Chechessee Creek Club
Green Keeper: Jay Gratton
Chechessee Creek Club is a throwback to the times when golf was simpler.
Gone are the insipid mounds that plague so many coastal South Carolina courses. Gone are the long green to tee hikes that make riding in a golf cart a foregone conclusion. Gone is sacrificing sound course design for the quest of a signature hole. Gone aredecorative bunkersof no strategic value. Gone is the fear of losing golf ball after golf ball in man-made water hazards. Gone is the concept that a course built today must be a par 72, 7,000 yard monstrosity.
What is present are traditional design elements of the kind that the coast of South Carolina has rarely seen since Seth Raynor was in Charleston in the 1920s. Just as the sub-7000 yard Harbour Town with its small greens was a revolutionary design in the early 1970s, Chechessee’s design is a welcome return to shotmaking.
Taking a look at specific features, start with the teeing areas whichare simple, squared affairs and never built more than a yard or two above their surrounds. The golfer isreminded of Garden City (where Ben Crenshaw is an Honorary Member) in this regard. There are no steps for the golfer to walk up, and the wasted multiple tees that Ron Whitten complained of in his Feature Interview are no where to be found.
Next, out in the fairway, the course enjoys the same low profile features of a Yeamans Hall or Pinehurst No.2.The absence of artificial mounding harkens to the Golden Age of course design when dirt wasn’t pushed around just for the sake of ‘framing’ holes.
In terms of dirt moved, as the islands along the coast are a mix of clay and sand, each fairway was caped with six inches of sand for the sake of drainage to insure fast and firm conditions. Save for that, the only dirt of any consequence that was moved was in creating the pushed up green complexes. Jim Craig was the only designated C&C dozer man on the job and he roughed in all the greens, some of the fairways and did all of the finish dozer work. Bill Coore said of their dirt moving plan ‘move as much as you need to for drainage, then we will highlight some areas’. As Dave Axland notes, ‘I think the same is true for the golf, Bill and Ben did what was necessary for fun golf and no more.’ More architects need to adopt the same sensible, minimalist approach.
The pushed up greens are anywhere from one tothree yards higher than their surrounds and some of the greens like the third or fifth are extensions of the fairway. Similar to their Kapalua Plantation course, the greens vary widely in size, from the 3,300 square foot at the first to the 10,000 square foot one at the sixteenth. Many of the greens feature a false front of some degree or another and none of them are the multi-tiered affairs that invariably seem disjointed from their immediate surrounds.
As with all Coore & Crenshaw courses, bunkering is a particular highlight. The jagged edged bunkers courtesy of Jeff Bradley are a part of their surrounds. They range from the 180 yards area that parallels the left of the fifth fairway, to the cross bunkered eighth hole, to the small bunker that fronts the middle of the twelfth green, to the massive bunker that guards the best angle into the fifteenth green. However, there are only 65 bunkers in total on the course and similar to Royal Melbourne, rarely is any green bunkered on both sides. The golfer has to decide for himself where the best chance for an up and down lies: is it in the bunker or not? If not, should he try a running chip, flop shot or bounce it into the greenside bank? Decisions, decisions…
A final aspect needs to be mentioned, as without it, much of the good work could have been hidden. Originally, the 360 acres were zoned for 130 home sites. However, after selecting the course routing that maximized the site’s potential, it became apparent that accommodating that many homesites would have a detrimental effect on enjoying the golf as a continuous, uninterrupted experience. Therefore, the owner Jim Chaffin decided to pare it down to 46 sites, thus insuring that golf forever comes first.
A by-product is that Coore & Crenshaw’s favorite mix of holes were allowed to stand, which consists of five par threes and only three par fives. A lot of short holes coupled with a few long holes are never ideal for selling the most number of homesites. However, with that not the driving consideration, the golfer gets to play the best set of holes that Coore & Crenshaw could find on the property.
Holes to Note
Third hole, 350 yards; The first of three very fine two shotters under 350 yards, this hole features both a) the only bunkerless green on the course and b) the tightest lateral water hazard to a green. As was Tom Simpson’s stated desire and numerous architects that since attempted to follow, Coore & Crenshaw successfully made Chechessee harder for the good golfer while still providing plenty of room for the less accomplished. For example at the third, the width of the fairway is cut in half 275 yards from the tee. Surely the best play is to lay back in the wider section of the fairway and accept having a 125 yard pitch into the green. But then again…
Forth hole, 410 yards; A classic misdirection play comes at this hole, the only one where a large field was already cleared before the Boys went to work. First, the golfer sees a big, long bunker that begins at the start of the fairway and hooks around the left side. Mercifully, the golfer then sees the flag further to the right. ‘I’ll go that way and stay away from the big bunker,’ he thinks. However, with a string of four smaller bunkers down the right and a pair of greenside bunkers that guard the right side, the ideal tee ball is actually left center. Standing behind the hole, the left to right angle of the green is obvious and clearly shows that left center of the fairway is ideal. Plenty consider this the cleverest hole on the course. As Axland says, ‘If I had to pick a favorite, or perhaps better put, a hole that was a bit different and yet complimentary to the others, it would be number four.’
Sixth hole, 435 yards; The more ways an architect can ask a player to do something, the better. However, on a piece of property where the high to low point is five feet, topography is not at the architect’s disposal. To create interest off the tee, Coore & Crenshaw often times bent the playing corridors one way or another. Frequently in such cases, there are no bunkers in the hitting area off the tee such as here, the first, fifth, and eighteenth. On the straighter holes like the fourth and eighth, bunkering becomes more prolific to create the interest.