Traditionally, high-end public golf courses sell the idea of providing players with a private-club experience at a public-course price. They offer big-name architects, lush conditions and amenities, all for the cost of a greens fee and cart.
Across South Carolina, that idea is no longer just a sales pitch. For a number of the state’s better courses, it’s reality.
For reasons that range from financial to philosophical, a number of once-private clubs have opened their doors to both locals and tourists. And those courses say the result – more rounds played, more income generated – makes that a win-win for the clubs and the players.
Jay Smith, head professional at Myrtle Beach’s Prestwick Country Club, a Pete Dye/P.B. Dye design that opened in 1989, says that in 1992, without enough members to remain viable, the course opened for limited outside play. The results, Smith says, were a mixed bag.
“We added a good number of public rounds, but you were walking a tightrope being semi-private,” he says. “We blocked out tee times for members, but it was hard to make everyone happy.”
That changed in December 2015 when Prestwick did away with memberships to go completely public. Now, Smith says, “we want to see as much outside play as possible.” Rounds were up in 2016, not just for tourists but also for Myrtle Beach locals.
“(Tourists) are easy to deal with, because they’re here to have fun, enjoy a golf trip,” Smith says. “And now, we can run specials, set our prices to compete in the Myrtle Beach market.”
Scott Olliges, head professional at Timberlake Country Club in Chapin, says a 2009 decision to go semi-private/public was “strictly financial. Even with 300-plus members, to support the golf course we had to have funds from the public.”
Timberlake drew acclaim during a financial crisis, when members were mowing and maintaining holes adjacent to their homes. A New York Times story detailing that brought attention to the lakeside course.
“Today, we have preferred tee times (for members), but also bookings for public play,” Olliges says. “The members understand it’s a business, and seeing that public play makes them happy now.”
The opening up of Prestwick, Timberlake (designed by Willard Byrd) and other previously private courses has given South Carolina even more excellent golf options. Prestwick is one of only three Dye courses on the Grand Strand, along with The Legends’ Moorland (P.B.) and the private Wachesaw Plantation, and that attracts players familiar with Dye’s signature design, The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island.
“We get a lot of compliments,” Smith says. “(Players) say, ‘Man, that’s a tough golf course – but I had a great time.’ And we have six sets of tees, so anyone can play it.”
Timberlake is the only golf course on Lake Murray, and “I think it’s the best for the money in the area,” Olliges says. With several holes on or featuring views of the lake, it’s a visual delight.
If you're looking to tee off at a private club that's now open to the public, check out this great list
Myrtle Beach/Grand Strand:
Prestwick Country Club, Myrtle Beach, 843.293.4100
The Dunes Golf & Beach Club, Myrtle Beach, 843.449.5914
Built by famed architect Robert Trent Jones in 1947, The Dunes is available to outside play by booking through partner hotels.
Timberlake Country Club, Chapin, 803.345.9909
Cobblestone Park Golf Course, Blythewood, 803.714.2620
Originally the private University Club with input from P.B. Dye, Cobblestone has 27 holes and is minutes off Interstate 77 at Exit 27.
Golden Hills Golf & Country Club, Lexington, 803.957.3355
Designed by Florida architect Ron Garl, this family-owned layout on US 378 features its signature par-4 10th hole, with a carry over water to the green.
Golf Club of SC at Crickentree, Blythewood, 803.754.8600
A bit removed from Columbia, this Ken Killian design is generally recognized as probably the Midlands’ most difficult and challenging public layout.
The Windermere Club, Blythewood, 803.785.7888
Another Pete/P.B. Dye design, with large elevation changes, the Midlands’ only bent-grass greens, and a par-5 finishing hole wrapping around Lake Windermere.
RiverTowne Country Club, Mount Pleasant, 843.849.2405
Once home to an LPGA tournament hosted by Hall of Famer player Annika Sorenstam, the Arnold Palmer design has plenty of Lowcountry hazards, including marshes and sand.
Mount Vintage Plantation Golf & Athletic Club, North Augusta, 803.279.5422
Another former host course for a short-lived LPGA tournament. Semi-private, its 27 holes were designed by Greenville architect Tom Jackson.
Old 96 District:
Built as amenities to this Savannah River resort/community, the two courses offer a combined two-night, three-round golf package with nearby Hickory Knob State Park Golf Course.
Olde English District:
Tega Cay Golf Club, Fort Mill, 803.548.2918
Originally a private club, it was purchased by the city of Fort Mill and operates as a daily-fee course.
Country Club of SC, Florence, 843.669.0920
This sprawling Ellis Maples design once hosted a Nike Tour (now Web.com Tour) tournament during its private days, but went to public-access because of financial considerations.
Cherokee Valley Golf Course, Travelers Rest, 864.895.6758
Originally named The Gauntlet, this P.B. Dye design offers sweeping mountain views and huge terrain features.
Cobb’s Glen Country Club, Anderson, 864.226.7688
Built by (and named for) architect George Cobb in 1976, this community country club is a favorite in the Anderson area, with old-grown forests and a strong par-4, over-water finishing hole.