Don't save all your popcorn for the closing holes at The Melrose Club golf course
DAUFUSKIE ISLAND, S.C. - It's amazing to discover how much goes on behind the scenes. When you go to a movie, see a sporting event or even listen to a speech, the 'players' in front of you are the headliners. They're the ones with stars on Hollywood Blvd, large brass nameplates on their desks or multi-million dollar contracts to play a child's game. Their performances often appear flawless, and we all marvel at the composure and grace they exhibit when putting on the show.
What often gets lost is what's behind the finished product. It takes an awful big team to make one person look good; and the people whose names you see at the end of every production, briefly flashing before you on-screen or buried in a program on the final page hardly get any credit at all. If it's a movie, you may even stay just to hear the 'theme' being played, and gobble up the last few mouthfuls of popcorn-all the while barely noticing the credits. Let's face it, the 'Extras' in a movie just don't get enough acclaim.
The same can often be said for golf courses-the 'signature' holes get all the headlines, and most people come just to see them. What about the rest of the links? Shouldn't they share the spotlight? It definitely takes eighteen holes to make a classic course; and if you have one great hole and seventeen dogs, it really ain't worth the effort in the first place. A truly great layout, therefore, can only attain lofty status by having some spectacular holes bolstered by a strong cast of supporting links.
This concept is certainly true for the Melrose Club golf course on Daufuskie Island, part of ClubCorp's Daufuskie Island Club and Resort. It's a Jack Nicklaus signature layout that winds in and out of peaceful residential areas, palmetto trees and swampy wetlands-then finally concludes aside the ocean. It's got three of the most famous holes in the Hilton Head area-sixteen, seventeen and eighteen, which run along the Atlantic coastline.
These three holes get all the press; they're the 'stars' of the show, and deservedly so. Harbour Town's (which you can see across the way, a mile or so distant) eighteenth has the lighthouse and features stunning views of Calibogue Sound, but not even that storied track has the extensive oceanfront property that Melrose has. On the finishing three on this course, you can look southward towards Savannah, or out to sea to the great depths. There's quite a feeling of 'smallness' when you feel the wind whipping off the ocean-and you can't help but admire the way it's used to complement the holes.
But you shouldn't forget experiencing the first fifteen holes. Scott Shelby, head professional for Daufuskie Island Resort, says it's easy to overlook the landward links at Melrose, but it's a shame when this happens. "Melrose is certainly best known for the three holes that run along the ocean," Shelby adds, "but most people who come here are surprised at the incredible quality the entire course provides."
Shelby continues, "It's a course where each hole tends to outdo the last, and there isn't a weak link out there. Most folks who've played here a lot tend to say their favorites are holes that aren't even along the ocean. It's a real tribute to the outstanding quality of the whole design. It's a course no one ever gets tired of."
I can see why. Melrose has all the elements you'd expect from a Hilton Head area course, and even some that you wouldn't. It has lots of water, lots of trees and wetlands, lots of sand, and as is characteristic of a Nicklaus course, lots of challenge. It's a low lying track that plays even longer than its 7,081 yards would indicate, due to the tight nature of many of the holes and the fact that drives often won't get much roll in the fairways (it rarely dries up). Bring your target golf mentality to the course, because you'll need to pick your spots and hit 'em, or chock up some high numbers if you don't.
For a course that plays so long, the greens aren't especially large-they're not as small as Harbour Town's (the other course in town with Nicklaus' signature), but you'll still have to bring your iron game here. And due to the length, you won't be able to club down often off the tee. It can get frustrating at times, but that won't take away from the overall quality. There's enough going on behind the scenes to make it a great experience for you.
Melrose gets its name from the Melrose mansion that once occupied the property, back during the antebellum period of South Carolina history. The mansion burned down in 1912, but the gentile nature of the plantation still exists with the advent of the Melrose Club in 1987, then the establishment of Daufuskie Island Club and Resort four years ago.
There are a few residences bordering some of the fairways, and you'll catch glimpses now and then of the resort's cottages and buildings, but you never quite lose the feeling of isolation on the course-especially in the first few holes of each nine. When you combine the peace and quiet with the beauty of the surrounding landscape, Melrose offers quite a complete golf outing.
The beauty and challenge aren't the only things you'll notice. Targets are clearly defined for you-they're certainly out there in abundance, but drives won't find hidden hazards or bounce into bunkers sight unknown. Believe me-you'll be an eyewitness to every poor final result you achieve! All in all, extremely fair, however. Just tough.
Nicklaus starts you out with a pretty mild 395 yard par four with a generous fairway bordered by woods on both sides, and a slight dogleg left. You'll notice mounds on both sides of the fairway, so finding a flat lie could be a problem to open the round.
Two's got water all down the left side-an intimidating visual tee shot for those with hooking propensities. It's also a 200+ yard carry from the back tees-just an introduction to the difficulty you'll face the rest of the way.
Seven's another great par four, 398 yards and a dogleg left. From the tee box, you'll notice there's an 'island' with sand and trees perched right smack in the middle of the fairway and a marsh all down the left side. It may be time to aim at the island and hope you slightly push or pull the tee shot-being on that particular island is no fantasy.
Eight is probably my favorite hole. A mere 136 yards of par three, it's all carry to a small green-you're shooting over a marsh. This hole is located closer to the ocean and resort cottages, so you'll start getting the breeze in your face here. Quite a nerve tester.
Nine is what Shelby calls "the best par six around." It's a tough par five, and if you're slightly off with any of your shots, taking six would be a good score. It's a 584 yard monster from the back tees-tee balls must carry a deep looking marsh. Even if your tee ball's safe, the second shot's to a very narrow looking fairway that'll squeeze you the more distance you cut off. The third shot's over the same dreaded marsh to quite an undulating green.
Turning to the back, you'll get an even greater sense of seclusion as the course makes its way towards the ocean holes. Twelve is another solid par five, 525 yards long. The tee ball's over water and there's a waste area that runs the length of the hole, bisecting the fairway further up towards the landing area for potential second shots.
Thirteen's another intimidating par three, calling for a 184 yard carry over water with no realistic bailout possibilities. Bunkers protect to the right and backsides. Being in the back bunker's an ugly proposition-the green slopes towards the water.
Fourteen's the longest par four on the course, 460 yards and a dogleg right. This hole will require your best drive of the day and every ounce of steel in your long iron to get you there in two.
Sixteen begins the ocean viewing, though you won't reach the shore until the next hole's green. Sixteen does have a waste area and water to the right of this 187 yard par three. Pot bunkers in front will catch anything short, and a tree guards the left side of the putting surface.
Seventeen's a picturesque 400 yard par four, with a waste area down the entire landing area on the right. Once you've reached the green, you'll feel the full force of the wind whipping off the ocean-a true seaside link!
Eighteen is, simply put, a spectacular finishing hole. You're faced with another split fairway option here, as there's an 'island' of bunkers and trees in the middle of the fairway-the shorter option to the right, and more generous but longer option to the left. If you slice a big one here, you could be on the beach-literally. How this hole plays will depend quite a bit on the severity of the wind. If it's blowing hard, it'll be tough to make a par here.
Finishing up, it's a short ride back to the clubhouse, leading away from the ocean. It'll give you some time to think about the spectacular nature of the last three holes-there's a lot of star power there. But you'll also realize that the first fifteen links were hardly stagehands for the acting crew; so don't just save your popcorn for the final scenes-enjoy it the entire way through.