Ask most golfers if they would prefer to play one or two golf courses over a weeklong golf vacation or to play a different one every day, and the majority will opt for the latter. Golf vacations are about memories, and memories for the average golfer are made not of average shots but of beautiful holes. And the odds are much better of playing great holes in, say, Myrtle Beach if you have a go at 126 holes (7 x 18) than 18 or 36 in the course of a week.
Such variety is good for post-vacation chatter, but not necessarily for your golf game. I learned this for the umpteenth time a couple of weeks ago when I played three interesting golf courses over the course of three days in the upstate area of South Carolina. Good courses all, but not good for my golf game.
The first of the three rounds, with my friend Bob along for the tour, was at Musgrove Mill in Clinton, across the road from a Revolutionary War site. The Arnold Palmer Design, with most of the work done by the late and highly regarded Ed Seay, is beautiful on the eyes but brutally hard on the shot-making, with a rating of 72.0 at 6,423 yards and a slope of, gulp, 140. Many of the bunkers are a mix of sand and native red clay, a vivid contrast to the green of the fairways and putting surfaces. On some holes, bunkers containing more traditional white sand provided additional contrast. Greens at Musgrove were mostly elevated, firm and contoured, severely so in some cases, and finding them in regulation was a constant challenge. At times I felt as though I was on a forced march, even though I was in a golf cart. Strangely, I was hitting the ball so poorly off the tee that I avoided some of the worst problems off the fairway. Musgrove Mill, a wonderfully conditioned members-only club with no real estate within miles, deserves repeated play. If I had the chance to play it another five times, I might just break 85. (I carry an 11 handicap.)
Furman University Golf Course
The next day we headed for the renovated Furman University Golf Course near Greenville, a couple of miles from one of the prettiest college campuses in America (go when the rose garden is in bloom, early in May). The golf course (yardage played 6,500, rating 71.2, slope 124), originally built in the 1950s, is more classic than it is pretty, but its standing has risen significantly over the last two years since Kris Spence was brought in to redo the flat and too-accessible greens and to add a few other touches here and there. The result is a layout that presents two entirely different courses: The one from tee to fairway is relatively easy, the generous fairways begging you to let out a little shaft; the approach shots, however, even from mid- to short-iron distances, are a bear onto now elevated, concrete hard greens. With a good third of the pin positions tucked up front and the elevations preventing roll ups, we gave thanks for the barely cut slow greens that made downhill putts from the back of the greens survivable. When the greens are trimmed to a more normal height, bribe the greens keeper to put the pins in the back.
Greenwood Country Club (6,430 yards, 71.8 rating, 129 slope) is an everyman’s layout, if everyman likes to play two distinctly different nine hole courses (the club also maintains an additional four holes, but that is a story for another day). The first nine, called Cedar for its tree-lined fairways, is tight and tricky, with bunkers up against the greens providing most of the challenge. The second nine, The Lake, brings water into play mostly on the last few holes. Greenwood has a traditional involved club membership that uses the club’s facilities and course to their full advantage. That makes Greenwood quite a bargain; current initiation fees are waived and dues are less than $300 per month, food minimum included.
Greenwood, the easiest of the three courses, was the best on which to end our three straight days of golf. If you are striking the ball well there, you will produce the kind of score to restore confidence in your game – until the next time you have a go at a course like Musgrove Mill.
Every approach shot is an adventure at Musgrove Mill (#5 shown)...
...whereas Furman's greens were hard and slow...
...making Greenwood CC's greens not too hard, not too soft, but just right.