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Waterford Golf Club

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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For Dean Sigmon, one of the most hauntingly beautiful experiences at Waterford Golf Club came during a fall golf tournament at the Rock Hill course - one that, for a while, was in danger of being delayed.

"We're kind of in a fog basin here," Sigmon, the course's head professional and general manager since 2007, says. "Early in the morning, when the stuff starts rolling in, you almost get the feeling of being in San Francisco."

On this particular day, organizers of the morning shotgun-start event had a bagpiper on hand, walking toward the clubhouse from the ninth green through thick fog. "You heard the music, but you couldn't see him until he was almost in the parking lot," Sigmon says.

Add Waterford's rolling terrain and thick pine forests, and the effect is complete. It all makes for a beautiful backdrop to a challenging but delightful golf experience.

"There are some houses (along the course) but they don't intrude," Sigmon says. "It's sort of a combination of links golf," with undulating fairways, strategic mounding and multi-tiered greens, "and a Pinehurst feel with the tall trees."

Opened in 1999 off Rock Hill's Dave Lyle Boulevard near the Rock Hill Galleria, Waterford is a perfect mix of seeming isolation and easy access (five minutes) from Interstate 77. Sigmon says that, in addition to being part of the thriving Charlotte-area golf scene, the public-access course gets 75 percent of its traffic from visitors vs. 25 percent members and has become a regular stop for tourists en route south.

"We seem to get a lot of traffic in the spring and fall from Ohio and West Virginia," he says. "We've become a stop on their journeys to Santee, Hilton Head, Charleston, even Myrtle Beach."

No wonder. With bargain weekday senior rates and regular online discounts, Waterford not only is affordable but offers terrific value. You'd expect that from a course with three-time U.S. Open winner Hale Irwin's name on it.

Irwin, whose ties to South Carolina include three victories at the RBC Heritage, not only has his picture adorning a small "shrine" in the Waterford pro shop, but also has left stories for regulars to tell. Sigmon's favorite dates from the club's grand opening.

"They tell me (Irwin) was moving from group to group that day, playing with everyone," Sigmon says. "He got to No. 13" - perhaps the most dramatic hole, a dogleg-left par-4 requiring a tee shot to an elevated landing area, then a mid-iron into a severely sloped green perched on a hillside above a large bunker - "and the players told him that they thought the hole was too tough.

"So Hale hits the fairway with his tee shot and says, ‘Not so hard.' Then he fires an 8-iron into the hole (for eagle), turns to the group and says, ‘No, not too hard at all.'"

Visually, the 13th is a fan favorite - and one of some five holes demanding blind tee shots. At the fourth hole, players are asked to ring a bell alongside the cart path to let the next group know they've moved to the green.

Waterford is a course where local knowledge helps a lot, but Sigmon offers a simple strategy for newcomers. "I tell them, ‘Look at the 150 (-yard posts) and pick a club to hit to there," he says.

Even after five years, though, Sigmon says the par-5 16th - with its blind tee shot, then a dogleg left downhill to a mounded green partly hidden behind a large mound - "still gives me fits. "The tee shot sets up for a draw, but I always have trouble off the tee. And the second shot is treacherous."

That goes for the tee shot at the par-4 third hole, through a narrow gap in the trees. And the tee shot at No. 4, which doglegs slightly right and downhill to a bunker-guarded green. And the sweeping par-5 14th, with its dogleg right around a hillside and down to a water-guarded green. And ... well, you get the idea.

And then there are the greens, converted from bent grass to Bermuda in 2010 but still diabolically quick and subtly sloped. Once hostage to summer heat, Waterford's greens now are fast and smooth year-round.

Whether you're headed to Charlotte for business or passing through Rock Hill via I-77, Waterford is easy to get to and fun to play. Tough but, as Irwin might say, not too hard at all. For information and/or tee times, call (803) 324-0300.

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.