Getaways With a Twist
The sun has made its annual pass overhead and is now arching its way back toward the equator, dragging with it things we are happy to see go – say, the dog days of summer – and things we wish could stay longer – late evening sunlight by which we get in an emergency nine and the full-on golf season.
Like the movement of the sun, these things go gradually, with no exact definition of when they end. It’s not that we don’t like what the sun drags in – cooler days and perfect golf weather – we just don’t like facing the inevitable. You wake up one morning and you know the season is over and won’t be coming back for a few months. A few months ago the end of the season was so far off it seemed pointless to even worry about it. Like every year, when the season gets underway, the end isn’t even worth considering.
And then it arrives, and with the shoe on the other foot, you worry that the next season will never get here.
As each day gets shorter, the last few times on the tee sheet fall away until next year, and soon the only way to extend the season is to travel and squeeze a little more golf out of a too-short season.
Within a quick flight or a reasonable drive of the Middle Atlantic region is an abundance of golf destinations, perfect for the purpose of exacting a little more golf from the waning days of the season. The only questions are where to go, who to go with and, eventually, getting around to the most important and difficult aspect of the golf trip – figuring out handicaps.
Some golf trips take on a life of their own, being planned weeks and months in advance. They live all year and sometimes much longer with stories about great shots, less-than-great shots or some off-the-course escapade.
Others are spur-of-the-moment, born from a realization that four guys or you and your spouse have nothing to do for the upcoming weekend, so a few days of golf, sampling the local vineyards and breweries and a couple of evenings watching football sound like a perfect combo.
SANTEE, SOUTH CAROLINA
Driving south on I-95 as you enter the Palmetto state you can either turn east toward Myrtle Beach or continue on for a short while until you cross Lake Marion and find yourself in Santee, one of the country’s best value golf destinations.
And you’ll be glad you did. Dubbed “Golf’s Little Big Town,” Santee’s primary offering is three strong layouts – Lake Marion, Santee Cooper Country Club and Santee National, all within a mile of each and a short par 4 from downtown Santee. But if you stay awhile and don’t mind a short drive there are five courses less than a half hour away and seven more within 45 minutes.
Some 100,000 golfers make Santee a part of their season, but it’s not for the nightlife of Myrtle Beach or the sophistication of Charleston. It’s for the quality golf in a quiet setting (though there are a few surprisingly upscale bars and darn good restaurants) with your favorite person or group. Santee is synonymous with quaint, charming and southern hospitality. It’s a simple, great buddy trip destination.
Santee Cooper Country Club and Lake Marion are classic-era style layouts with small greens and narrow fairways while Santee National is a more modern design that is thick with pines and palmettos.
Santee is also home to two major golf events, Patriot Golf Day annually on Labor Day weekend and the Winter Classic Four-Ball in early December. And since golf camaraderie has been known to extend into night, new this year is an 18-hole putting course to complement the lighted driving range.
CLARK’S GOLF PACKAGES
Speaking of quaint and charming, Clark’s Inn and Restaurant is a central dining and lodging spot for Santee golf trips. And, it’s the ultimate one-stop shopping as Clark’s will plan your trip to include the three mainstay courses in Santee and quality venues toward Charleston.
Even in peak season, four nights lodging and five rounds of golf won’t set you back as much as a single night at a five-star resort. What you get for one star less is the ubiquitous Clark’s Inn, right next door to Santee’s trio of courses and the town’s oldest bar and restaurant, operating since 1946 and managed by the son and grandsons of the original owner. Clark’s started as a filling station for customers on their way elsewhere but is now one of the top spots to stay, play and dine in Santee, not to mention it now handles golf packages to suit a group’s needs and budget.
For prices that look like a misprint, Clark’s arranges rounds at quality layouts such as the Player’s Course at Wyboo, Crowfield and Legend Oaks. Of course, if you want to stay close to home base on a Santee trip, Clark’s will put you up, feed you and make your tee times for three courses a minute or two away.
VALLEY FORGE, PENNSYLVANIA
A few years ago, the Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board decided to take advantage of an asset that already existed in the thriving confines of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.
The area was already known as a convenient suburb of tourism-rich Philadelphia, the site of Valley Forge National Park (the winter encampment site of General George Washington’s Revolutionary Army), and home of the King of Prussia Mall, one of the largest retail shopping centers in America.
But Montgomery County was also the unofficial golf capital of Pennsylvania. It claims, by far, more golf courses than any other county in the state. The private clubs of the area are world-renowned – Merion, Aronimink, Philadelphia Cricket Club, Philadelphia Country Club, and many more.
However, in recent years, the daily-fee scene has gained its share of attention. At the top is Raven’s Claw, which has hosted for the last two years, the Valley Forge Invitational and also a stop on the LPGA Symetra Tour. Other top public courses include Bella Vista, Westover, Jeffersonville, Turtle Creek and Hickory Valley, to name a few.
