Yeamans Hall Club
South Carolina, United States of America

Raynor’s restored classic architectural features mix with unsurpassed lowcountry charm to provide one of the game’s most splendid experiences.

Mozart and Haydn wrote symphonies in three movements and many Golden Age courses have played out over three ‘movements’ as well. There is the beginning in the Roaring 1920s when the architecture expressed a flamboyance that matched the country’s mood. Then a lengthy slow period, started by the Great Depression, followed by World War II and then perpetuated by a general malaise and lack of understanding by clubs as to what they possessed. Sixty years passed from the Great Depression until a renewed interest in classic golf course architecture emerged and restorations took place that returned enjoyment to their respective designs.

As for symphonies, Beethoven elevated the art form and he standardized on four movements. Mozart’s 41st symphony is considered his finest effort and it too has four movements. Regarding golf, 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. The restoration itself can be broken into two movements and as such, the evolution of Yeamans Hall can be viewed in four distinct movements.

The founding of the Club was the first, which happened to be by New Yorkers. They acquired a 1,000+ acre tract of land ten miles outside Charleston that had been a working plantation in the 1700s under Lord and Lady Yeamans. They contacted Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.,  who visited the property in 1915. World War I intervened but the parcel had clear appeal. Two sides were bordered by a broad savannah while the interior of the property rose some forty feet above sea level and featured an uncommon amount of topography for an area with the word ‘low’ in it. High season at this winter retreat would be November through April, which dovetailed nicely with a good time to be removed from the Northeast. Certainly, the original members appreciated the shorter train ride than those that pressed on to Florida.

Even though Donald Ross visited the property, Seth Raynor was ultimately hired and work began in 1923. The course opened in the fall of 1925 and Raynor was on hand in October that year, fully satisfied with the end result. The project enjoyed the talents of William Nugent, the Superintendent of Greens Construction for other Raynor’s projects. On a sad note, Raynor passed away at the early age of 51 years old, just a few months after having seen the completed Yeamans Hall.

The best way to describe the course that Raynor saw before his passing is ‘feature rich.’ Nearly half the holes move up and down over fifteen feet. Unlike Yale which is a sturdy walk, Yeamans is a walker’s dream and rare is the man who stops after playing a mere eighteen holes. As the land wasn’t hilly, Raynor was free to place hazards where they would lend the most value. More than 105 bunkers populated the course the day it opened, an impressive tally even for Raynor. And they weren’t small either. There was the 51 yard long one that patrols right of the Road Hole green and plenty of others longer than 30 yards too.

As for the ultimate targets, the rolling greens averaged over 8,000 square feet and were full of every famous feature that Raynor’s mentor, C.B. Macdonald, loved in Scotland. To boot, a unique aspect here was the incorporation of some sort of a vertical spine in 1/3 of the greens, namely four, five, nine, thirteen, fifteen and sixteen. These spines are much more interesting than the conventional two tiered greens that gained favor in modern design after World War II.

What more could a golfer want from a design? Seclusion, combined with hazards directly in the line of play and compelling targets to which to hit. Alas, like with every other Golden Age course, the period from the Great Depression in 1929 through the 1980s weren’t kind. The second movement for Beethoven was frequently a slow one and so too it was for Yeamans. Raynor’s bunkering schemes and greens became compromised. Greens like the second, fifth, seventh, and sixteenth shrunk by more than half with the once large, boldly contoured putting surfaces becoming bland circles. False fronts to greens like those at the fourth, eleventh and fifteenth, which encourage run-up shots, were lost. Rather than having the putting surface flush to the edge of Raynor’s infamously deep bunkers, the greens in some instances had pulled back twenty (!) paces. In addition, the strategic merit of Raynor’s fairway bunkering faded as they were either grassed in or removed altogether.

Note how the front left bunker was detached from the green and irrelevant to play in 1995.

Now for the third movement. Beginning in the late 1980s, the Club began to reverse the neglect that the course had suffered. First, a past Green Chairman, Henry Terrie, created the ‘Friends of Seth Raynor Society.’ This entailed a donation of $50 per member per year in an effort to raise a little money for restoring one or two Raynor features each year. Over the next several years, this action led to restoring the thirteenth 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 found the appropriate professional architect to oversee the project. They had no interest in hiring a name ‘architect’ with little experience with Raynor designs – they were result oriented. In Renaissance Golf Design and Tom Doak, the Club found an architect who understood Raynor’s work and came highly recommended from his restoration work at Camargo, a Raynor gem outside of Cincinnati. The Club’s insight proved wise as Doak’s team later went on to work at Chicago Golf Club and Shoreacres as well as create Old Macdonald at the Bandon Resort.

Doak and his men, in particular Jim Urbina, went to work in May 1998, and the greens were – remarkably – back in play by September of that same year. The greens were restored to 140,000 square feet from 80,000 square feet, a stunning 75% increase in size! Jim Yonce was the Greenkeeper at the time and took great pride in fostering Raynor design aspects throughout the course. Indeed, Yonce’s discovery of the original maps and survey equipment set the stage for so much that was to follow.

