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Golf at the Historic Links at Stono Ferry

Bob Gillespie Bob Gillespie
Bob is a former sports writer at Columbia’s The State newspaper. He enjoys golf at South Carolina’s 350-plus courses, and after a round, sampling craft beers from the Palmetto State’s breweries.
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If Charleston is known for two things above all else (besides world-famous hospitality and food, that is), those are history ... and golf. A treasure trove of antebellum homes and plantations dating to the 17th century abound in the area, while surrounding the city in every direction but east (the Atlantic Ocean) is a wealth of golf courses in all price ranges, including nearly two dozen accessible to the public.

Except in a few instances, though, the two - history and golf - don't overlap so much. A notable exception is the Links at Stono Ferry, voted South Carolina Golf Course of the Year in 2011 and located in the community of Hollywood, on the site of a Revolutionary War clash that took place two centuries before Florida architect Ron Garl created his layout in 1989.

The Battle of Stono Ferry took place on June 20, 1779, when a detachment of British soldiers, including Hessian mercenaries, defeated the defending Americans. A replica cannon stationed at the par-4 12th hole, named Redoubt, reminds players that before golf, the "shots" at Stono Ferry didn't involve birdies and bogeys.

"It works with Charleston," general manager Greg Wood says. "Seven out of 10 (visitors) come to the city for the history, and we felt we had significant history on the property, which we share with golfers."

In fact, a golf course almost didn't happen here. "From what I understand, it was going to be an equestrian site only, with polo fields and a horse race, the Charleston Cup," Wood says. "Then (the original owners) said, ‘Let's add golf.'" A planned fall grand opening fell victim to a more recent piece of local history - Hurricane Hugo - but only delayed the course's debut a few weeks.

One of the first owners was former PGA Tour and Champions Tour player Jim Colbert. The course changed hands twice before 2002, when Charleston businessman Pat Barber bought Stono Ferry, built a home on the course and has run things since.

For visitors who fear that Hollywood (southwest of Charleston off U.S. 17) is a distant outpost, the biggest surprise might be how accessible the course is. "We point out that other than Patriots Point (in Mount Pleasant), we're as close in as any course in the area," Wood says. "We're only 16 miles from downtown and 30 minutes from Kiawah and Seabrook (islands). It's not as far out here as they think."

Indeed, tourists in town for the 2012 PGA Championship at Kiawah's Ocean Course discovered Stono Ferry was close enough to watch PGA Tour players in the morning and still get in 18 holes the same day.

The course, employing a mix of pine forests, marshes and views of the Intracoastal Waterway, is worth the effort to find. Pre-PGA upgrades included converting greens to smooth but hardy Champions hybrid Bermuda grass and redoing bunkers. Winding through Lowcountry woods and skirting abundant water, Stono Ferry is an enjoyable challenge to all levels of player.

Particularly intriguing is the closing stretch, with the par-4 13th ("Battery Wilkes") and the par-3 14th (The Crossing) bordering the waterway and featuring tee shots over marsh. Wood's personal favorite is the par-4 16th (Retreat) with its severe dogleg-right fairway pinched by water left. "You've got to place your tee shot, but then can gamble to cut the corner," he says. "You can play it safe left, but you have a longer shot in."

Another change came at the 18th (Independence), a short par-4, when Barber had a horseshoe water hazard dug around the now-island green.

Stono Ferry, home to the College of Charleston men's and women's golf teams, also features a state-of-the-art practice facility and learning center with indoor hitting bays and club-repair area, which is available to club members. Director of instruction is David Kite, son of PGA/Champions Tour star Tom Kite. An extra bonus for players living in Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties is the Brigade Club, which offers discounts of $20 or more per round over walk-in rates, depending on time of year.

History and golf is an inviting combination, but truthfully, it's mostly about the golf. That cannon positioned to the right of the 12th fairway? "We bought it on eBay," Wood says, laughing.

For tee times or more information, visit or call (843) 763-1817.

Bob Gillespie
Bob is a former sports writer at Columbia’s The State newspaper. He enjoys golf at South Carolina’s 350-plus courses, and after a round, sampling craft beers from the Palmetto State’s breweries.