Gary Cannon grinned as he stuck his 6-iron back in his golf bag. Seconds earlier, he rifled a shot to the green at The River Club's par-3 13th hole that stopped close to the flag. How close?
"Did you see that guy in the UPS truck?" he asked the rest of our foursome, grinning and pointing to a van stopped next to the green. "He was doing this," as Gary held his hands about a foot apart. Close enough for an easy birdie putt, a highlight of this first official outing of "The Deveraux Duffers" on Veterans' Day Monday.
At this point, introductions are in order. The Duffers are four guys in our 60s who gather each Friday night with our wives and others to share wine and camaraderie. Since all of us play golf, it wasn't a reach to decide to start regular day-trip outings to provide fodder for these S.C. Golf Insider blogs.
The group name comes from Devereaux Street in Columbia, home to three of the four (yours truly is the lone "outsider"), and the idea of chronicling our trips came about after an "unofficial" outing to Edgewater Golf Club near Great Falls. One of our members, who shall remain nameless, was unhappy when I failed to mention his eagle putt at the 18th hole in a subsequent S.C. Insider blog. We figured then we would make the group "official," and here we are.
Gary Cannon, is the most accomplished player as his 77 this day suggests. A Gastonia, N.C., native, he worked as city manager in Camden and Beaufort and later for the S.C. Municipal Association, and currently is executive director of the S.C. Workman's Compensation Commission. A golfer since age 11, his career-best round is a 69; he once made two holes-in-one in a two-week span.
The rest of us have, shall we say, more modest golf resumes, but equal love of the game. Barry Beasly, grew up in Troy, N.C., taught four years at the University of South Carolina before joining the Department of Natural Resources, retired after 26 years there and became director of the Catawba Valley Land Trust. His best golf memories revolve around his grandfather, who gave him his first set of clubs and taught him the game.
Vernon DeHart, grew up in Anderson and retired after 38 years with textiles firm Milliken & Co. A one-time mid-80s shooter, he also enjoys the social aspects of golf, such as an annual husbands-and-wives golf getaway to Pawleys Island. Golf and professional resumes of yours truly are posted elsewhere on this site.
Our first outing was a worthy debut: The River Club, which opened in 1998 in North Augusta, stretches along the Savannah River across from downtown Augusta and features water and/or marsh on 13 holes. Designer Jim (brother of Tom) Fazio also uses bunkers and dramatic mounding to turn a formerly mostly flat site into a links-style, rolling-terrain layout.
"(Fazio) did a great job with the property, and the layout has a lot of character without being tricked up," says Chris Verdery, The River Club's general manager/head professional since its opening. "There's a lot of water but most of it is on the sides." While the property is somewhat confined, Fazio's mounding along most holes creates a feeling of separation.
The course is visually appealing and its conditioning excellent throughout - it's one of three Augusta-area courses that over-seed the entire course in winter - but the playing test of The River Club is its Mini Verde Bermuda greens, converted from bent grass in 2011 with no appreciable loss of speed or undulation. If you like slick, fast greens, these are for you.
"It was a tough decision (to switch from bent) but we're very glad we did (because) now the greens are excellent all year instead of just in the cool season," Verdery says. With the dormant season here now, the greens "are ... difficult," he says with a grin.
The course offers other challenges and rewards, with its best stretch of holes the finishing foursome. The par-4, dogleg-right 15th, 461 yards from the longest of five tees, starts with a tee shot over marsh and has water guarding the right side of the green, plus a bunker on the front right and large mounds to the left and behind. Verdery says the hole was voted the Augusta area's toughest par-4.
The short (334 yards) par-4 16th is defined by water off the tee, a creek in front of the elevated, multi-tiered green and an old railroad trestle bordering the right side; accuracy is a must, as is true at the par-3 17th (154 yards), with its all-carry tee shot over marsh and water, plus water and a bunker to the right of the two-tiered green. The 18th, a 601-yard, slightly dogleg-right par-5, has trees along the left and water along the right, with a shallow creek cutting in front of the elevated, slope-sided green.
As a special amenity, The River Club has three luxury cottages (two four-bedroom, one eight-bedroom) sitting along the left side of the 18th fairway, with views of the course and, in the distance, downtown Savannah's taller buildings. "We built the cottages in 2009, primarily for out-of-town guests," Verdery says. "We had Masters' Week in mind." The course and cottages are popular with Canadians and Midwest visitors escaping the springtime cold.
The Duffers escaped The River Club with our egos intact, if well-tested. All were impressed with the speed and consistency of the greens: "Fast, and rolled true," Gary says. Barry appreciated the course's scenic qualities, how the water "wasn't in play that often but added to the character of the course."
Vernon liked the fact that River Club "is good for high-handicappers. It's open enough so you don't lose a lot of balls. And I loved the greens, even though they were really fast."
For a fitting end to the day, we enjoyed a late lunch of cheeseburgers and fries at Gary's, a local burger joint (recommended by Barry) and a North Augusta favorite for 28 years. All told, other than a brief shower on the back nine, it was a perfect day. We even got to enjoy the sounds of Augusta's Veterans' Day parade.
Bottom line: The Duffers unanimously give The River Club two thumbs up. We plan to play courses all over South Carolina - strictly in the interest of research, of course - but it's likely we'll come back to North Augusta.
For information and/or to book tee times, call (803) 202-0110 or go to www.riverclubgolf.com.