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Golf Digest: SC’s Best Are Still Ocean Course, Harbour Town

Bob Gillespie Bob Gillespie
Bob is a former sports writer at Columbia’s The State newspaper. He enjoys golf at South Carolina’s 360-plus courses, and after a round, sampling craft beers from the Palmetto State’s breweries.
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Golf Digest, one of the nation’s oldest golf magazines, began ranking the best courses in each state in 1977—11 years after the debut of the publication’s Top 100 in America. Both listings are often part of traveling players’ guide to fulfilling their personal playing resumes.

South Carolina’s top 25 courses as ranked by Golf Digest include five that anyone can play. Golf Digest also released its Top 100 and Second 100 for 2019-20, and the state claimed seven spots in those rankings, two of them offering public access.

No surprise, South Carolina’s top two public courses remain the same: The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Resort, home to the 1991 Ryder Cup, 2007 Senior PGA, 2012 PGA Championship and, coming in 2021, the PGA’s repeat visit; and Harbour Town Golf Links, home since 1969 to the PGA TOUR’s lone annual stop in the state, the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing.

But The Ocean Course and Harbour Town are not alone among the finest in the state. Three other public-access courses also earned spots.

May River Golf Club at Palmetto Bluff in Bluffton, near Hilton Head Island, has earned raves as one of Jack Nicklaus’ finest designs. Set among live oaks and marshlands, May River is known for playing tough but fair—a Nicklaus trademark.

The Dunes Golf & Beach Club is a Myrtle Beach tradition dating to 1947, and while a members’ club, it allows outside play via hotel packages. Its famed par-5 hole, Waterloo, is the most well-known hole on the Grand Strand.

Finally, Caledonia Golf & Fish Club, located in Pawleys Island on the Grand Strand’s south end, is the masterwork of the late Mike Strantz, a Pete Dye disciple and accomplished artist. His courses are designed to be visually striking as well as a challenge to play.

Here are Golf Digest’s most recent “Best in South Carolina” and the state’s courses among the 2019-20 Top 100.

Best Courses in South Carolina (previous biennial ranking in parentheses)

1. (1) The Ocean Course, Kiawah Island (public/GD Top 100)
2. (2) Yeamans Hall Club, Charleston (private/GD Top 100)
3. (4) Sage Valley Golf Club, Graniteville (private/GD Second 100)
4. (3) Harbour Town Golf Links, Hilton Head Island (public/GD Second 100)
5. (5) Kiawah Island Club Cassique Course (private/GD Second 100)
6. (6) Long Cove Club, Hilton Head Island (private/GD Second 100)
7. (8) Secession Golf Club, Beaufort (private/GD Second 100)
8. (11) Kiawah Island Club River Course (private/GD Second 100)
9. (13) Greenville Country Club Chanticleer Course (private)
10. (9) May River Golf Club At Palmetto Bluff, Bluffton (public/GD Second 100)
11. (12) Musgrove Mill Golf Club, Clinton (private)
12. (7) The Golf Club At Briar's Creek, Johns Island (private)
13. (18) The Cliffs At Keowee Vineyards Golf Club, Sunset (private)
14. (16) The Dunes Golf & Beach Club, Myrtle Beach (semi-private/public)
15. (10) Colleton River Club Nicklaus Course, Bluffton (private)
16. (New) The Cliffs At Mountain Park, Travelers Rest (private)
17. (17) Haig Point Club Signature Course, Daufuskie Island (private)
18. (14) Colleton River Club Dye Course, Bluffton (private)
19. (20) Palmetto Golf Club, Aiken (private)
20. (22) Old Tabby Links, Okatie (private)
21. (15) Chechessee Creek Club, Okatie (private)
22. (21) Caledonia Golf & Fish Club, Pawleys Island (public)
23. (26) The Cliffs At Keowee Falls, Salem (private)
24. (23) Belfair Golf Club West Course, Bluffton (private)
25. (24) Country Club Of Charleston (private)

Golf Digest 2019-20 Greatest 100 and Second 100 in U.S. (S.C. courses)

No. 24: The Ocean Course, Kiawah Island Resort, Charleston
Designers: Pete Dye and Alice Dye (1991); Pete Dye (renovations 2002, 2011)

Golf Digest says: Often considered to be the first course designed for a specific event—the 1991 Ryder Cup—this manufactured linksland-meets-lagoons layout might well be Pete Dye’s most diabolical creation. Every hole is edged by sawgrass, every green has tricky slopes and every bunker merges into bordering sand dunes. Strung along nearly three miles of ocean coast, Dye took his wife’s advice and perched fairways and greens so golfers can see the Atlantic surf. That also exposes shots and putts to ever-present and sometimes fierce coastal winds. The Ocean Course, which hosted the 2012 PGA Championship, won by Rory McElroy, holds the championship again in 2021.

Greatest 100 History: Ranked since 1997. Highest ranking: No. 20, 2015-16. Previous ranking: No. 21

No. 95: Yeamans Hall, Charleston
Designers: Seth Raynor and Charles Banks (1926), Jim Urbina (restoration 2016)

No. 136: Harbour Town Golf Links, The Sea Pines Resort, Hilton Head Island
Designers: Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus (1969)

Golf Digest says: In the late 1960s, Jack Nicklaus landed the design contract for Harbour Town, then turned it over to his new partner, Pete Dye, who was determined to distinguish his work from that of rival Robert Trent Jones. Soon after Harbour Town opened in late November 1969 (with a victory by Arnold Palmer in the Heritage Classic), the course debuted on America’s 100 Greatest as one of the Top 10. It was a total departure for golf at the time. No mounds, no elevated tees, no elevated greens—just low-profile and abrupt change. Tiny greens hung atop railroad ties directly over water hazards. Trees blocked direct shots. Harbour Town gave Pete Dye national attention and put Jack Nicklaus, who made more than 100 inspection trips in collaborating with Dye, in the design business. Pete’s wife, Alice, also contributed, instructing workers on the size and shape of the unique 13th green, a sinister one edged by cypress planks.

Greatest 100 History: Ranked on America's 100 Greatest 1971 through 2014. Ranked on America's Second 100 Greatest: 2015 through current. Highest ranking: "First Ten" (1971-1972); No. 29, 1985-1986. Previous ranking: 127th.

148. Kiawah Island Club Cassique Course, Charleston
Designers: Tom Watson and Bob Gibbons (2000)

167. Secession Club, Beaufort
Designers: Bruce Devlin (1992), Billy Fuller (renovation 2012)

168. Long Cove Club, Hilton Head Island
Designers: Pete Dye and Alice Dye (1982), Bobby Weed (renovation 2018)

198. Kiawah Island Club River Course, Charleston
Designer: Tom Fazio (1995)

Bob Gillespie
Bob is a former sports writer at Columbia’s The State newspaper. He enjoys golf at South Carolina’s 360-plus courses, and after a round, sampling craft beers from the Palmetto State’s breweries.