Beyond the Grand Strand: A low-key lifestyle attracts golfers to the South Carolina Lowcountry

By Travel ArticlesJanuary 2, 2013, 5:00 am

BLUFFTON, S.C. -- The Lowcountry might as well be called the 'low key country,' too.

Simply defined, the Lowcountry stretches along the southern coast of South Carolina and its sea islands. There's a cultural ethos associated with this beautiful place that says life should be taken a little slower, so as to stop and enjoy the natural surroundings. The marshes, streams, ponds and inlets that connect to the Atlantic Ocean are teeming with wildlife, especially birds and alligators.

The golf courses and residential and commercial developments tend to be more thoughtful and less intrusive. It's a big reason why the region is so packed with transplants, tourists and golfers.

Bo Madeo recently moved to Hilton Head Island from New York to chase life on the mini-tours.

'I love it down here,' he said, in between hitting balls on the range at the Golf Club at Hilton Head Lakes. 'It's a great place. Florida, it just feels like it's just golf course after course stuck in the middle of concrete. This has a more natural feel to it.'

The Lowcountry vs. the Grand Strand

That natural feel is probably the major difference between the Lowcountry and the Grand Strand to the north, a golf mecca that stretches north from Pawleys Island roughly 90 miles.

Myrtle Beach boasts more golf courses than the Lowcountry, but it's a tough argument as to which destination is better. For the record, Golf Digest recently ranked two Lowcountry destinations -- Charleston/Kiawah Island (No. 6) and Hilton Head Island/Savannah, Ga. (No. 9) -- among the top 10 'buddies-trips' in its January edition, while North Myrtle Beach (No. 25) and the southern edge of Myrtle Beach (tied for No. 26) sat further down the list.

The deciding factor for most is simple: If you want a relaxing vacation, come to the Lowcountry. If you want a hair-razing adventure filled with gentlemen's club, bars and families with small children invading the beach, then go to the honkey-tonk sections of Myrtle Beach.

Much of Bluffton's development is built hidden from Fording Island Road (also known as Highway 278), so much so, it takes a trip or two to figure out how to find the best restaurants and hang-out spots.

The top public golf courses in the Lowcountry -- Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head Island and May River Golf Club at the Inn at Palmetto Bluff in Bluffton (along with Kiawah Island Golf Resort near Charleston) -- can certainly hang with the best of Myrtle Beach.

The Grand Strand may boast a better secondary supporting cast, but Bluffton's lineup of Eagle's Pointe Golf Club, Crescent Pointe Golf Club, Hilton Head National Golf Club and Old South Golf Links is strong, too.

It's also worth mentioning all these courses are so convenient to one another, whereas chasing down Myrtle Beach-area courses, depending on how particular you are, can require some driving.

Explore the beauty of the Lowcountry through golf

Oldfield Golf Club, a private club in Okatie that allows some public play, and Sanctuary Golf Club on Cat Island near Beaufort are probably the two most scenic and serene of the Lowcountry offerings outside of the more expensive resort courses of Hilton Head Island and Kiawah Island. They perfectly illustrate why golfers love playing the Lowcountry.

Sanctuary's 16th green and 17th tee box sit as small islands of exposed land jutting out into water and marshland.

'If there is a better view from 16 to 17, I don't know where it is. Looking out at the water is unbelievable,' Sanctuary Head Professional Joe Matheny said. 'If you come (to the Lowcountry) for laid-back golf, this is the place.'

Oldfield was the first real estate development to earn Audubon International's Neighborhood for Nature Award. Its Greg Norman-designed course, designated as a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary in 2002, flirts with the Okatie River and wetlands, creating unforgettable risk-reward holes. The 12th hole might be the best short par-4 hole in South Carolina.

'I can't remember a round where I haven't seen an osprey or an eagle dive into the water and pull out a fish,' Oldfield Head Professional Jon Hundley said. 'There's a baby fox on the back nine that likes to come out. The nature is just unbelievable. Everything we do to the course is environmentally friendly.'

It's that nature-first mentality that endears people to the Lowcountry.

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Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.

Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.

Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

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.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

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.”