The River Golf Club: A Taste of Myrtle Beach in Augusta

By Gerard Voos, Contributor

NORTH AUGUSTA, SC - Water. For some golfers, that word strikes fear in their hearts. If that's your case, you might want to approach The River Golf Club in North Augusta, South Carolina like a Stephen King novel; embrace the fright, realize it's only a golf ball at stake, and enjoy. This 18-hole Jim Fazio design is set in the floodplains of the Savannah River, directly across the waterway from downtown Augusta, Georgia.

Only four of its 18 holes are not impacted by water of some sort, be it marsh, stream, or lake. In maintaining the wetland aspect of the property, Fazio created numerous challenges, both physical and psychological.

The course plays 6,847 yards from the tips downward to 5,647 yards from the gold tees. It offers five sets of tees and has a USGA course rating of 72.2 from the back tees and a slope of 130. Head golf professional Chris Verdery presides over the course. According to Verdery, "We have more of a seaside, link-style course; something to compare with Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach courses."

The fully supplied pro shop and small grill reside in a temporary structure while the large, multi-story clubhouse is being completed. The course was named one of the top five new affordable golf courses in America in 1999, by Golf Digest. This past March it hosted a Hooters Golf Tour event: The Kandy Waters Golf Classic.

Beginning on the 394-yard, par 4, first hole, water immediately comes into play. It's a must to keep the ball left off the tee, but not too far, or it will mix with balls from the adjacent driving range - then good luck finding yours. The 563-yard, par 5, second hole is the number two handicap hole on the course.

The marsh must be carried off the tee and follows the entire right side of the fairway past the back of the green. A fenced off section of railroad track parallels the cart path along the left side of the fairway, so straight shooting is a must on this hole.

A bridge crosses over the marsh to the third tee. Hitting from the back tees on this 406-yard, par four, is for the true long hitter. A 230-yard carry over the fen is required and anything resembling a fade beyond that will land in the ubiquitous marsh. Locals advise letting any ball residing in the water be, it's not worth the chance of getting bitten by a water moccasin.

The par-4, 418-yard sixth hole also requires a long carry over water from the tee. Many a good player will be forced to move up a step to the blue tees to land safely on the fairways on numbers three and six.

Putting on the bentgrass greens was fast (especially after I've spent the past 6 months putting on Poa Trivialis - overseeded Bermuda grass greens), though the generous size of most greens was a help. When asked about the maintenance requirements of the bentgrass greens, Verdery said they have to maintain constant vigilance over them in the summer months, especially during July and August.

There are special systems beneath the greens to keep air and water moving, but it still takes a couple of people maintaining them each day. The fairways and tees were well-maintained Bermuda grass overseeded with ryegrass.

The course has an open layout. A person can see several holes at once from almost anywhere on the course. Grass covered hillocks separate many of the fairways, especially those on the front nine. In the opinion of veteran golfer Norm Nixon, "The holes (on the back nine) are a little more defined, they're separate from each other; while the front nine are more bunched together."

The par-4, 444-yard tenth hole continues the course's main theme, requiring a tee shot over water from the back two sets of tees. Water follows along the right side of the fairway and green making this the third toughest hole.

Water is the defining element at The River Golf Club, but that doesn't mean the dry holes are easy pickings. Take the par-4, 406-yard, 12th for instance. A sand waste area accompanies the fairway along the left side from tee to green on this dogleg left. Trying to take the shortest route to the hole could leave a very long second shot from the sand.

By virtue of its requirement to carry water from all tees, the 461-yard, par-5, 15th hole is the number one handicap hole. From the back tees, its over 180 yards over the lake to dry land, but it looks longer. According to Irish PGA professional, Kevin Daly, the 15th and 3rd holes are the courses best. "Fifteen is number one, and three is number two," he said. "I've played in a lot of tournaments and those two holes are magnificent golf holes."

The 334-yard 16th is a sneaky par-4, with wetland up the right side and in front of the green. With water covering all approaches from the tee area, the 154-yard, par-3, 17th can be considered an island.

The finishing hole is a par-5, 601-yard beauty, with what else, but water along the entire right edge. The green curls like a comma into the lake and a stream crosses in front of it, just to make things interesting.

If you're still thirsty after dodging water all day, the King George Restaurant & Pub is known for its variety of beers and ales from around the world. You can find it just across the river in Augusta on Eighth Street along the Riverwalk.

Expect to pay (greens fee, cart & tax):
Monday - Thursday: $37.00
Friday: $39.00
Saturday - Sunday & holidays: $45.00 (twilight rates available)
Walking: members only can walk

Directions to The River Golf Club:
From downtown Augusta: Take Route 1 (also known as the Aiken-Augusta Highway) to the Buena Vista exit. Head north turn left onto Riverside (at the Municipal bldg).

From Aiken: Take Route 1 to the Route 125/Atomic Road exit. Head north until Atomic Road terminates at Buena Vista. Turn right and then left onto Riverside Blvd.

Gerard Voos, Contributor

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