Bob Gillespie



Columbia’s Northwoods: Expect the unexpected

Posted 1/15/2012 7:07:00 PM

At first glance, Northwoods Golf Course – located off Columbia’s Farrow Road in Carolina Research Park – doesn’t scream “big-time golf.” The location and the low-key clubhouse and driving range suggest a laid-back, fun place to play … but not necessarily a destination for top amateur players and even nationally-known professionals.

Looks can be deceiving, though.

Tommy “Two Gloves” Gainey, a top-30 player on the PGA Tour, jump-started his career when he won a mini-tour event at Northwoods more than a decade ago. This year, the Bishopville native (he holds the course record, a 59 that was nearly a 58) has played the course a couple of times since the 2011 FedEx Cup playoffs concluded.

“Tommy says this is the only place where he can play with regular guys and get a good match,” Northwoods owner and head professional Greg McBride says.

And just this past fall, McBride watched an 18-year-old Korean girl work on her game at Northwoods. “She played in the dogfight with my guys just about every week,” he says. In 2012, Mi Hyang Lee will be busy elsewhere – the LPGA Tour.

The attraction of this 6,800-yard, par-72 layout for top players is two-fold. First, it was built in 1990 by P.B. Dye, son of renowned architect Pete Dye. In truth, the elder Dye – who was building nearby Windermere at that time – “was over here (during construction), too,” McBride says. Even now, Pete Dye shows up at Northwoods at times, showing prospective clients interested in building daily-fee courses what’s possible.

The notoriously eccentric Dye doesn’t always announce his visits. “A while back, I got a call saying there was a Cadillac driving down the middle of the 13th fairway,” McBride says, grinning. “It was Pete.”

The other attraction: Northwoods is where many of Columbia’s best amateurs (who also rank among South Carolina’s top players) come to work on their games, mostly by playing one another. A regular participant is businessman Steve Liebler, a former PGA Tour player and 11-time winner of Columbia’s City Tournament.

Given all that, Northwoods – which winds through forests of hardwoods and pines, and features water on half its holes – also is playable for average players and reasonable, with greens fees ranging between $19 and $39. McBride also has senior rates and offers discounts via Groupon, Living Social and other deals. “We don’t want it to get too expensive,” McBride says.

This winter, unseasonably warm weather has allowed Northwoods to delay over-seeding its undulating Bermuda greens, which form the course’s primary defense. There are typical Dye touches, too. Most notable is the signature par-4 14th hole: a classic risk-reward design, 313 yards from the back tees, which tempts players to go for the green over water or play short in the fairway, only to face huge mounds that hide the green on the approach.

You might not expect such challenges given the club’s surroundings. But as locals know, Northwoods is much more than it appears to be. For tee times or information, call (803) 786-9242 or click here.