The end result was a superior set of greens with classic features including 90 degree corners, thumb print depressions, a Maiden green brought back to its full glory and a host of greens with interesting spines of the kind that Raynor was fond of building. 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. Take the third 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 or on either side of the horseshoe and the golfer looking for a level putt is afforded a much smaller  effective target. A seven foot deep bunker directly behind the green snares a slightly bold approach. Indeed, saving bogey from the back bunker to a short sided back hole location can be an accomplishment in itself.

At this point in its history, the author started to have the great fortune to see the course on an increasing basis. By 2010, I had concluded that the greens might well be the finest set in the country. In fact, I wrote in Doak’s Confidential Guide Volume 2 in 2015 that ‘There is no place I would rather play in the South.’ Such sentiment was prompted in part by the attention to detail with, for instance, short bunkers on the Redan and Eden being re-installed. The design seemed to be approaching flawless. Hindsight has shown how wrong I was, as perfection was saved for the fourth movement.

Even the Dragon’s Teeth were added back when the course was shut during the 2017 summer.

In the fall of 2015, an extratropical storm was unkind and then an additional two feet of rain were deposited in what amounted to a once in a generation event. Both the fairways and the putting surfaces were left in ruinous conditions, which was heartbreaking because much of the game here centers on the ground conditions. The task to right the ship fell on Brooks Riddle, who had become the Greenkeeper in May the prior year. He determined after performing several trials that the best plan was to convert their 419/Common bermudagrass fairways to the newer variety of Bermuda called Celebration. He notes, ‘We decided to use Celebration because of its ability to tolerate two of our biggest pests, Bermuda grass mites and nematodes. One of the issues we had with our old fairways was the inconsistent playing conditions presented by Common Bermuda because it lost its leaves in the winter time, creating areas where golfers would hit their ball off dirt. The Celebration Bermuda proved through our trials to maintain a very tight, thick canopy during the winter time, enhancing the firm and fast playing conditions which best define Yeamans Hall.’

As part of the re-grassing the entire course in summer 2017, strict attention was paid to recreating the size of the playing corridors and playing angles that existed in Raynor’s day. Nearly eight acres worth of fairway were gained, much of it by moving fairway lines outside of fairway bunkers. Huge beneficiaries were the fairways at the fifth, seventh, tenth, twelfth, seventeenth, and eighteenth. As the course presently stands, a positively stunning 35 bunkers are primarily surrounded by fairway. The author knows of no other course with so many central hazards in the United States. Without question, Yeamans Hall is one of the most intelligently bunkered and presented courses in the country.

Jim Urbina, who became the Architect of Record in 2009, can’t believe his good fortune to have been associated with this restoration for twenty years. He says that patience has been the key. Nothing was ever hurried but every aspect of the design was under review. The reinstallation of central hazards that define certain template holes like the Bottle and Lido weren’t done simultaneously as such teeth-gnashing features  can upset the momentum of any project. The Bottle hole was tackled in 2007 and it wasn’t until the summer of 2017 that the central bunkers at the Lido were brought back. How that would make George Bahto happy! He wrote in The Evangelist of Golf in 2002, ‘Sadly, it appears no unaltered difficult versions remain. Memberships unable to appreciate strategic excellence of design filled in most fairway bunkers – negating the design strategy.’

Another example that highlights what Urbina did in 2017 is the transformation of the Punchbowl seventeenth. It starts at the tee, which was returned to grade, a drop of some three feet. Urbina notes, ‘With the teeing grounds set at the right grade now, Raynor’s bunkers rise out of the ground and make the green site even more tantalizing.’ Ahead, a front left bunker was oddly found twelve yards prior to the green. It didn’t appear that way on Raynor’s plans and so the decision was made to push it flush to the green and in doing so, give the bunker wall appropriate height to help produce a proper Punchbowl green. This hole was already a fan favorite but almost to a person, the improvements here have come to symbolize the work accomplished over the summer of 2017.

The Punchbowl green complex has been made all the more appealing by the return of this high wall bunker tight to the green. It acts as an important counter to the wraparound bunker back right.

With the Celebration Bermuda on the fairways and Champion G12 on the greens, the course is at an elite level. Other than the Short and Alps holes, every green accepts a running shot and Riddle insures that the playing conditions exist to try such shots. Can one skip the ball back onto the top tier of the Plateau green? Can the golfer scoot his approach up the false front at the Bottle hole? 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 Riddle provides.

Cumulatively, the holes share a characteristic – to lose a golf ball brings shame on one’s family. Along with Pinehurst No.2, this is one of the few top shelf courses in world golf where a member conceivably could play with a single sleeve of golf balls for an entire year. The walk is uninterrupted by the ugliness of searching for balls – the magnificent live oak trees draped with Spanish moss and other natural surroundings which frame the fairways enabled Raynor to design 80-90 yard wide corridors in which the game, and the physical environment, may be enjoyed.

The elegant clubhouse is cloaked in a copse of live oaks. Though it is located on a high point, the golfer only sees it on the 1st tee and coming down the 18th fairway. Discretion carries the day at Yeamans Hall.

