The Palmetto State enjoys an embarrassment of riches with quality golf courses, a fact on display annually with the South Carolina Golf Course Rating Panel’s surveys.
The gems range from the renowned Ocean Course, Harbour Town Golf Links and the Dunes Golf and Beach Club to a lesser-known — but equally challenging — beauty called the Aiken Golf Club.
All those earned spots among the 30 courses on the Golf Panel’s “Best You Can Play 2023” released this week.
To emphasize the quality of golf facilities in the state, the International Association of Golf Travel Operators named South Carolina among the top five golf designations in the world for 2023. More than 500 golf tour specialists from around the world voted on sites that delivered the best experiences from their customers.
The Palmetto State joins Cyprus, Dubai, Los Cabos and Thailand on the association’s Top Five.
That’s no surprise to Duane Parrish, director of the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, spreads the gospel of Palmetto State golf.
“Incredible recognition,” he said.
Echoing the thought is Mike Whitaker, executive director of the Golf Panel, who said, “There are so many outstanding courses that you’re really splitting hairs in the voting.
“When you think about the number of really good golf courses in this state and reduce that number to 30, it’s a daunting task. It’s our good fortune to live in a state where even some of the finest courses do not make the ‘best’ lists.”
More emphasis on the quality: The “best you can play 2023” does not include private courses designed by the likes of Seth Raynor, Donald Ross, Robert Trent Jones, Tom Fazio, Pete Dye, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Arnold Palmer.
It’s no surprise that courses along the Atlantic coast dominate the “Best You Can Play” list. Only four of the 30 are from either the Midlands or Upstate.
One of those is the Aiken Golf Club, voted “the best kept secret” a couple years ago. But borrow a thought from a song popularized by Ray Charles and Hank Williams: “The news is out.”
“We’re unique,” said Jim McNair Jr., owner of the family operated facility within a 5-iron shot of downtown Aiken. “We’re quirky.”
Indeed, the course features a touch of yesterday with today’s modern agronomy and maintenance.
No practice range. No maintenance facility. A mere 5,800 yards from the tips. Only 37 acres of sod.
But a definite challenge, a point emphasized by members who complain to McNair, “It’s too hard from the tips.”
That’s thanks in large part to the green complexes, which have the fingerprints of Donald Ross on them. More than 100 years old, disciples of the famed architect laid out part of the course that pened in 1912.
“Being selected is a huge honor for us,” McNair said.
History abounds, too. The Ocean Course can claim a Ryder Cup and two PGA Championships, and the PGA Tour visits Harbour Town annually. Aiken GC ranks among the first to have women’s tees and staged high profile women’s tournaments in the 1930s that featured Babe Zaharias and Patty Berg. Men’s events attracted Julius Boros, Johnny Palmer and P.J. Boatwright.
And, yes, players from out of state are discovering the Aiken GC. Golfers who want to play the layout during Masters week need to make their tee times immediately — if not sooner.
“We’re already full one day (of Masters week) and we’re adding players all the time on other days,” McNair said.
The state’s rating panel is composed of 125 golf enthusiasts who represent a diverse range of occupations, handicaps and backgrounds. The group’s objective is to promote excellence in the state’s golf course design and operation through competitive ranking, education and public advocacy.
The “Best 50” courses, public or private, are chosen in even-numbered years and the “Best You Can Play” are announced in odd-numbered years. Criteria used in judging include routing, variety, strategy, equity, memorability, aesthetics and the golfer’s experience.
Chip shots. Senior Mathilde Claisse earned her first individual collegiate tournament title in leading USC’s women to a second-place finish in the Darius Rucker Intercollegiate at Long Cove Club on Hilton Head Island. Sixth-ranked LSU captured the team championship, edging the No. 4 Gamecocks by four strokes in the USC-hosted event that included 12 of the nation’s top 25 teams. … Tip Price (Greenville) won the boys’ title and Lilly Reed Black (Chapin) captured the girls’ championship in the SCJGA’s Morgan Lucas tourney at Greenville CC’s Chanticleer course. … Jordan Spieth has committed to defend his title in the RBC Heritage, set for April 13-16 at Hilton Head Island. Other early commitments include Team RBC ambassadors Sam Burns, Corey Conners, Sahith Theegala and Cameron Young.
Best courses you can plan in SC
(Selected by the South Carolina Golf Course Rating Panel and listed alphabetically by region)
Aiken Golf Club
Orangeburg Country Club
Furman Golf Club
Walker Course at Clemson University
Greater Charleston Area
Charleston Municipal Course
Kiawah Island Resort: Cougar Point
Kiawah Island Resort: Ocean Course
Kiawah Island Resort: Osprey Point
Kiawah Island Resort: Turtle Point
Seabrook Island Club: Crooked Oaks
Seabrook Island Club: Ocean Winds
Wild Dunes Resort: Links Course
Barefoot Resort: Dye
Barefoot Resort: Fazio
Barefoot Resort: Love
Caledonia Golf & Fish Club
Dunes Golf & Beach Club
Grand Dunes Resort
Myrtle Beach National: King’s North
Prestwick Country Club
Tidewater Golf Club & Plantation
TPC of Myrtle Beach
True Blue Plantation
May River Golf Club
Palmetto Dunes: Robert Trent Jones
Sea Pines: Atlantic Dunes
Sea Pines: Harbour Town Golf Links
Sea Pines: Heron Point by Pete Dye
This story was originally published March 3, 2023, 9:12 AM.