For some golfing visitors to South Carolina, the Pee Dee and areas near Santee Cooper Country are mostly known as places to drive through on the way to the golfing pleasures of Myrtle Beach and Charleston.
People taking that attitude are missing out on an often unexplored area that has - if not the golf riches of the coast - its own treasure trove of fun, and affordable, golf course options.
Take, for instance, the city of Florence, which straddles one of the fastest routes from the Midlands to the Grand Strand. A handful of courses in and around Florence are well worth a look, especially for the price. And several are about as good as there are in South Carolina.
Case in point: The Country Club of South Carolina, once home to a regular Nike Tour tournament and a daunting test of anyone's game. This mid-1960s design by Ellis Maples is the Pee Dee's top-ranked course and has hosted numerous South Carolina Golf Association and other events. Its par-5 18th, wrapping left around a lake to an elevated, undulating green is as good a finishing hole as there is.
Florence is also home to three other public-access courses: Traces Golf Club boasts a 27-hole layout with plenty of forest-lined fairways and water, a product of Florida-based architect Ron Garl. And The Palms Course at Oakdale, which was bought in 2013 by Donald Brown (who also owns Sumter's testing Links at Lakewood), has been refurbished and offers solid value for the price.
The premium destination for golfers in this area, though, is near Lakes Marion and Moultrie, generally known as Santee Cooper Country, which draws bargain-seeking tourists (and golfing tourists) every year. Santee Cooper Golf serves as a clearinghouse for courses in the area, and three golf courses are within minutes of downtown Santee - Santee Cooper Country Club, Lake Marion Golf Club and Santee National - with two offering stunning views of the area's prime tourist attraction, Lakes Marion and Moultrie.
Looking for an off the beaten path place to play? In Manning, Wyboo Golf Club, a Tom Jackson Signature design, is an enjoyable yet testing course that locals named the best course in Clarendon County, as well as one of South Carolina's best public-access courses by The State newspaper. For a convenient two-round adventure, try the recently refurbished Players Course at Wyboo, located directly across the road.
Another worth-finding Pee Dee destination is Governor's Run Golf Club near Lamar, with a series of twisting, winding fairways and water hazards that belie the low cost. Several other small-town layouts - Hartsville Country Club and Fox Creek Golf Course in nearby Lydia - also offer a pleasant day on the links without crippling the budget.
It's not high-end resort golf, but it also doesn't come with high-end resort prices. And for families looking for value and a good time, that's a pretty good combination.