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.
Email your thoughts to Brian Hewitt
What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm
Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:
Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red
Ball: TaylorMade TP5x
Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff
Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.
While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.
Watching Andrew Landry and Jon Rahm in playoff. Walking off tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me ? Talking at all. ?— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.
0 words— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The issue is I don’t want to make you a bit relaxed or comfortable. High pressure, good.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you watch the end of the NFL games yesterday ? Enough said.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
I didn’t say you couldn’t be friends and competitive. But in a playoff, 1 tiny mistake and you lose, and that devastated me. Friends before and after, competitors during play.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you win ? It’s all about surviving the competition to test yourself.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.
Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over
The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.
As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.
Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.
And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.
And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.
McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.
The Ryder Cup topped his list.
Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.
When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.
“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”
McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.
Or similar assertions from TV analysts.
“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”
European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.
And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.
The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.
Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.
And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.
Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.
The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.
The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.
More bulletin board material, too.
Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.
Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions
Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.
The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.
It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.
The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.
“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”
Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.