A variety of images await at Old South Golf Links in Bluffton

By Jeffrey A. Rendall, Contributor

BLUFFTON, S.C. - Just say the words 'Old South' and many thoughts quickly come to mind. You might flash to the opening sequence from 'Gone With The Wind' where Scarlet O'Hara sits a spell on the front porch of her antebellum mansion with two gray uniformed admirers-or maybe even hear a refrain from the score of the movie droning from some far off orchestra.

You may see visions of the mini-series 'Roots,' depicting the epic journey of one truly African-American family through some of the uglier periods of American history-slavery in the old South.

You may also see visions of the natural beauty of the south's coastal regions-full of oak trees, Spanish moss, tidal marshes and most of all, greenery.

I personally think of the grand and unique architecture from cities like Charleston and Savannah - they're like no others anywhere. It's not difficult to imagine the pre- Civil War Southern gentility sipping Mint Juleps on those verandas in times long ago.

In other words, there's quite a bit of variety in thoughts concerning the land far below the Mason-Dixon. Therefore, it's only fitting that a course that's named "Old South Golf Links" should present a cross-section of golf variety as well.

Old South Golf Links certainly gives you a little of everything Hilton Head Island-area golf has to offer. Joe Pearson, Old South's Head Golf Professional, says his course has it all: "When you come here you've got open holes, tree lined holes, holes through a marsh, scenery, everything. Similarly, the layout challenges every aspect of your game - there are some holes where it's pretty wide open, some fairly narrow ones and even a few strictly target links. A pretty complete package, when you think about it."

Old South Golf Links really does have it all

That's very true, and while most courses bill themselves as true varietal challenges, Old South lives up to it. It's set just over the bridge on the mainland side across from Hilton Head Island, so you'll see glimpses of expansive wetlands on both the front and back sides. Meanwhile, the opening stretches for both nines lead away from the Intra Coastal Waterway, so you'll encounter more of the oak and palmetto lined fairways, typical of courses further inland. Quite a split personality, but hardly schizophrenic.

Add a fresh wind howling in off the sea, and it can be beguiling. Pearson adds: "When the wind picks up, this course can really be a bear, especially on the holes along the marsh. Our course isn't long by today's standards-just over 6,700 yards from the back tees-but its 'natural' defenses make it play longer."

Clyde Johnston, Old South's course architect, says it was the aforementioned variety that sticks out in his mind, too: "I really liked the land there, because it gave us a lot to work with. There were some open fields, quite a few large oak trees and some pretty expansive salt marsh views that gave the property a lot of character on its own. All we had to do was emphasize a lot of what was already there, and we came up with a pretty good golf course."

Johnston also says the nature of the property brought up some issues, but nothing you wouldn't necessarily see elsewhere: "We had fresh water wetlands as well as the salt marsh-those always bring issues with the permitting agencies. We also discovered a couple archeological sites on the property which took a while to excavate, catalogue and write-up a big report."

"These types of things are expensive and time consuming, but didn't really pose insurmountable obstacles to the construction. It's all part of building golf courses these days," Johnston said.

Johnston noted the archeological digs centered around some migrating Indian tribes that once made camps on the property in centuries past. Looking around, it's easy to see why - the natives must've enjoyed beautiful scenery as much as any golfer on a peaceful afternoon round-and Old South Golf Links offers plenty of beauty, and peace.

The most scenic holes at Old South Golf Links

The marshland holes, seven, eight, nine, sixteen, seventeen and eighteen-are probably the most memorable, and difficult. Pearson touched on the different ways you might recall them: "If you're from Ohio, like I am, you won't see many holes like that from where you come from. They're visually intimidating, especially during the summer when the marsh is fully grown up - it looks like you've got nothing there to shoot to."

Pearson continues, "And if you make a birdie on one those holes, all of sudden they become your favorite holes. You'll remember 'em either way."

