Golf

Bob Gillespie

SOUTH CAROLINA INSIDER

 

The Strand’s “Pearl”: Georgetown’s Wedgefield Plantation has history, low-key golf

Posted 12/29/2013 12:51:00 PM

Don’t ask Tom Walsh, an institution in the pro shop at Georgetown’s Wedgefield Plantation, about the clubhouse’s weathered brick exterior. Not unless you want to get a rapid-fire history lesson before your round of golf.

“Ballast brick,” the retired Connecticut native and transplanted Georgetown resident says with a grin. And then he tells you how in the 1700s, sailing ships from England would fill their holds with brick to serve as ballast (the weight would be replaced with cargo from Georgetown on the return trip), which was dumped on land and used for building materials.

Walsh also can hold forth on Carolina Gold Rice (Georgetown was “one of the highest exporters of rice in South Carolina,” he says) and the Georgetown County Museum, where visitors can see a piece of the Union flag that flew over Fort Sumter in 1860, a musket with “Swamp Fox” (S.C. rebel leader Francis Marion) engraved on its butt, and letters from Marion, Nathaniel Greene and George Washington. “You can spend an interesting hour or so there,” he says.

Walsh should know. After moving to Georgetown about four years ago – “I came to Myrtle Beach for 10-12 years, then came and played here,” he says. “I called my wife and said, ‘I found IT,’ and we bought our retirement home” – he worked as a volunteer at the museum.

These days, though, most of his free time is spent greeting visitors to Wedgefield Plantation – which, Walsh is quick to tell you, was actually a rice plantation in pre-Revolutionary times. “From the 17th green, you can see some remains of the plantation,” he says – when he’s not enjoying the Porter Gibson design, built in 1972.

“This is the best-kept golf secret on the coast,” Walsh says. “We don’t get a lot of tourist play – they take 5-6 hours, we play closer to 3 ½ – but it’s close to Myrtle Beach, without the traffic.

“We say it’s the ‘pearl’ at the end of the (Grand) Strand.”

Wedgefield Plantation, just outside Georgetown off U.S. 701 north, is owned and operated by the Marlowe family (Wade Marlowe serves as de facto “golf professional,” while brothers Ross and Scott help run things), which previously owned another Georgetown course, Winyah Bay, before closing it in 2005. “For about three months, we had both,” Ross says.

Wedgefield, he says, had “gone downhill, needed new irrigation and drainage, and we spent serious money to bring it back. It’s a traditional, old-style golf course; the lay of the land is just the way the property drops off toward the Black River.” Mostly locals make up the course’s 20,000-23,000 rounds per year, but the course is open to public play.

Gibson built Wedgefield nine holes at a time, on different pieces of former plantation property, and it shows. The front nine is flat and largely open, but with water on eight holes and sand to challenge players. The back nine is typical Lowcountry: tight fairways bordered by water, marshlands and moss-draped, ancient live oaks. Walsh, the historian, says one huge live oak in the club parking lot is about 350 years old.

Most dramatic are the par-5 17th, with its fairway narrowing significantly between marsh and water demanding precision on the second and approach shots, and its green perched at the edge of the marsh; the par-4 14th, with its tee shot over water to a landing area, then doglegging back left over water again; and the par-4 12th, with trees and mounding along the left side and water guarding the right. The par-3s, notably Nos. 13 and 16, feature elevated greens guarded by sand, water and marsh.

After a round, Walsh walks to the parking lot to point out another historical scene. “That (he points to the left) was Wee Haw Plantation, and down there (to the right) was Mansfield Plantation,” he says. “The road between them was called a slave walkway – they filmed parts of the movie ‘The Patriot’ (Mel Gibson) here.”

Georgetown has just one course compared to nearly 100 in nearby Myrtle Beach, but Wedgefield Plantation offers relaxed, low-key golf and the odd history lesson, too. For tee times and/or information, call (843) 448-2124 – ask for Tom – or visit www.wedgefield.com.