Yeamans Hall Club
Green Keeper: Jim Yonce
The ongoing transformation of Yeamans Hall that commenced in the late 1980s and continues to this day is one of the most remarkable ones in golf and deserves to be understood and appreciated.
For some 45 years after the end of World War II, this charming southern club allowed Seth Raynor‘s greens and bunkering schemes to become compromised. Greens like the 2nd, 5th, 7th and 16th shrunk by half or more from their original size with the once large, boldly contoured putting surfaces becoming small and bland. False fronts to greens like those at the 4th and 15th, which encourage run-up shots, were lost.Rather than having the putting surface right to the edge of Seth Raynor‘s famously deep bunkers, the greens had pulled back in some cases fifteen paces from what was supposed to be greenside bunkering. In addition, the strategic merit of Seth Raynor‘s bunkering faded as bunkers were either grassed in or removed altogether.
However, being in the late 1980s, the Club began to reverse the neglect that the course had suffered. First, a past Green Chairman created the ‘Friends of Seth Raynor.’ This entailed a donation of $50 per member per year per Friend in an effort to raise a little money for restoring one or two Seth Raynor features each year.Over the next several years, this action led to restoring the 13th green, which helped highlight the hidden potential that the course possessed. Eventually, a fund-raiser was conducted in 1996 to restore the remaining seventeen greens.
The Club then needed to find the appropriate professional architect to oversee the project. They had no interest in hiring a name ‘architect’ who had no experience with Seth Raynor designs – they were result oriented. In Tom Doak, the Club found an architect who understood Raynor’s work and came highly recommended from his restoration work at Camargo, a Seth Raynor gem outside of Cincinnati. Tom Doak and his men tore up the Yeaman Hall greens in May 1998, and the greenswere – remarkably – back in play by September of that same year.
The end result is asuperior set of greens with such unique features as 90 degree corners, horseshoe features within two of the putting surfaces, a Maiden green brought back to its full glory and a host of greens with interesting spines of the kind that Seth Raynor was fond of building (that is to say, the spine runs from back to front bisecting the green into left and right portions).
One result of having greens with such character is that the Club has tremendous latitude in how hard/easy they choose to set up the course for the day’s play. Take the 3rd hole for instance.If the hole is in the gathering horseshoe or just shy of it, birdie becomes realistic. However, put the hole just behind the horseshoe and the golfer looking for a level putt only has a shelf that is eight pacesdeep as an effective target. A seven foot deep bunker directly behind the green is sure to snare any slight bold approach. Indeed, getting down in three from the back bunker to a short sided back hole location can be anaccomplish in itself.
Par is a tight 70 and when the back hole locations are used on these large greens, the 6,600 yards reflected on the scorecard becomes more like 6,750 yards with several such back hole locations (e.g. back right on 10) being among the hardest on the course. In terms of relief, there isn’t much as there are only two three shot holes for the long hitters to try and beat up while there are eight 400+ yard two shotters.
As with Pasatiempo, the course plays longer than the yardage indicates since a number of the drives hit into up-slopes (especially the 7th and 14th) and the approach shots are often to Seth Raynor‘s trademark built up greens. The fact that the course falls over rolling terrain is highly unusual for the low country around Charleston and its topography gives Yeamans Hall a distinct advantage in the form of greater variety over the nearby Country Club of Charleston, which is predominately flat.
Almost all of Seth Raynor‘s trademark holes are present including a Double Plateau, Short, Bottle, Alps, Redan, Road, Long, Cape, Maiden, Eden, Raynor’s Prize Dogleg, Biarritz, and Punchbowl hole. Such a collection of holes certainly leads tovariety, with only the second shot to the par five 9th seemingly indifferent, a judgement which emphasises the truly outstanding feature of the course – every other shot on the course holds appeal.
Cumulatively, the holes share another characteristic – to lose a golf ball brings shame on one’s family. Along with Pinehurst No.2, this is one of the few great courses in the world where a member can confidently play with a single sleeve of golf balls foran entire year. The walk is uninterrupted by the ugliness of searching for balls – the magnificent live oak trees draped with Spanish moss and the azaleas form 60 yard wide corridors in which the game may be enjoyed.
