The South Carolina Golf Rating Panel, of which I am a member, has weighed in with its annual updated ratings of the best golf courses in the state, and while there are few surprises, the way they are listed shines a light on the state’s “vintage” layouts.

Broken down into both Modern and Classic lists this year – “classic” defined as courses built before 1980 – the voting breakdown is a reminder that South Carolina’s terrain and its year-round golf climate have attracted great golf architects and inspired great design. Both lists were recently published in the Palmetto Golfer, published by the South Carolina Golf Association. (Note: I have starred* those courses that include adjacent or surrounding residential communities.)

Chanticleer fairwayGreenville Country Club's Chanticleer course, ranked 5th on the SC Golf Panel's "Classic" golf course list, is as well groomed and challenging as any in the state. It is a Robert Trent Jones Sr. gem.

Seven different designers contributed to the Panel’s top 10 classic golf courses. Seth Raynor was responsible for #2 Yeaman’s Hall and #6 Country Club of Charleston. Robert Trent Jones Sr. gets credit for the Dunes Golf and Beach Club* (#4) in Myrtle Beach and Greenville Country Club’s Chanticleer Course* (#5).

Most golfers don’t think of Pete Dye as a “classic” golf architect, especially given his visible contributions to modern golf architecture, such as railroad-ties buttressing bunkers and water bodies, and fairway moguls (as well as an updated nod to pot bunkering). But, alas, Dye’s intoxicating layout at Hilton Head’s Harbour Town Links* was voted the best classic course in the state (opened in 1967). In any other state, Alistair McKenzie’s relentlessly challenging Palmetto Club (#3) would be a serious contender for the top spot, but in the Palmetto State it yields to Harbour Town and Yeaman’s Hall.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESThe Camden Country Club course is located well inland but can look and feel a bit like a links course. It is the only course in the state solely designed by Donald Ross.

The Panel’s 7th choice on the Classic list is Aiken Golf Club which Palmetto Golfer ascribes to John Inglis, a former New York City are golf professional, and Donald Ross. If so, it is one of only two layouts in the entire state that Ross designed, the other being the Panel’s #8 choice, Camden Country Club, about as British-parkland a course as it gets in the U.S. The 9th rated course is Greenville Country Club’s other layout, the Riverside Course*, with credit to Tom Bendelow, a self-taught Scottish-born architect who was largely responsible for the spread in golf’s popularity across the U.S. in the early decades of the 20th Century. Riverside, however, was fully renovated in the early 2000s by Brian Silva.

Myrtle Beach gets its second contribution to the Top 10 list with the Surf Golf and Beach Club* (#10) by George Cobb, whose vast number of credits includes the Par 3 Course at Augusta National and Quail Hollow in Charlotte, site of this year’s President’s Cup.

Greenville RiversideGreenville Country Club's Riverside Course, rated #9 on the SC Panel classic course list, was originally designed by the largely unknown Tom Bendelow and renovated 15 years ago by Brian Silva.

You will find an online copy of the South Carolina Golf Association’s Palmetto Golfer at that includes the state’s 20 top Classic Courses and  top 50 Modern Courses. For a few articles I have written about some of the 70 outstanding courses on the Golf Rating Panel’s list, see below.

Secession and Chechessee Golf Clubs:

Dunes Golf & Beach Club and Surf Golf & Beach Club:

Greenville Country Club (Chanticleer & Riverside Courses):

Camden Club:

May River Golf Club:


When it first opened in the mid-1980s, Wachesaw Plantation in Murrells Inlet, SC, joined DeBordieu Colony in Georgetown as the only organized golf communities on Myrtle Beach’s South Strand. A few years later, Pawleys Plantation opened between them, providing the area south of Myrtle Beach a string of three top-designer golf courses: Tom Fazio at Wachesaw, Jack Nicklaus at Pawleys Plantation, and Pete Dye at Debordieu, which roughly translated from the French means “borderland of God.” (Stand on the beach at DeBordieu as the sun comes up and you will believe it.)

From its opening, the Wachesaw golf community was beset by two major issues that affected sales, and later sale prices, negatively. One was a disinclination by the community’s developer to welcome all local real estate agencies to list and sell property there; it took a couple of decades and a change of ownership to soothe hurt feelings and open up sales to a wider audience. Also, Wachesaw’s location west of US Highway 17 put it about 15 minutes from the area’s beaches; Pawleys Plantation is just a five-minute drive to the beach and DeBordieu’s beach is inside its gates, a mere golf cart ride for most homeowners. (The most recent golf community in the area, the Reserve at Litchfield Beach, maintains its own beach club just one mile from its front gate.)

Wachesaw8approachMoguls with deeply embedded bunkers frame the back of the 8th hole at Wachesaw Plantation, a par 5 that echoes the style of Tom Fazio, the course designer, with a big dollop of Pete Dye.

More nettlesome for Wachesaw was that two-mile ride in from Highway 17; for years, the road was lined with unattractive homes, rusting cars parked on some of the front lawns. Things have changed dramatically in recent years. A couple of days ago, as my wife and I drove toward Wachesaw, we passed new homes with nicely landscaped front yards, not a rusting car in sight. It was a pleasant preliminary to my round that afternoon with a friend who is a member of the Wachesaw Plantation Golf Club.

About five years ago, I tinkered with the idea of a membership at the private Wachesaw club that would complement my membership at the semi-private Pawleys Plantation. Wachesaw membership at the time was an ultra-reasonable $3,000 and dues were equally affordable. I didn’t follow through simply because I couldn’t see to the day when I would spend more than a couple or three months in the area. Today, the club has raised its initiation fee to $15,000 and recently instituted a waiting list for membership. So confident are the club’s members in its future viability that they have embarked on the construction of a reported $3 million irrigation system, with lines running down the edges and through the middle of all fairways. About half the work has been done, and I noticed little scarring on the holes that had been worked on and repatched. It is hard to imagine that Wachesaw’s fairways and greens will not be the envy of every other club in the area, especially during the dog days of summer when the only half-reliable irrigation is a 10-minute thunderstorm in late afternoon.

Wachesaw17greenwithhousesSome of the nicest houses in Wachesaw Plantation face the par 3 17th green across a pond that comes into play for pushed tee shots.

My recent round at Wachesaw was probably the eighth or so I have played there in the last 20 years. It has always struck me as a course that could have been designed by Fazio and Pete Dye in tandem, given the combination of elaborate bunkering and swells and heaves in the fairways and around the greens. If anything, it is in better condition than I remember it and a joy (for me) to play from the hybrid tees at just over 5,500 yards. (Those are the ones you want if you drive the ball no farther than 200 yards.) I stand by my review of 12 years ago, which you can read here.

Home prices in Wachesaw, which were always the most reasonable among the top four golf communities on the South Strand, have moved up pretty much in keeping with the jump in initiation fees. I note six properties currently for sale in a range of $390,000 to $900,000. If you are interested, let me know and I will put you in touch with a local Realtor who knows the community and the area well.