I myself plunked a ball into each of the two double target holes, seven and sixteen. Pearson says that local rules allow a drop on the opposite side should you put one in there: "We made the rule to keep things moving, but also to prevent people from dumping a pocket full of golf balls in there. One of our assistant superintendents went in there one summer and pulled out an unbelievable amount of balls. He also saw a snake (now affectionately known as the 'Loch Ness Monster') that he swore was as big around as his thigh and at least ten feet long."

It's easy to see why the management wouldn't want guys putting in a couple sleeves of balls in the marsh-they might get swallowed up going after 'em.

As Pearson alluded to earlier, the course certainly isn't long. 6,772 from the tips, the longest par four is a mere 417 yards. In contrast, all the par fives are 530+ yards, so it's doubtful many will reach them in two-especially considering the Bermuda fairways and somewhat soft conditions. If you want to get it there, you'll need to fly it most of the way.

But letting them fly is not much of a problem. Most fairways have a sufficient amount of room, and even the target holes have more than enough landing area if your little white sphere clears the toolies. Old South's quite an enjoyable round, and the challenge is manageable.

Old South Golf Links begins with several tree lined holes that show good variety-some uphill tee shots, some water, lots of Bermuda rough, reasonable carries and very few bunkers. I'd recommend getting your scoring done on these holes, because it gets significantly tougher on the last few links on the outward nine.

Six is a 397 yard par four with water down the left side of the teeing area and woods to the right. You'll need an accurate drive to set up a shot to this undulating green-pin location is crucial.

Seven is where the fun starts (not that the first six weren't enjoyable). You'll be shocked by the tee box views-quite a contrast to the previous holes. You're shooting over a marsh to a target landing area-with water on the left and trees to the right. You'll need a 175 yard carry to beat nature from the tips. It doesn't ease up for the second try, as you're again carrying a marsh to what looks like a thin but wide green-large bunkers in front and back. It's a good thing you'll only need a short iron to reach it!

Eight's an island green par three, 160 yards in length. There aren't any bunkers on the hole, but the green's only 20 yards in depth-better get club selection right! Take it from me, you don't want to go long.

Nine's the no. 3 handicap hole, but I think it plays harder than seven (#1). 400 yards long, two bunkers squeeze the landing area and there's a marsh to the left (plenty of room to miss right-but it's OB if you stray too far). The second shot is to another small, undulating green-well guarded by a huge bunker to the left.

Ten and eleven cut you somewhat of a break after running the first of the tidal marsh gauntlets-pretty straightforward. There is a very strategically placed tree close to the tenth green, which you'll have to carry if the pin's long-left.

Fourteen is a visually pleasing par five with strategically placed oak trees lining both sides of the fairway. It's 555 yards long, so not reachable for most of us, and bunkers squeeze the second shot landing area. The green's wide open in front, almost inviting a bump-up approach.

Sixteen through 18 present Old South 'gauntlet,' round two. Sixteen takes the prize for the most intimidating tee shot (which is saying something, considering # seven). It's a 225 yard carry from the back tees, and if there's any wind in your face, you're stuck, quite frankly-nowhere even to consider laying up. Even from the forward boxes it's no picnic, requiring 160 yards from the white tees. The second shot's heading out towards the marsh - another carry to a medium sized, tiered green, bunkers on both sides. Wow! Forget the snakes, the hole's scary enough.

Seventeen features 180 yards of par three, another forced carry over wetlands, but you're more likely to find yourself in a huge bunker bordering the front and right sides than in the marsh.

The closing hole shows another forced carry from the tee, but less severe than sixteen. I'd recommend a lay-up second shot, as there's a large waste bunker waiting for shots not precisely played - and reaching the green in two isn't realistic for a hole of this length (550 yards).

Whew! That's a couple of difficult closing sequences! It's a good thing there's an attractive low-country styled clubhouse waiting for you. So wipe off the sweat, grab a frosty (or even a Mint Julep) and take a seat on the veranda. Glance over the landscape and let your mind wander - and you might just meet 'Old South' face to face.

Jeffrey A. RendallJeffrey A. Rendall, Contributor

Jeffrey Rendall is an avid golfer and freelance writer. After passing the California Bar in 1994, he moved to Virginia to pursue his interests in history and politics, where he's worked since 1995.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment