Start with the four-year-old, 14,000-square-foot, two-story clubhouse overlooking a new, 3,000-square-foot putting green. A fleet of 60 shiny new golf carts awaits players. On the course, a number of holes have had subtle but significant changes, from building up the front of the green at the par-4 second hole to closely mowing areas around greens to facilitate chipping and putting. There's even a "new" head professional, Michigan native Doug Cameron, who worked at clubs in North Augusta and St. Louis before arriving about two years ago.
But one thing hasn't changed at the Willard Byrd design, founded as a private club but currently open for public play: Timberlake remains one of the most enjoyable semi-private experiences in the Midlands.
The club's 180 golf and 100 social members enjoy swimming, tennis and a fitness center in addition to golf. About 30 percent of the club's annual 17,000 rounds, though, are by visitors. And while getting to the course takes time - about 10-15 minutes from downtown Chapin via Amick's Ferry Road - the trek is worth it.
At 6,579 yards (back tees), Timberlake isn't about length but strategy. "It's harder than it looks on paper," club board president Julie Cameron says, "but we're making it more player-friendly." Reading the grain in the Champions Bermuda greens is crucial for putting.
The par-4 first hole, with its view of the lake and boat docks, requires a straight tee shot and precise approach to a saddleback (front-to-back) green. The No. 1 handicap hole, the second, plays severely uphill and longer than its 419 yards to a perched, multi-tier green. Lake Murray is visible again at the par-3 fourth, with a pond guarding the green.
The back nine is even more scenic - only the 10th and 18th hole run parallel to each other - and has a dramatic four-hole finish: the uphill par-4 15th is perhaps the toughest hole on the course, while the short par-4 16th tempts better players to go for the green; the par-3 17th green slopes severely toward water in front, and then comes the par-5 18th, skirting the banks of Lake Murray to an elevated green - not long, but with danger on the second and approach shots.
Boating golfers can call ahead (extension 14) to be picked up by a six-passenger golf cart and driven to their round. After play and a drink in the spacious second-floor lounge, they return to the dock for their trip home - or stick around to see the sunset on the lake.
Either way, Timberlake Country Club offers a unique golf experience in the Midlands. For information, visit www.timberlakecountryclub.com or call 803.345.9909.