Chechessee Creek Club
South Carolina, USA
Eighth hole, 440 yards; Though scenic, the four holes that conclude the front nine comprise the course’s toughest stretch and this hole is the most heavily bunkered two shotter on the course. Unless a good tee ball is away, a pair of cross bunkers that angle across the fairway fifty yards shy of the green become problematic. Even though six, eight and nine are all burly two shotters, they bear little resemblance to one another. Creating such variety over flat land is no small feat. Better yet, they each play markedly different from one another, in part due to how they head in different directions (key when the coastal winds kick up).
Ninth hole, 465 yards; A welcome return to 40+ yard wide fairways and multiple playing angles was already under way at the high end of course design when Chechessee Creek opened in 2000. Now, 16 years on, the pendulum may have swung too far. Senselessly wide fairways to dullish greens make for a bomber’s delight while disadvantaging all but the most powerful. The beauty of Chechessee Creek is its proportionality; everything is sized right for the task at hand which frequently varies. A wisp of a two shotter like the first features the course’s smallest green while the brutishly long one shot sixteenth features the largest green at two and half times the size. So it is here, at the ninth, which is the longest two shotter on the course. Not surprisingly, the fairway is the widest on the course, 56 paces across and the putting surface is the second biggest target on the course at nearly 8,700 square feet. After the tee ball passes a distinctive bent pine tree off the tee, the beauty of the hole reveals itself.
Eleventh hole, 210 yards; When the golfer first glances at the scorecard and sees a 6,640 yard course, he may think that the need for long iron shots will be infrequent – and he would be wrong. As six of the two shooters are longer than 400 yards and three of the one shotters longer than 190 yards, the golfer’s long iron game gets a work out, even in still conditions. Newell has concluded that ‘… the strength of the course lies in the five Par 3s. We have a great assortment ranging from 164 to 244 yards. In 2003, Chechessee Creek hosted the Carolinas Amateur featuring many of the best players in North and South Carolina. In relation to par, three of the four hardest holes were par 3s, including the eleventh. If you play the threes well, you will have a good round.’ The tension on this hole is created by the dominant front left bunker and the tilt of the green toward it.
Twelfth hole, 340 yards; Courses built 90 years ago rarely featured numerous forced carries and this is the sole one of any meaningful distance (the one on the fifteenth is less than 60 yards). Without a doubt, the wedge approach is the trickier of the two shots for the better player. This green is the only one that is wider than it is deep and features a bunker that eats into its middle, creating a bit of a boomerang. When the hole is located directly behind the bunker, the golfer is wise to use the green’s contours as a back stop. Disher appreciates how the green ‘… creates some very strange situations. I have seen an approach from the right of the fairway to a hole cut on the left wing played by directing the shot to the right wing and having the ball release in a semi-circle around the bunker. I love fun greens like this.’
Thirteenth hole, 165 yards; Though one should rarely if ever lose a ball here, playing to one’s handicap remains quite the task. In many ways, the thirteenth epitomizes the challenge: Within reach of all skill sets, the target (i.e. the green) is elusive to find and if missed, three additional shots are more likely than two. As seen below in the early morning light, the green is wide in the front and narrows as it swings right and falls away. Jeff Bradley, who normally sticks to bunkers, deserves much of the credit for this vexing green complex.
Fourteenth hole, 405 yards; Risk-reward decisions abound off the tee. The golfer who hits it around 230 yards generally finds the wider portion of the fairway while the golfer intent on hitting it 275 yards is often required to shape the ball into a narrower neck. Both skill sets have equal fun playing the course.
Fifteenth hole, 600 yards; The use of the wetland immediately off the tee is telling: rather than place a green on the far side, Coore & Crenshaw placed the tee on the near side, making the short carry from a perfect lie of the tee a non-event. Countless modern courses in South Carolina have greens bordered by wetlands, from which there is no recovery. The concept of finishing a round at Chechessee with the same ball that one started is part of the fun and greatly differentiates it from most coastal courses. Also worth noting is how the identification of two specimen trees led to the hole’s ultimate creation – and length. 150 yards shy of the green on the right is a low-lying live oak with a base greater than 60 inches. Another mighty one is by the green. If the golfer takes on the first live oak and the enormous bunker just past it, he is rewarded with a clean look down the length of the green. If he doesn’t rub past the first live oak, the second farther ahead on the left increasingly inserts itself into the field of play.
Sixteenth hole, 245 yards; Of all the famous holes in the world, the author’s least favorite is the sixteenth at Carnoustie Golf Links. At 245 yards, he likes the half par distance but Carnoustie’s is a bore because it is bunkered tightly left and right. Only one type shot will do and little thought is required. Conversely, the sixteenth at Chechessee is the same appealingly awkward length but the golfer is free to play it any number of ways. Notable features of the green complex include the interaction between the bunker thirty yards short right of the green and the pair of five foot deep left greenside bunkers, how the green’s open front allows for a running shot, and the large tightly mown area right. At well over 10,000 square feet, the green fits the ask from the tee, though it certainly elicits plenty of three putt bogeys.
Seventeenth hole, 335 yards; Pete Dye preaches about angles. Bill Coore, who once worked for Dye, perfects the notion of multiple playing angles here at the seventeenth. This two shotter encourages bold play off the tee, goading the player toward the direct route, which requires a 255 yard carry over wetland and a pair of bunkers. Alternatively, the golfer can aim left and take less risk, albeit leaving himself a longer approach from a disadvantaged angle. A wonderful penultimate hole, the course’s shortest two shotter represents a fine change of pace among the long fifteenth, sixteenth, and eighteenth holes.
It is worth reiterating that trees play a more fundamental role in defining the character of the golf here than at any other Coore & Crenshaw course profiled on this website: the lone pine in the fifth fairway, the crooked pine 200 yards off the ninth tee, the trees tight down the right of the twelfth, the pine protruding into the fourteenth fairway, the live oaks on the fifteenth, the lone pine on the seventeenth, and a nest of trees on the inside of the dogleg eighteenth are but a few examples. They had no such options at Sand Hills but the use of select trees is a good example of Coore & Crenshaw adapting their style to take advantage of a site’s natural attributes.
The ability of trees to enchant is also what lead the clubhouse to be placed where it is opposed to along the marsh behind the tenth green. Sue Coore (Bill’s wife) was convinced of the merits of today’s location, which was a relief to Bill as logistical issues loomed if the clubhouse was hemmed-in along the marsh. With the clubhouse inland, a seamless integration soon occurred for the parking, lodging, clubhouse, practice field, and returning nines. The flow is wonderful.
In many respects, the clubhouse sets the tone for the entire experience. Discretion carries the day. This is most assuredly not a golf factory; those interested in pomp and circumstance should look elsewhere. At Chechessee Creek, the game is put on the pedestal and traditionalists appreciate just how alluring it can be. True, there are no five at Royal Portrush or eleven at Ballybunion moments here; the topography doesn’t lend itself for such. Yet, the combination of all the components and the immaculate attention to detail that the new ownership has brought yields a deeply satisfying experience.
Coore & Crenshaw delivered what golfers want – a thinking experience for all level players. Refinements now in place enable what The Old Course has long illustrated: the best contours for golf are often only two to five feet. The course plays better and is better-suited to its membership than it has ever been. Word is out and golfers have noticed. Memberships have surged to the point where the club is approaching nearly 400 members, the most it has ever had. Proctor’s desire for the club to enjoy a low key vibrancy during the primary playing season of October through April has come true. It’s nice in this day and age of ‘loud’ that something restrained is still appreciated – and there to be savored.