strange reason it enhances the experience here though, isolating fairways from each other, and providing individual playing corridors where your foursome seems like the only one on the course.
"Much of that mounding had to be created," offers architect Clyde Johnston. "There are some areas on the back nine that have some pitch and roll, but much of the land parcel was virtually flat."
Although length isn't necessarily a premium concern here, accuracy off the tee is. Dead straight balls will hop down the fairway and provide short iron approaches. Offline tee shots will stop dead into some of the ungainly knolls and rises flanking the fairways. Not only does it necessitate a much longer approach to the green, but often requires an awkward stance as well, with the ball resting well above or occasionally well below your feet. "The fairway mounding will sometimes kick the ball back into play, but will often cause a few problems," concedes Johnston.
While Old Carolina's opening nine is perfectly adequate, the rustic nature of the golf course becomes more apparent on the inward journey, particularly on hole 11. This dogleg par 4, again quite short at 365 yards from the blues, features a major wetland down the entire right side of the landing area. This area of the course is on the western edge of the property, close to the border of Rose Hill Plantation, and is heavily forested. Here the architect uses far less mounding. The omnipresent woods and wetlands provide the feeling of quietude naturally that had to be concocted by bulldozer in the opening sequence of holes.
"Because this property was formerly a horse farm, it really has some nice rolling pastures," explains the architect. "There are also some beautiful old Oak specimens that improve the aesthetics."
It's in this section of the course where the best series of holes are found in succession. The 13th is the signature hole, a 350 yard par 4 with water threatening the left side of the landing area. A long iron or fairway wood tee ball will leave a short iron approach over water to a green ringed by ten pot bunkers. The 14th is an excellent par 3 with a wetland running from tee to green, and the next is a potentially reachable par 5 of 485 yards. There are wetlands off the tee, and water pinching the lay-up shot from both sides; a lagoon to the left and a snaking creek on the right. Bombers have the distinct advantage here, going up and over all the potential trouble and aiming a wood or long iron at a moderately sloping green.
Old Carolina is a very nice test, with course conditioning the equal of many private facilities. It would make for a lovely golf course stroll if not for a series of cumbersome cart path rides, necessitated by road crossings in the nascent housing developments. It may not be a walking paradise, but as area daily-fee courses go, it's a perfectly nice ride.
Old Carolina Golf Club: The verdict
This is a pleasant daily fee layout, although it would be hyperbole to call it an inspiring one. The architect considers it a more demanding test that sister course Old South, which is one of the more popular resort venues in the area. There's a feeling of solitude on this old horse farm, but it's also a bit of a Plain Jane, with nothing in the way of truly memorable vistas or water views. It's a solid add-on to any Lowcountry golf splurge, but rests just below the top tier of daily fee and resort facilities.
March 31, 2004