In terms of how the course actually plays, Green Keeper Jim Yonce’s work is of exception. Along with Maidstone, Fishers Island, and Newport Country Club in Rhode Island, Yeamans Hall consistently enjoys the firmest playing conditions on the eastern seaboard of the United States. Though Yonce has been at Yeamans Hall for over twenty years, it wasn’t until the greens were restored to 144,000 square feet from 80,000 square feet in 1998 that he could showcase his true talent. Other than the Short and Alps holes, every green accepts a running shot and Yonce insures that the playing conditions will exist to try such shots. Can one skip the ball back on the top tier of the Double Plateau 1st green? Can the golfer run it up the false front at the 4th? Can he sling a hook down the Redan green? How about chase a ball up the bank of the Road Hole green? Etc., etc. These are the fun dilemmas that make golf at Yeamans so engaging for both the Tiger and the less accomplished player. Such wouldn’t be possible without the firm, uniform playing conditions that Yonce provides.
Holes to Note
1st hole, 425 yards, Double Plateau; The tee, putting green and practice field are beside oneother, a clear indication that the architect was not working with a cramped piece of property. The tee shot is across a gentle valley to a50 plusyard wide fairway that attractively flows to the right. The sunken dirt entrance road from the gatehouse crosses the fairway 130 yards short of the green. Naturally, golfers have the right of way at all times!
2nd hole, 355 yards; A perfect example of the benefit of restoring the greens to their original size,the golfer now needs to inquire in the pro shop where the hole location is for the day as it makes a difference off the tee. This green doubled in size(!) as a result of the work that Tom Doak carried out in 1998. Some fascinating hole locations were recovered, especially behind the left front bunker. When the hole is tucked there, the play from the tee is long right on this dogleg to the left. Conversely, if the hole location is middle or right, a hard running hook up the inside left of the fairway works best. Before the green restoration project, it mattered not a lick where one placed his tee ball as the green was a small, flat oval pad well removed from the left bunker – no angles were in play. Seth Raynor expert George Bahto suggests the 5th at Piping Rock built in 1912 was an early inspiration to Seth Raynor for this type drive and pitch hole.
3rd hole, 145 yards, Short; The horseshoe contour in the middle of the Short green must be seen to be believed but it is clearly marked on Seth Raynor‘s plan for this hole. Indeed, Seth Raynor also incorporated the samefeature intohis Short green at Yale Golf Club but sadlythe feature has been gone fromYale’s 5th green for over four decades now.The savannah behind the 3rd green at Yeamans Hall makes depth perception difficult but such was not always the case. In Seth Raynor‘s day, a wall of trees acted asa backdrop but Hurricane Hugo changed that in 1988. Without doubt, Seth Raynor would prefer today’s hole as the wind is much more of a factor.
4th hole, 440 yards, Bottle; The4th and 5thholes move away from the savannah and play acrossa rareportion of the property that could be considered flat. Seth Raynor didn’t have the option to continue the 4th along the savannah as that area was reserved for home sites (whichwere never built). When faced with this flat section, Seth Raynor didn’t undertake silly wall to wall shaping from tee to green to liven matters but instead concentrated on central hazards and the green complexes. In the case of the 4th, the long central bunker that was once 220 yards from the green is the sole remaining bunker of import that has not been restored. As a consequence, to refer to this hole as a Bottle design is presently misleading. Fortunately, though, the green up ahead is one of thefinest on the course with an attractive false front that is the devil to negotiate. The small spine down the middle of the green adds to the golfer’s worries.
5th hole, 420 yards, Alps; Yeamans Hall was built at the end of Seth Raynor‘s career and indeed, Seth Raynor died before the course opened for play. By 1925, though, Seth Raynor had already heard the complaints froma number of memberships about the blind aspect of his Alps holes to the point where here at Yeamans Hall, he merely put in the front Alps bunker and didn’t bother with the blind aspect of a conventional Alps. Still, the central hazards in the forms of cops and bunkers between the tee and green create plenty of playing interest for this flat hole just as the Bottle bunker configuration originally didat the 4th.