The Nicklaus golf course at Colleton River Plantation Club in Bluffton gets better as you go
BLUFFTON, S.C. -- The Golden Bear was gentle with the land on which his Nicklaus course at Colleton River Plantation Club was laid.
Many of the holes are straight between rows of live oaks, the fairways rising and falling over small swales. The par 3s arise from the marsh, requiring a confident swing.
The par 4s either feature bunkers strategically placed for your drive or approach or a lone tree to block one side or the other. The variety is refreshing, and it extends to the greens. Sometimes Nicklaus created bunker complexes, but nearly as often he resorted to buzzed cutaways on the sides to pull your errant shots into collection areas. Some greens are sloped, some undulating, some with "buried elephants" you have to go up and over.
"The Nicklaus course has some forced carries," said Assistant Professional Logan Scott. "It requires more course management. The large tifeagle greens don't have severe slopes and undulations and the breaks react as expected."
There is a lot of data squeezed on the scorecard, from the jaw-dropping six tees ranging from the Nicklaus at 7,151 yards down to the red tees at 5,005. Holes are also handicapped three ways, depending on which tees you're playing. The rating and slope goes from 68.8/118 from the front-most tees to 74.5/143 from the tips.
There is a lot of data to process from the tees, too. For example, on the second hole, it's probably best to put your drive on the left side of the fairway for a terrestrial approach. If you drift right, you'll have to carry water to get to the green. On No. 9, pick your target on the nearly crescent-shaped hole and hope you chose the right club.
The par 5s are links-style, with open fairways accompanied by large sand areas alongside, either raised like No. 14 or recessed like No. 3. You'll also enjoy the beauty of the approach on No. 3, to an offset, elevated green guarded by a deep amoeba-shaped bunker in front. On the seventh hole, a large tree and bunkers force you to pick left or right for your second shot. The safer side is longer, the riskier way to the left will require a water carry to the offset green. On the par-5 10th hole, you have to jump over two sets of bunkers. Properly calculated distance is everything on that hole.
Truly stunning holes start with the 14th, a par 5 against a wall formed by an artistically landscaped berm, to the twin 15th that comes back on the other side. That hole requires a choice between long and safe or short and over an enormous bunker cluster to angle into the green. The 16th and 17th have almost West Coast attributes as they head toward and teeter beside the Colleton River. The 18th is a par 4 with one more stroll along a waste bunker its entire right side.
"Wind comes into play on the 17th (a par 3)," Scott said. "From the white tees, you can have to use anything from a 4 iron to a 9 iron, depending on the wind. Some guys say they aim 20 yards to the right and watch it come back." There also is a bunker behind the hole that's invisible from the tee.
Mike Mayhew, of Boone, N.C., a club member with a 5 handicap, enjoys the diversity of the holes.
"You can use a lot of different clubs on the course. It's very scenic," he said. "You don't notice the homes because of the beauty of the course."
Jim Pavela of Chicago had played the course once before about 10 years ago. "I like the variety of the holes, especially the last four or five holes; it's a whole different look. ... I don't think you'd ever get tired of playing it."
"There are holes with dunes, trees, water, marsh," said Doug Goff of Columbus, Ohio. "It has everything."
Nicklaus course at Colleton River Plantation Club: The verdict
The more you think about the Nicklaus course at Colleton River Plantation Club, the more each hole becomes your favorite. Each is unique and demands a different approach, either distance off the tee or plopping your ball within a yard-square area to set up your next shot. There are a couple of holes that are a little unfair for the first-time player, such as the par-5 14th with an interrupted fairway that stops and drops into a bunker across the fairway, or No. 16, with a blind drive that requires your ball to land in a specific spot or trickle into a massive waste bunker. That's information that comes too late.
Perhaps that's a good thing. All you'll want to do is come back and try it again.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: The golf courses at Colleton River Plantation Club are private, offering reciprocity with select private clubs in the Hilton Head Island area during the summer.]