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Plantation Course at Edisto

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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Leland Vaughan, the amiable general manager/partner at the Plantation Course at Edisto, has a simple philosophy about his golf course - tucked away off the beach road at Edisto Beach - and also about the type of lifestyle the course reflects.

"We have inquiries asking, ‘Why should I visit?'" says Vaughan, 73 and 18 years removed from a career in banking. "I tell them, ‘If you've been to Myrtle Beach or Hilton Head, and you like that experience, you won't like Edisto.'"

That's not a knock on other South Carolina golf locations. Rather, it's an acknowledgment that if high-traffic golf destinations, dozens of courses, hotel packages and side-by-side restaurants are your thing - well, you won't find those here. In great measure, the beach and the island haven't changed significantly in, oh, 40-50 years.

"We have no hotels or motels, no red lights, not fast-food restaurants, no shopping centers - and very little noise," Vaughan says. And only the one golf course; the next closest is 38 miles away.

There are, however, beachfront houses, many available for rental. There's the Edisto Pavilion, remodeled but essentially the same family-entertainment structure for a half-century. There's a grocery, and a number of local-favorite restaurants and bars. Recreation-wise, there are walking, biking, kayaking, fishing - fresh- and salt-water - the beach ... and golf at a short but demanding Tom Jackson-designed course built in the 1970s and refurbished about seven years ago.

The course has the same laid-back vibe as its surroundings. "We did a recent survey," Vaughan says, "and most people who have come to Edisto say they came just to ‘cool it.'

"If you enjoy watching the sun set across St. Helena Sound" - and Vaughan does - "this is the place for you."

If you enjoy relaxed but challenging golf, the same is true.

It wasn't always that way. Developer David Lybrand bought 300 acres in 1971, planning was to sell property lots once he had built access roads and a golf course as an attraction. He hired Greenville-based architect Jackson (of Cliffs at Glassy and Mount Vintage fame) to carve out a 6,200-yard course, dubbed "Oristo," that wound through live oaks, sand dunes and marshlands.

But inflation rocked the economy in 1974, and a string of owners followed, including an eight-year span when the course was known as Fairfield Ocean Ridge. A couple from Ohio bought it in 1984 and renamed it Edisto Beach Golf Club, but struggled to keep it afloat; playing conditions ranged from barely adequate to awful.

Enter Vaughan and a business partner, who bought the course in 2005 and began reviving it in early 2006. A new irrigation system was installed, trees and underbrush cut back (the course, while still cozy, has more of an open feel today), bunkers reshaped and/or relocated, and the first hole (a slight dogleg left) was converted from a par-5 to a par-4, producing a par-70.

Best of all, superintendent Tom Arneman - a 14-year veteran who oversaw the renovation - resurfaced the greens using Sea Island Supreme Paspalum. Similar to the salt-resistant grass used at Kiawah Island's Ocean Course, the turf has a nearly grain-free texture, promoting smooth putting.

The Plantation Course blends marsh, trees, water and sand to prevent players from overpowering the relatively short layout. The par-4 second hole, a sharp dogleg right, has water running along a narrow fairway strip - intimidating, but a solid tee shot will reach the wider landing area. The par-5 fifth is reachable in two shots (494 yards from the back tees), but a large oak some 75 yards from the green can distract long hitters. No. 7, a par-3, has a forced carry to a quasi-island green.

The picturesque par-4 14th has a hard dogleg left, with water off the tee and again on the approach, while the 18th, a par-5, curves left off the tee, then right to the green, with more water and a large bunker. Length is rarely an issue; accuracy always is.

Since reopening in October 2006, the Plantation Course has built a reputation of low-stress golf and friendly, small-town hospitality. There are 70 members (half from out of state), no head professional - "we don't need one," says Vaughan, who oversees clubhouse matters - and outside play is welcome.

Vaughan and his staff, in fact, like to tailor a round to visitors' needs. "We want you to enjoy a nice round in four hours, max," he says. Youngsters, families and less-experienced players are encouraged to play during less-crowded afternoons.

In part because of Edisto's relative isolation, the Plantation Course also has a number of four-bedroom villas located adjacent to the clubhouse. A dozen yards from both is Grovers, a full-service restaurant and bar open seven days a week. Visitors can park their car upon arrival and never feel the need to drive until they depart the island.

Unless, that is, players crave some "night life" with their golf. Then they can drive a few hundred yards out the front gate to several small bars along the Intracoastal Waterway. Like the golf course, everything is low-key, relaxing and homey-feeling.

"Cool it," indeed.

For information or to make tee times and/or reservations, call (843) 869-1111, 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.