As noted below, all the classic Macdonald template holes are present. A few might be the best of their sort in the country (Plateau, Narrows, Knoll – long version) but what is more impressive to the author is that all of the templates would be in the top several of their class. From top to bottom, the holes at Yeamans Hall are of an exceptional standard. See if you don’t agree.

Holes to Note

First hole, 425 yards, Plateau; The newly expanded practice green and practice field are snug beside the first tee and the day’s opening drive is across a gentle valley to a 65 yard 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! Right away, the golfer is exposed to a key design tenet: there is a preferred section within the wide fairway from which to approach the green.

Though the 1st fairway is broad, the approach is better from the right as the Principal’s Nose bunker 70 yards shy of the green obscures views from the left.

The course’s most convoluted green is the 10,890 square foot Plateau found at the 1st. The right side accepts a running shot while the left half sweeps up from the fairway to the first plateau. The golfer above witnessed his approach land several paces onto the green only to have it unceremoniously shunted back well into fairway. The day’s hole location is on the back plateau, which is a prime example of how a large green can require great accuracy.

The rolls in the green suggest St. Andrews while the backdrop portends somewhere else.

The Principal’s Nose bunker is evident looking back down the 1st fairway. Obvious too is the day’s fun hole location in the trough between the two plateaus.

Second hole, 375 yards, Leven; With the second a perfect example of the benefit of restoring the greens to their original size, the wise golfer now inquires in the professional shop where the day’s hole location is as it makes a difference off the tee. This green tripled in size (!) from 1997 to 2017 and now stands at 9,468 square feet. 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 is ideal. 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. Raynor expert George Bahto suggests the fifth at Piping Rock built in 1912 was an early inspiration to Raynor for this type drive and pitch hole. It is a rare example of where bunkers on the outside of a dogleg work well strategically.

The graceful sweep of the 2nd fairway is made all the more intriguing by three bunkers encased by fairway on the outside of the dogleg paired with a deep left greenside bunker.

Compare this 2005 view of the approach to the 2nd green …

…with this view in 2017. The pines and magnolias are gone as a comforting backdrop and indeed, the flag is now seen on the distant 3rd green.

Third 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 Raynor’s plan for this hole. Indeed, Raynor also incorporated the same feature into his Short green at Yale Golf Club but sadly the feature has been gone from Yale’s fifth green for over five decades. The savannah behind the third green at Yeamans Hall makes depth perception difficult but such was not always the case. In Raynor’s day, a wall of trees acted as a backdrop but Hurricane Hugo changed that in 1989. Without doubt, Raynor would prefer today’s hole as the wind is much more of a factor.

The view from the tee of the Short hole with the tidal marsh as a backdrop.

Yeamans Hall is one of the few courses in the United States that warrants years of study. One aspect that the golfer learns through trial and error is where to miss the ball around the greens. In the case of the 3rd, the front bunker is half as deep …

… as the wrap-around bunker found back left.

The ‘bath tub’ or ‘thumb print’ indentation is to the left of this right center hole location.

Fourth hole, 495 yards, Bottle; The fourth and fifth holes move away from the savannah and play across a rare portion of the property that could be considered flat. Raynor didn’t have the option to continue the fourth along the savannah as that area was reserved for homes (which were never built thanks to the Great Depression). When faced with this flat section, Raynor didn’t undertake superfluous 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 fourth, the long central bunker that gives the hole its name was restored in 2007. The green is one of the finest 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.

There is no better example of the Club’s unflinching desire to restore all of Raynor’s design features than the reinsertion of the Bottle bunker smack in the middle of the fairway some 220 yards from the green.

As seen from the right rough, chasing a ball up the false front requires fine judgement and is a very satisfying shot to play.

The Club has done an excellent job of opening views of the savannah beyond the green …

…and nearby 5th tee.

Fifth hole, 420 yards, Alps; Donald Ross had a knack for looking at a topographic map and quickly deciphering high points for greens and tees and then cutting bunkers into up-slopes. Nature spoke and Ross listened with French Lick and Plainfield being thrilling examples. Yet, when given flat land, an architect’s hand is free. He can place his hazards and green wherever he so desires as he isn’t following nature’s lead. In fact, it is incumbent on the architect to lend such holes their golf quality. To understand why the author ranks Raynor among the top half dozen architects of all-time, look no further than this hole. The fairway is a minefield of bunkers and cops and lend this straightaway hole an inordinate amount of character. Raynor only built hazards where they mattered: directly in the line of play and this plays out time and time again at Yeamans Hall. Coupled with the seventeenth, the author has never seen two finer holes on flat land on one course and that speaks volumes as to how well Raynor (a mediocre player himself) understood the game.

Bunkers down the right and …

… cops along the left need to be avoided as one makes his way down the 5th fairway. Even so, it remains the world’s flatest Alps!

Unusual for a green built in the 1920s, access to the 5th green is completely walled off by a fronting bunker. When Yeamans opened for play in the days of hickory shaft clubs, the 5th measured 400 yards. The approach would have been with a long iron or even a wood, making the carry of the Alps bunker a daunting task.

Compare this black and white photo from 1995 to the one above and one readily gains a sense of just how far this design has come.

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