Springfield Golf Club: One of Clyde Johnston's Most Prized Creations
FORT MILL, SC "This nine plays at least two strokes harder," says Jim Wilson, a ranger at the Springfield Golf Club who had set out to test his mettle at the new Clyde Johnston-designed course just south of Regent Park.
Wilson was referring to Springfield's front nine, which opened April 7. His words were gospel. From the 386-yard par first to the 428-yard par 4 ninth, the front nine will beat up average golfers unless they are able to abide by a few rules of thumb:
-Keep the ball on the right side of the golf course. This applies to both the front and back nines, with a few exceptions. Ben Hogan would be laughing all the way to low number here.
The legendary golfer said he used to take the entire left side of the golf course out of play by using a power fade. No one is going to get through Springfield in Hogan fashion, but Johnston punishes shots that miss greens to the left with huge, soft bunkers and severe dropoffs.
-Try to leave yourself with the highest possible iron into the greens. The bentgrass surfaces are already in excellent shape, and over time may become some of the best in the Charlotte area.
But for now, they are as receptive as Bobby Knight and Lute Olson to the five-man scholarship limitation in college basketball. It is almost impossible to get anything lower than a 6-iron to stick, even with soft golf ball.
-Just as you want to keep the ball on the right side of the course, you also want to avoid being long. Judging by cliff-like descent behind the green on the 544-yard par-5 third, Johnston has no patience for golfers who overpower approach shots.
-Pay close attention off the tee to wind and elevation changes. This is especially true on par 3's and all approach shots. The 200-yard par 3 eighth is a bear to par from the back tees with the greens are firm as they are.
"Aesthetically, I like the back nine better," says head professional Mike Bartholomew. "It has some more flat holes, and most everything is out in front of you. The front nine is two strokes harder. That is what it came out when it was rated."
From the back tees, the front nine plays to a slope of 143, while the back nine plays to a more manageable 136. From the white tees, the two play a little closer, with the front rating 130 and the back rating 126. The women's tees have yet to be rated by the Carolinas Golf Association, but play to a total of 4,854 yards.
Johnston is known primarily for his work along the coastal regions of the Carolinas, but he has made little secret of the fact that Springfield is one of his most prized creations.
For golf course architects, it all comes down to the site, and the dollars, and the folks at Leroy Springs and Company, Inc. made sure that the Hilton Head based designer had both.
"I have played courses in the mountains that aren't this hilly," says Wilson as he is about to tee off on the 437-yard par-4 fifth hole that is beautifully framed by blooming hardwoods. "I live in Fort Mill, but this doesn't look like Fort Mill to me."
With the exception of the temporary clubhouse, Springfield spares few expenses. The cart paths are concrete, the greens bentgrass, the bunkers well-crafted, and the conditions are near-perfect due to a healthy maintenance budget.
Some of Springfield's holes will frustrate golfers, and others will amaze them. A number of holes, such as the 391-yard par-4 second, feature elevated tee shots with blind, uphill approaches. First time around, golfers may find themselves guessing at club selection a little bit more than they used to. But a wise man once said that blind shots are only blind shots once.
One of the most amazing holes on the course, with apologies to the front nine, has to be the 595-yard par-5 12th. An elevated tee box provides views down to a rolling fairway that is perfectly framed by trees.
Thirteen holes at Springfield play across the perennial streams that feed into the Catawba River, but golfers will rarely find that water is in play. The exception on the front nine is the aforementioned fifth, which sports a small stream short of the green that will suck up fat approach shots. On the back nine, a stream along the left side of the 380-yard par 4 10th comes into play off the tee for players who draw the ball.
Upon opening the back nine last month, Bartholomew touted Springfield as being "player friendly," and probably not one of the toughest tests of golf in the Charlotte region. Now with the front nine open, and the feedback from players flowing in, the four-handicapper is changing his tune just a little.
"The last three holes (on the front nine) are just severe," he says. "If you get in the greenside bunker on number eight, you have to have a Gary Player-like short game to get out."
Green fees for 18-holes are $38 Monday through Thursday and $49 Saturday, Sunday and holidays. For tee times call 1-866-304-GOLF.
Where to Stay
Fight the temptation to stay in one of the Holiday or Ramada Inns along the I-77 exits. Instead, head back down to Rock Hill and check in at The Book and the Spindle Bed and Breakfast (803-328-1913). The B and S is set in a circa 1930s house that is as luxurious a digs as you will find in this little South Carolina town. If you are the type that likes to eat in, the suites actually have kitchens for your cooking pleasure.
In between Golf
If you are visiting the area between May and September, check out a Charlotte Knights game. Games typically start around 6:30, and Knight Stadium is comfortable, if not state of the art. And just because you are limiting your golf trip to Rock Hill and Ft. Mill does not mean you cant head up the road to check out beautiful downtown Charlotte. The Queen Citys Uptown is recognized as the model for new south urban redevelopment, and you can check out shops, pubs, Discovery Place (an excellent science museum), as well as the Mint Museum of Art.
Where to Eat
On the way to Tega Cay, you might notice a doublewide trailer on the right with a big green sign that says McKales. On your way back from Tega Cay, you have no other option but to pull in, belly up and enjoy one of the pubs daily specials. McKales may appear to be just a pub and grub from the outside, but once you check out the menu you will find chicken fettuccini, trout, and other specialties youd never expect to find in an aluminum box with a driving range in the back.
Practice Fac.: B
Club House/Pro Shop: C (temp)
Pace of Play: B
Overall Rating: B+