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Golf the Unique Legends at Parris Island

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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Andy Hinson, head professional at The Legends at Parris Island, hits his tee shot down the middle of the fairway at the par-4 12th hole, a muscular 412 yards from the back tees. Then, to a visitor's surprise, he aims their golf cart not toward their shots but into the woods running along the right side.

"Just want to show you something," he says, grinning.

A few yards through an opening in the trees, out of sight of the Lowcountry course, Hinson pulls up to one of the obstacles (in this case, a 10-foot wooden wall with ropes attached) that make up "The Crucible," a four-day examination of strength, endurance and mental toughness that U.S. Marine Corps recruits must complete before graduation.

A number of The Crucible's grueling physical tests take place within shouting distance of golfers. "They'll have the Normandy invasion sound effects from ‘Saving Private Ryan' playing on the P.A. speakers," Hinson says. "Most of our players are used to that by now."

The obstacle course and - also adjacent to the 12th fairway, beyond the trees - a paved runway used during World War II are a few of the unexpected elements that make a round at The Legends memorable. And that's not counting the course, built in 1947 by architect George Cobb, renovated in 1999 by Hilton Head-based designer Clyde Johnston and ranked among the top 10 U.S. military courses in the world.

The par-72 layout, 6,898 yards from the tips, is surrounded by huge live oaks - "other than the Marines, they define the golf course," Hinson says - yet for the most part, trees come into play less than water, marshes and mounding around greens. Johnston's philosophy was to let the ground, rather than trees, create difficulties, and those make for a challenging but fun experience from each of the five sets of tees.

But it's all the other things about The Legends that make it special among South Carolina's Lowcountry golf courses. Take the name, for instance.

Before Johnston's $4.5 million restoration, the course was simply Parris Island Golf Course. Now, each hole is named for a Marine Corps legend who went through basic training at Parris Island. Example: The par-3 sixth and par-4 15th are named for Cpl. Rene Gagnon and Sgt. Michael Strank, respectively, who helped raise the U.S. flag on Iwo Jima during WWII - an iconic USMC image.

The par-3 third hole - a 170-yarder with a large left-side bunker and a green that slopes off to the right - is yet another surprise: It's named for Roberto Clemente, the Pittsburgh Pirates legend and the first Hispanic member of baseball's Hall of Fame, who went through Parris Island boot camp in 1959. "He was proud to be a Marine," the hole inscription states.

Perhaps the best "surprise," though, is The Legends' accessibility. While many U.S. military golf courses are primarily for active-duty, retired or reservist servicemen and women, civilians are welcome at Parris Island, needing only to show identification, car registration and proof of auto insurance at the base gate.

"About 65 percent of our play (30,000 rounds in 2010) is E-6 to E-9 (enlisted personnel) and officers," Hinson says. "But 35 percent is civilian, from Beaufort Country to travelers from Hilton Head." With bargain rates (currently $32 for 18 holes with cart, weekdays and weekends), The Legends is popular with locals and visitors lucky enough to know about it.

At the end of a day's round, Hinson - who will coach the Marines team for the All Armed Forces Championship Sept. 28-Oct. 1 at Fort Jackson Golf Club - has another surprise in store. Perhaps 100 yards from the parking lot, located down a trail cut through the underbrush, sits the wreckage of a World War II Brewster Buccaneer scout bomber. The plane crashed in 1943 on what is now the course's driving range and was towed to its present location.

Nearby is yet more history: Ruins of Charlesfort, built by Jean Ribaut as a refuge for persecuted Huguenots, and Santa Elena, dating from 1562, as well as remains of two colonial Spanish forts, San Marcos and San Felipe, from the 1600s. A marker proclaims the site as "the northernmost bastion of Spanish Florida."

Standing on the banks of Port Royal Sound, surrounded by history and golf, visitors might wonder what else remains undiscovered. The answer is not far away, at the "real" reason for Parris Island.

Every 12 weeks, 40 times a year, another class at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island transitions from raw recruits to Marines. Graduations take place at 9 a.m. on Fridays at Peatross Parade Deck, where family and friends - and, on a recent visit, eight members of the Marine Corps League, men in their 70s or older - witness this rite of passage, which is open to the public.

This day, commanding Gen. Lori Reynolds watches 300 members of Mike Company, Third Battalion, parade under a blazing sun to the accompaniment of the Parris Island Marine Band; at any time, 3,500-5,000 recruits are undergoing training. Also in attendance: Archibald Hummer, the base's English bulldog mascot, and Bob Lougee, a Marine (there is no such thing as a "former Marine") who served from 1942-45 in the Pacific.

At the end of the ceremony, after platoon guidons have been presented and the familiar USMC hymn played, Lt. Col. John Barrett tells the new Marines, "Congratulations and Semper Fi!" He is greeted with a lusty "Hoo-rah!" before graduates are mobbed by their families. Staff Sgt. Michael Garrett, a drill instructor in his 10th year as a Marine, says their training and this graduation "will be etched into their minds for years."

By day's end - after the graduation, the golf and the historic discoveries - visitors know what Andy Hinson means when he says, "This is a special place." To learn more, call (843) 228-2240 or click here.

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.