As a result, the Valley Forge Tourism formed Destination Montco Golf – an entity designed to promote golf in Montgomery County.
“We don’t expect to become another Myrtle Beach but, with so many people already coming to the area, it would be a shame not to point out all of the golf we have,” explained Mike Bowman, president of the VFT&CB. “When they are here, they should add a day to their trip and enjoy the great golf that is available.”
Only a couple of hours away from the teeming Virginia suburbs but away from it all, Wintergreen provides crisp, cool fall mountain mornings that give way to sun-splashed blazing foliage on its two quality golf courses amid the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Of course, Wintergreen, just south of Charlottesville, has all the amenities and activities expected of a high-quality, full-service resort – from family-oriented to the indulgence of a exotic spa treatments and wine tastings – but it is the mountain-to-valley-floor duo of its courses that golfers are most aware of.
The Ellis Maples-designed Devil’s Knob course is one of Virginia’s few true mountain courses and its highest. At 3,850 feet, you’ll notice a little extra yardage from each club as you wind your way through tight, forested corridors that lead to fast greens and beautiful vistas.
Fifteen minutes and 3,000 feet below Wintergreen’s spacious and upscale villa-style accommodations is Stoney Creek, a 27-hole Rees Jones-design that is just as good today as when the Shamokin and Monocan nines opened in 1988. Jones added the Tuckahoe nine a decade later to finish three distinct nines in the Rockfish Valley of the Blue Ridge range. Despite being in the “valley,” there are many elevation changes among the holes and usually generous fairways to large, but subtly undulating, greens.
When the renowned Jones finished the final nine, he noted, “I think what Stoney Creek is to me is one of the great settings in mountain golf.”
CAVERNS COUNTRY CLUB
Underneath Caverns Country Club is a part of Earth everyone should see at least once. Luray Caverns is an otherworldly place that took some 400 million years to form and one of the few places where darkness descends to pitch black.
A visit below is a must for first-timers to Luray, but a stroll above on the rocky bluff above the Shenandoah River at the base of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains is the activity of choice for golfers on a fall getaway.
That’s where Caverns Country Club presents itself, from the opening hole that features an opening to the caverns below to a fair and fun test around the ever-present hills of the Blue Ridge range. The course, designed by Malcom Purdy in 1976, is more of a traditional style and doesn’t play like a mountain layout. It has a lot of vertical and horizontal movement but offers a chance for the average golfer. Low handicappers will get all they want from the tips.
For car buffs, equally interesting as the caverns is the Car and Caravan Museum in the heart of Luray. There, an 1897 Mercedes Benz, the first electric car (hard to believe, but it was in 1908) and a 1925 Rolls Royce owned by Rudolph Valentino are as cool as a 30-foot birdie putt.
The Mimslyn Inn is the crown jewel of Luray’s hotel lineup but there are plenty of options near Caverns Country Club to fit any budget. Packages from the course include unlimited golf, lodging and a meal allowance.
MOUNTAINS TO MIDLANDS, S.C.
South Carolina’s got the blues to go along with some pretty sweet greens, and we’re not talking collard greens. No doubt, they’re popular in the south, but not as popular as the greens offered in the Golf & Blues Great Escape in Rock Hill, just a half-hour Uber south from the Charlotte, North Carolina, airport.
A golf and blues combo has proven successful in other states, so mark your calendar for October 1-5 for a buddy trip or couples trip to Rock Hill, where the Arts Council of York County will host its 15th annual Blues and Jazz Festival.
“One location has it all. We will get you to the festival after golf and provide the option of getting you back at a reasonable time” says Ricky Saucier of Golf Packages of South Carolina, the organizer of the Rock Hill Great Escape.
The event begins with a reception at the host hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn, and includes four nights, three rounds of golf, made-to-order breakfasts, evening meals and farewell lunch, as well as transportation and admission to the Blues Festival and dinners.
The first round of the week is slated for the historic and private Rock Hill Country Club, a 1934 A. W. Tillinghast-design, followed by dinner at Legal Remedy Brewing, one of Trip Advisors Top 10 dining choices, or The Pump House overlooking the Catawba River.
Round 2 will be on the rolling fairways of Springfield Golf Club with its tree-lined fairways along holes flanked by Sugar Creek, with many holes that play across streams that lead into the Catawba River. Then, it’s on to the Jazz & Blues Festival which takes place in the unique setting of Baxter Village.
The final round of the event is on Carolina Lakes Golf Club. The Tim Freeland-design boasts elevation changes that lead down fairways lined with tall maples, pines and oaks; blending in the challenges of large ponds, streams and the Catawba River.
The inclusive price of $799 per person (double occupancy) might be the best part of an already impressive lineup of courses, events and the Golf & Blues Great Escape.
