Golf Tips magazine agrees with us. In the slick magazine’s Golf Travel Annual edition, published in December, the editors feature “Live the Dream! Best Golf Communities.” Four of the 15 communities they anoint have been reviewed in HomeOnTheCourse’s first four issues, four others are on our list to visit and review, and one we played years ago (and didn’t realize it was part of a community). The only difference between the magazine’s reviews and our own is the depth of explanation – theirs is a paragraph long – and the uniformly gushing nature of their comments (some of the communities’ golf courses are advertisers).
Cuscowilla, The Cliffs Communities, Haig Point and Pawleys Plantation come in for star treatment in Golf Travel Annual. The magazine calls the Cuscowilla layout (bunker on hole #1 at right), by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw “one of the most breathtaking golf experiences in the Southeast.” It is a terrific golf course because it doesn’t take your breath away with dramatic, view-over-everything vistas. You, the fairway and the green before you are often all you see or care about on Cuscowilla’s natural landscape.
Some of the Cliffs Communities golf courses, on the other hand, do take your breath away, especially the one a half-mile up Glassy Mountain, a top-of-the-world Tom Jackson design. Golf Travel Annual misleads a little when it implies the Cliffs at Mountain Park, with a design by Gary Player, is one of the five current communities in the Cliffs portfolio; it was only recently announced, and the course won’t be ready until at least 2008. Also, when touting the feature that membership in one of the Cliffs clubs provides access to all, the magazine should alert its less-than-Forbes 400 readers that initiation fees run more than $100,000.
We can’t quibble with the magazine’s brief description of a place we loved for its splendid isolation, Haig Point on Daufuskie Island, GA. More livable year round than the also agreeable Bald Head Island in North Carolina, Haig Point’s Rees Jones layout captures all the local elements –- marsh, live oak forests, the Atlantic Ocean and views to Hilton Head Island and the lighthouse behind the 18th green at Harbour Town. Haig Point members who want to experience other good golf courses don’t have to leave the island – The Melrose Club (Nicklaus) and Bloody Point (Moorish/Weiskopf) are but a short golf cart ride away at the Daufuskie Island Resort. Haig Point’s year-round residents are a hardy, organized breed who manage their lives around the community’s thankfully frequent ferry schedule. And home prices are surprisingly reasonable, and most include the club’s initiation fee of $65,000. However, $10,000 annual club dues and other fees more than make up for the “free” initiation.
We were pleased, and surprised, to see our own summer community on the list. Pawley’s Plantation’s golf course in Pawleys Island, SC, is not private, with non-member play rather liberally applied to those staying on property and in a select number of hotels in the area. The Jack Nicklaus designed layout, circa 1989, winds its way on the front nine through stands of pine and oak trees, as well as lagoons, and then emerges into the marsh for holes 12 through 18 (only the par 4 15th returns briefly to the woods).
The signature par 3 13th is a hole members and visitors alike love to hate; it is a mere 130 yards or so from the men’s tees to the island green (with just a thin spit of land to the right, enough to contain the dreaded drop area). The wind is almost always blowing in from the left, forcing an aiming line out over the marsh in order to have a go at the tiny green. Pray hard if the wind is behind you; the green is quite firm, and your lob or sand wedge had better land on the front third, an area just 20 feet or so deep, or you’ll find the marsh behind the bulk-headed green. When the tide is out, dozens of golf balls dot the mud in front of the green, just adding to your anxiety from the tee. We look forward to playing #17 at Sawgrass so we will be able to testify to what we know intuitively is true – the 13th at Pawley’s is tougher.
We haven’t played all the courses Golf Travel Annual cites, although we are planning on hitting most of them. But of all the courses they mention, Sugarloaf in Carrabassett Valley, ME, would be hard to beat. It is in the middle of nowhere, four hours from any city of consequence (Boston and Montreal), and better known for its skiing than its golf. ‘Tis a pity. We played Sugarloaf a half dozen years ago, and the Robert Trent Jones, Jr. design was a revelation for its views from the elevated tees, dramatically tilted fairways and roller coaster rides from tee to green that never seem to induce anything approaching vertigo. Sugarloaf is one of the toughest courses we have ever played, with comparisons to Pine Valley not overstated, certainly in terms of how much you have to think and how hard you have to bear down on virtually every tee shot. Even good drives to the elbow of the many doglegs skittered in the direction of the woods. And the shot from the five story high 11th tee to the slim, front to back green with the Carrabassett River lapping at its left side was just one of many Kodak moments at Sugarloaf seared into our memory. If there are any homes abutting the golf course today, they have been built since our visit.
The Golf Travel Annual article features courses north of Myrtle Beach that are on our list to visit and review. Virtually all the 15 courses highlighted are in the southeast, with just one in Arizona (Whisper Rock in Scottsdale) and one in Los Cabos, Mexico (El Dorado). Web site for the magazine is www.golftipsmag.com; however, articles from the annual publication are not posted at the site.