May River a Hidden Gem
Sometimes we play these hard-to-get-on courses for a fee. Sometimes we are extended the courtesy of the course. Sometimes we are expected to write or talk about these golf courses. Sometimes the people who run them are just happy that we found the time to stop by.
Thanks to my job, I have been able to play at Bandon Dunes before the clubhouse was completed. And I have played Augusta National as part of the media lottery allowed on the course the day after the Masters. Both provided great memories.
But there is nothing quite like finding a new golf course that isnt so much well-known as Bandon has come to be and Augusta National always has been. On my way back to my home base of Orlando from the U.S. Womens Open at Pine Needles earlier this week I found one of these hidden gems.
It is rare, in this marketing day and age, to discover a golf course that has clearly paid attention to the important details (regardless of how expensive those details may be) that isnt shouting to the golf world how high up it ought to be on this list or that.
Our ownership is not searching for accolades, says Charlie Kent, the genial Director of Golf at the May River Golf Club near Bluffton, South Carolina. Were not trying to get on lists.
As a result, May River, a classic Lowcountry design framed by palmettos and mature live oaks hung with Spanish moss, isnt overrun by course raters and travel writers.
May River serves as the home course for a high-end community, still developing, just far enough from the occasionally madding crowds of Hilton Head Island. The 20,000 acre sea island known as Palmetto Bluff extends from the headwaters of the May River near the town of Bluffton. It skirts Bull and Daufuskie Islands via the Cooper River to its east, and gives way finally to the ancient freshwater rice fields along its western edge.
Its written history dates all the way back to 1524 when a French expedition, led by Jean Ribaut, came upon a large group of Native Americans living off the land.
If you Google Palmetto Bluff and/or May River, you will find a fair share of magazine and newspaper pieces on the golf course. But its still mostly word of mouth.
If you stay at Palmetto Bluff, you will pay dearly for your lodging; you will get around the property on bicycles supplied to every cottage; and you will have access to May River, a Jack Nicklaus design that meanders gracefully through the environmentally-protected freshwater wetlands that eventually lead out to the Calibogue Sound.
From the tips, May River stretches to 7,171 yards. But it plays longer because of the Lowcountry humidity and the delightfully golfer-friendly paspalum grasses that dont bake out; which means May River rarely plays hard and fast. The course rating from the back tees is 75.4 with a slope of 140. There are three other tee boxes with 18-hole lengths of 6,623 yards, 6,103 yards and 5,223.
In short, anybody can play May River'as long as you are either a member of the club or a guest at the adjoining Inn at Palmetto Bluff. Once you qualify on one of those two scores, procuring a tee time will not be a problem. Kent reports that May River did 6,100 rounds in 2006 and is anticipating 7,000 in 2007.
May River isnt a complete secret. The USGA has visited. And, sources say, there could be a U.S. Junior Amateur or another smaller field USGA event in May Rivers future.
Palmetto Bluff is an Auberge Resort, an outfit that doesnt cut corners on amenities. There is a small but beautiful spa at the Inn. And there is fine dining; a terrific fitness center; a gourmet corner market and a post office. There is also a real estate office in case you want to buy property.
If you have a 1 p.m. tee time, you can probably go off at 12:30, if youre running early, or 1:30, if youre running late. There is an over-all unhurriedness about the place that makes it hard to leave. There is also a full range (stocked with new Pro V1s) and a short-game practice area at the back of the practice facility that is state-of-the-art.
May River has caddies and/or forecaddies. And my round, played with my wife as partner, took three hours. It felt like two. We wished it had been four. Our forecaddie, Ricky, was knowledgeable, friendly, competent and indigenous.
The par-3s are all the kind of scenic Lowcountry short holes you come to expect of this part of the world. The 336-yard (from the back tees) par-4 seventh hole is the kind of demanding short par-4 that Nicklaus has increasingly incorporated into all his recent courses. The back nine features three par-3s, three-par 4s and three par-5s.
May River is typically Nicklausian in that it offers the player room off the tee and tightens your options as you get closer to the green. Another course at Palmetto Bluff, to be designed by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, is in the planning stages.
If you get the chance, play this golf course. If you are a golf course designer, please visit May River and study what Nicklaus and nature did in this quiet and unspoiled part of the world. They have gotten it quite right.
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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi
What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.
Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.
McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.
He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.
McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65).
Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds.
“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”
Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder
Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.
Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials phoned Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.
Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:
Filling in tomorrow for Corey Pavin that WD today @cbgolfchallenge I do things like this a lot to help events and asking for sponsors exemptions here but didn't get any help.— Ken Duke (@DukePGA) January 18, 2018
Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.
Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.
Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix
KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.
The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.
Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.
Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.
Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.
Rahm (62) fires career low round
The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:
Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)
What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.
Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.
Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.
Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.
Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.
Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.
Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm