The Windermere Club

By:Bob Gillespie

Date:10/23/2012

The name Pete Dye is a gold standard in golf-course design, both nationally and especially in South Carolina. Dye’s Ocean Course at Kiawah Island​ Resort played host to the PGA Championship, the state’s first men’s major, and every spring Hilton Head’s Harbour Town G​olf Links – one of Dye’s first designs – welcomes the RBC Heritage.

In the Midlands, though, Pete Dye golf was available only to members of The Windermere​ Club, located in Blyt​hewood – until the past four years.

No, another Dye course hasn’t been built; rather, the economic reality of the times has convinced Windermere to open its doors to outside play. And public-access players are discovering a great golf experience is not only available, but within financial reach of almost anyone.

“We’ve been doing it (allowing public play) for a while, but just in the last 3-4 years we’ve really made it publicly known,” says Bill Chandler, Windermere’s director of golf and an 11-year club regular. “Now we’re getting the word out that they can play here.

“Clubs all over are doing the same thing, and our 138 fantastic members understand. Plus we want to make sure we take care of them; we block off members-only times on weekends (8 a.m.-11 a.m.), and we have special events for them: the club championship, member-guest events.”

That doesn’t mean outsiders can’t enjoy a round at Windermere, though. Indeed, the club tries to give visitors a true country club experience – after all, one day those folks might be members. “Our philosophy is, we treat everyone who walks in the door like a member,” Chandler says. “We want to create the service that’s expected when they play here.”

Built in 1987 by Dye with his son, P.B. (who built public-access Northwoods​ Golf Club around the same time), Windermere not only has the Dye brand, but also the last bent-grass greens in the Midlands. That’s a selling point, Chandler says, that makes the added costs and maintenance worth doing.

“We’re committed to them,” he says. “We’re blessed to have 270-acre Lake Windermere, plus a large lake at the sixth hole, so we have plenty of water, which is what bent grass requires. You’ve got to keep them wet during the summer months.

“It costs more for upkeep, but it’s still the best putting surface. During Masters’ week, we get a lot of fans coming here from Ohio, Pittsburgh, Washington, for that reason alone – that’s what they’re used to up there, and they love our greens.”

Windermere hasn’t been a secret all these years; the club has hosted charity and fund-raising tournaments open to anyone, and that continues. Chandler recently hosted an event to benefit Oliver Gospel Mission, and has tournaments lined up for Benedict College’s LeRoy Walker Memorial (Oct. 19) and Clemson’s Youth Learning Institute (Oct. 30), among others.

Chandler, who previously worked at courses in Atlanta and Virginia and at Hilton Head’s Moss Creek Plantation, says his favorite Windermere holes include the par-5 third, with its mounds and deep bunkers guarding the green, and the par-4 eighth, a long downhill hole with water guarding the right side of the green. But the course is best known for its finish: the drivable par-4 14th; the long par-4 15th, with water along the entire right side; the par-4 16th, with its blind tee shot and downhill approach to a narrow green; and the par-3 17th and par-5 18th, both with Lake Windermere bordering their left sides.

There’s also the uphill par-5 10th, its green guarded on the right by one of the largest, deepest bunkers in captivity. Stray into that huge sand pile, sitting 30-40 feet below the green, and forget about par.

Most outside players expect those challenges; it’s a Pete Dye course, after all.

“(The Dye brand) adds a great deal,” Chandler says. “People identify with Harbour Town, with the TPC course (in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.), Kiawah – courses like that. People really want to come and try it.”

That includes, on occasion, the couple who built it. Pete Dye and his wife/design partner, Alice, often visit in April en route to or from the Masters. “This is one of Alice’s favorites,” he says. When changes were made 4-5 years ago to the 17th, making it almost an island green by bringing the lake more into play and removing Dye’s trademark railroad ties, Alice declared herself pleased with the transformation.

As with players who have been beaten up by the Ocean Course and TPC Sawgrass or who have fallen in love with Harbour Town, players at Windermere enjoy the fact that each hole is unique, memorable … and a blast to play.

“It’s a fun golf course,” Chandler says. “People come in afterward and say, ‘That was fun.’ We hear it all the time.”

These days, they’re hearing it from more than just the members. For information and/or tee times, call (803) 786-7888 or go to www.winder​mereclubsc.com.

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