Golf Packages of South Carolina is the organizing partner for the entire Mountains to Midlands Golf Alliance program which includes the Rock Hill area as well as Greenville (host of the 2018 Great Escape), Columbia and Aiken North Augusta area.
www.golfpackagesofsc.com | 888.501.5487 | www.m2mgolfsc.com
WACCAMAW GOLF TRAIL
Every serious golfer owes it to himself to take a golf trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It’s a rite of passage for players of all abilities and the Grand Strand is still, even after a bit of contraction, the golf mecca of the world.
But where to start, particularly if you’re not that into the noise and bright lights of Myrtle Beach, but rather prefer a getaway with a little less adrenaline? You want good – no, make that great – courses, outstanding restaurants, excellent accomodations and a quiet, beautiful beach.
All that is available just south of central Myrtle Beach along the Hammock Coast and The Waccamaw Trail, a collection of 12 seriously good golf courses that stretch from Murrells Inlet to Pawley’s Island.
The lineup is sensational. Start with Mike Strantz’s first solo design, The Caledonia Golf & Fish Club, long a perennial favorite and not at all the style that made Strantz famous in the design world. Caledonia is strikingly modern, yes, but Strantz let the Lowcountry land dictate the flow of the course. True Blue, however, is Strantz at his wicked and wonderful best, a must-play for any Myrtle Beach pilgrimmage. For a “great” 36 holes, Golf Digest ranks Caledonia and True Blue third and sixth best public courses in the state.
The rest of the Waccamaw Trail is stout, too, with the venerable pro-proven TPC Myrtle Beach, Dan Maples’ pristine Heritage Club, and Jack Nicklaus’ marquee Pawleys Plantation that features signature-design holes in and around salt marshes. Other award-winning courses include Blackmoor, Gary Player’s only Grand Strand design; Litchfield Country Club, one of Myrtle Beach’s original courses designed by Willard Byrd and draped in magnnolia and moss; and the River Club at Litchfield, with a great finishing hole and water coming into play on 14 holes.
The lineup concludes with standouts such as the Tradition Club, Founders Club at Pawleys Island, Wachesaw Plantation East and Willbrook Plantation.
The ideal mega trip is to play them all, but that’s between you, your buddies and your spouse.
THE WOODS RESORT
Long before the trend in the design world was to create upscale courses that tortured its guests with forced carries, diabolical greens, high fescue and contrived water hazards, Ray Johnston needed to build a golf course for his resort in Hedgesville, West Virginia.
He didn’t know exactly what kind of design he wanted back in 1989, but he was adamant that it be a championship course that was “fun and fair.” And to ensure that, he built it himself.
From that mantra evolved the Mountain View course at The Woods. Built in an era before a “good” course had to have a massive slope rating to chase high handicappers away from the property and the game, Johnston understood that his guests were there to enjoy themselves, and his golf insisted that decent play produce good scores.
Not that Mountain View is easy – its back-tee 6,621-yard, 71.9/125 rating is modest by today’s standards – but it was designed to challenge good players and not intimidate high handicappers. Called a mountain course, it’s more for the views than the ups and downs of the terrain, which are traversed tmostly between greens and tees.
The late Johnston also designed Stony Lick, a nine-holer with a familiar theme of fun and fair before later expanding it to an 18-hole, 3,600-yard, par 62 layout.
The Woods Resort is fun, too, offering whitewater rafting among its myriad of outdoor and adventure activities, as well as spa and salon services. The resort has been undergoing a modernization and, after 42 years, remains a retreat surrounded by thousands of acres of wildlife management area. And you can probably get there in less than a few hours.
QUEENSTOWN HARBOR GOLF LINKS
The River Course at the Queen on Maryland’s Eastern Shore has always been nothing short of spectacular since it helped launch the upscale daily-fee concept in the early ’90s, and its sister Lakes Course would be excellent by itself if not overshadowed by the River. But Queenstown was not thought of as a getaway or destination until three cottages were added to the property last year.
Now, it’s a destination alright, as in a perfect place for a buddy trip, a corporate retreat or a couples flight from suburban stress.
The three cottages, with more in the planning stage, are situated on what used to be part of the second hole of the River Course near the Chester River. The hole was renovated and moved closer to the water and the existing land was a perfect spot to begin the stay-and-play era at Queenstown Harbor. The fifth hole, too, was redone to perch the green 100 feet from the water.
Each cottage has a deck and firepit facing the Chester River (which opens up to the Chesapeake Bay), a grill and a grand room. The cottages have different bed configurations for various group sizes.
Almost instantly, Queenstown Harbor is now a major-league resort, with hiking trails, charter fishing and cycling, not to mention the solitude and quietude that goes with riverside lodging.
The 36-hole golf complex, highlighted by Lindsay Ervin’s River Course, stands among the best two-course options in the Middle Atlantic. The River Course was one of the country’s best new publics when it debuted in 1991 and still is today. Both courses share a combined 2.5 miles along the Chester River and provide an isolated feel just 10 miles from the Bay Bridge. [END]