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Charleston National CC is a Rees Jones Diamond in Mount Pleasant, S.C.
The coolest thing about playing golf as a daily-fee golfer at Charleston National Country Club in Mount Pleasant, S.C., is that it was never supposed to happen that way.
The 2nd Hole at Charleston National CC
You see, Charleston National was originally conceived as an exclusive "National" club along the lines of the famed Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia. An airport was even built not far from the club that would welcome members on a private runway. Rees Jones was hired to transition his drawings onto hundreds of acres of pristine lowland, full of marshes, flora and fauna about 20 miles from the city of Charleston.
The course was pretty much built when plans were altered dramatically after Hurricane Hugo roared into the area in 1986 and totally altered the landscape, tearing down thousands of beautiful, old live oaks draped in Spanish moss. The original two dozen or so members, their product damaged and changed, began to withdraw and the developers decided to switch gears and make the club a public one, while building attractive homes on much of the rest of the property.
We, the paying public, are left with one heck of a course, the routing of which was only slightly altered and its clubhouse moved inland and off the ocean where it was originally sited, as was the proposed finishing hole. The changes left most of Jones' layout in place. So, it has become our treat to play the once-private-now-public Charleston National, which costs only $50 or $60 for 18 holes during the week and slightly more on weekends.
The course was carved out of property near the Intracoastal Waterway, through natural wetlands and lagoons and a forest with pine and oak. The result is a championship-caliber golf course with some of the best views on the Southeastern coast.
Charleston National, which was voted the No. 1 non-resort golf course in the Charleston area by Golf Magazine, is the only nearby Rees Jones design open to the public. The par-72 layout stretches just over 7,100 yards from the tips, and there are five sets of tees to accommodate all playing levels.
The greens are undulating, as befitting a private course, although they're kept on the slower side to accommodate all public golfers. A number of wooden bridges are strategically placed to carry players over the natural areas. Go slow and you may see egrets, blue herons, alligators and other wildlife floating or crawling by as you pass. The finishing holes at Charleston National are among the prettiest in the region.
Charleston National Country Club
The first time I played Charleston National, ironically on a cold day in February (well, cold by South Carolina standards), I fell in love with the place. Playing 18 holes is like hitting golf shots in a Lowcountry nature preserve. The holes stand apart from one another (sometimes way apart) and there is immense solitude to be found, especially on the back nine on quiet days. "Hugo" left enough old oaks and other trees to frame some of the holes, mostly on the outward nine.
Jones crafted a course that is challenging from the back markers but very approachable from one or two tees down. There are quite a few forced carries, mostly over marshes, but none that will cause you to shake and shiver. The par-3s here are all superb, starting with the seventh, a 218-yarder and ending with the 188-yard 18th. That the finisher is a par-3 is a bit odd, but that's because the owners flopped the nines several years ago for pace-of-play purposes and to allow players to stop by the clubhouse at the turn.
All the short holes demand shots over marshlands, which are in abundance at Charleston National. But if you play the right tees you'll be hitting nothing more than a mid-iron and sometimes a short-iron into the large and receptive putting surfaces.
One of the Many Water Hazards at Charleston National
One of my favorite holes is the fourth, a 360-yard par-4 that plays towards a bay that's visible as you near the green. There's a pond on the left side and large homes hug the water's edge, with mounding on the right. The sixth is a perfect example of a good, short par-4. It plays 360 yards from the tips but only around 300 yards from the next two sets of tees, and a good drive leaves me with a short-iron or wedge into a small green guarded by a tree on the right and marsh front and left.
The 12th is perhaps the most daunting hole on the course. My tee shot always favors the right side of the fairway to avoid bunkers and marsh on the left. Do that and you are left with a choice to either lay-up to around the 150-yard mark, or try and carry a marsh to shorten the hole. But because the fairway landing area beyond is rather small, my play is to lay-up short for a mid-iron into the green, which is elevated and guarded by deep bunkers. Par here feels like a birdie, and I've only made a few of the former but have managed remove a big number out of the equation.
As mentioned above, the back nine is, I believe, the best side in the area, and that includes some real fine golf courses. The views are magnificent and there isn't a weak hole, save for perhaps No. 17, which measures 438 yards but is rather boring in that it is straight and has no real distinctive features to it, except for some bunkering and a large, deep and sloping green. It almost feels that Jones fit this one into the layout, but I'm quibbling because the rest of the holes are so darn good.
I must mention the 16th, another sweet risk/reward hole. It plays only 325 yards from the back markers and again offers eye-candy views of the marshes and some magnificent homes located about a wedge shot away from the tee. The safe play is to lay a 5-wood or long-iron out onto the fairway and have a 9-iron in your hands for the second shot. But I always pull driver, take it over the left side of this dogleg-left and try to shorten the hole into a chip shot. It isn't out of the question for big hitters to reach the green, especially from the tees one down from the tips. But again, there are woods to the left and marshes right, left and long of the small putting surface, so you'd better be accurate.
The conditioning at Charleston National is very good. It must be challenging for the superintendent and his staff to care for a course surrounded by nature that would love to turn the land back into what is once was, one of the most stunning pieces of real estate in Mount Pleasant.
Give Charleston National Country Club a try; you'll come back for more. For additional information, visit www.charlestonnationalgolf.com.
John Torsiello is an editor/writer living in Connecticut. He has written extensively about all aspects of the golf industry for a number of national and regional publications. He is a regular contributor to "Golf Course Industry," "Lawn and Landscape," "Golfing" and "Fairway Living" magazines as well as various online publications. He has strong, ongoing relationships with industry professionals and has worked closely with course owners, architects, developers, course superintendents and general managers around the country. He has won a number of awards for his writing, including first place from the Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association for a piece that appeared in "Golf Course Industry" magazine.