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Disgruntled Reader Tees Off: “Fraud!”

“You were giving me golf-course recommendations for a trip between Mobile and Pensacola,” writes a pissed-off reader from Argentina, “and you suggested Hilton Head Island, 525 miles from my destination. If that wasn’t bad enough, you didn’t finish your post. I was so frustrated that I left my clubs at home, spent my days in America at the beach, and lost all my savings at Gulf Coast casinos. I’m telling my friends in Rosario that the Top 50 is a big, fat fraud, and they should go back to Travelin’ Joe Passov if they want honest golf-travel advice.”

Chechessee Creek

Chechessee Creek’s par 3s are plenty challenging, even for course raters. (John Garrity)

Wow.

My first impulse is to remind this overheated reader that I told him that golf itineraries were Travelin’ Joe’s specialty, not mine. (My exact words: “The Top 50 does not recommend golf courses; it ranks them.”) My second impulse is to ask Mr. Rosario for an apology. I went out of my way to help him out, but I don’t feel much love from his “big, fat fraud” crack. I talked to my close friend, Vijay Singh, and he thought I should consult a lawyer — his lawyer, to be precise — regarding defamation and libel issues. I’m not ready to take that step, but Rosey should consider the fact that the Top 50 has never lost a court fight.*

*Ft. Meade City Mobile Home Park Golf Course v Garrity was settled amicably, and I have never violated the restraining order. 

My third impulse is to withhold the final recommendation for our gaucho’s Gulf Coast golf tour, but that would be a disservice to my Top 50 subscribers. So, for their sake, Roseman, not yours, I’m recommending the 51st-ranked Chechessee Creek Club in Okatie, S.C. Designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, Chechessee Creek is probably the finest example of swamp sorcery this side of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.

The minimalist philosophy is at work here, although I prefer the term “understated.” There are no waterfalls, no tabletop tees, no fairway-bunker complexes that rival the Sahara. It’s simply a challenging, well-constructed golf course that just happens to be situated in a backwoods setting where the plunky notes of Dueling Banjos filter through the pines.

“Chechessee Creek Club is a throwback to the times when golf was simpler,” writes a blogger who calls himself Golf Club Atlas’. “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.”

Michael Bamberger

Blurbmaster Bamberger was deeply moved by the Creek. (John Garrity)

Obviously, some dirt is necessarily pushed around in the playing of golf. My foursome of clod connoisseurs included Top 50 v.p. Gary Van Sickle, southeast ratings chief Dave Henson, and Sports Illustrated senior writer Michael Bamberger, who moonlights as blurb superintendent for the Top 50 book division. (Full disclosure: Caddies were compulsory, so we actually paid something for our rounds. The Golf Writers Association is weighing whether we should be suspended for the infraction.)

Anyway, we scored Chechessee Creek as follows: Van Sickle, 4½ stars. Henson, 8 out of 10. Bamberger, “a rollicking trek through the Faulknerian recesses of the marginal South … shade-dappled, mossy … It’s magical!” Garrity, 11.94.

Your loss, Rosey. I hope you enjoyed the beach.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but we added to our already-stuffed trophy case when our founder and CEO, John Garrity, won the amateur long-drive contest at last week’s Time Warner Cable Long Drive Championship Pro-Am at 50th-ranked Eagle Bend Golf Club in Lawrence, Ks. His winning drive, had anyone bothered to measure it, would have been well over 250 yards.

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Gulf Coast Golf Trip of a Lifetime

“I was about to submit a query to Travelin’ Joe Passov,” begins an e-mail from Rosario, Argentina, “when it occurred to me that you know more about golf courses than anybody in the world. What courses do you recommend for a budget-conscious tourist driving from Mobile, Ala. to Pensacola, Fla.?”

Michael Bamberger

Michael Bamberger attacks a sucker pin at Palmetto Dunes’ RTJ Oceanfront Course. (John Garrity)

Normally I would hit the delete key — or better yet, forward the query to Travelin‘ Joe, just to rile him up. The Top 50 does not recommend golf courses; it ranks them. Sometimes, as with Askernish or Carne, we both rank and recommend a course, but only under exceptional circumstances and with the understanding that we can play there for free. To do otherwise would compromise our integrity.

This time, because I’m feeling generous, I’ll waive established policy and create a golf itinerary for our thrifty Argentinian.

Let’s start with the fact that Mobile to Pensacola is a journey of roughly 60 miles. Assuming that one has a week to kill and that one’s rental car can achieve speeds of up to 60 miles per hour, I’d start with a round at sixth-ranked Augusta National Golf Club, site of last week’s Masters. But if that is not feasible — either because our impecunious friend doesn’t know a member or because, as happens to be the case, the club has closed for the summer — I can enthusiastically recommend 50th-ranked and almost-as-good Orangeburg Country Club of Orangeburg, S.C.

I played Orangeburg last Monday with Top 50 executive vice president Gary Van Sickle and Global Golf Post correspondent Ron Green Jr. and found the Ellis Maples/Richard Mandell layout to be in tip-top shape. The very-green greens were deceptively slick, and the waste areas were pristine, thanks to a pinecone-picking program that is the envy of the South. Best of all, our threesome played 18 holes in less than three hours — slightly better than the average pace of play at the 2004 South Carolina Four Ball Championship, hosted by the OCC.*

*Orangeburg is a private club, so you may have difficulty securing a tee time. The guest green fee is apparently negotiable; we paid nothing.

Since our route has taken us a bit north and well east of Pensacola, it only makes sense to drive 114 miles further to catch a glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean from Hilton Head Island, S.C. The golf choices here are extensive, topped by the 36 holes at 51st-ranked Palmetto Hall Plantation Club, home club of Dave Henson, our Southeast Region Ratings Coordinator; but we think our penny-pinching Rosarian will get the most bang for his buck* on the 51st-ranked Robert Trent Jones Oceanfront Course at the Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort, voted “2003 Golf Course of the Year” by the South Carolina Golf Course Owners Association.

*The April green fee with cart and taxes is $170.33, but our sunburned traveler can play after 2 p.m. for $105.53. (We paid nothing.) He might also consider the Arthur Hills and George Fazio courses at less than a hundred bucks each, leaving him enough for dinner at the acclaimed Hilton Head Diner

Palmetto Dunes flag

The winds at Palmetto Dunes are maintained at 12 mph or less, except for tournament play. (John Garrity)

Van Sickle and I played the RTJ course last Tuesday with Sports Illustrated senior writer Michael Bamberger, and we found it to be a fair, fun test with a seafront appeal that puts it in the top rank of American resort courses. “The par-4 seventh was my favorite hole,” said Bamberger, extolling the wood-bulkhead-enhanced grandeur of the lakefront fairway. “I could hit that tee shot over and over again.” Van Sickle swooned over the beachside green complex on the par-5 tenth, which blends white-sand bunkers and tuft-topped palms to unique effect. “I’d like to play this in bad weather,” said Van Sickle, mildly put off by the sunny, 75-degree conditions.

Hilton Head is 525 miles from Pensacola, so our weary traveler will want to bunk overnight at the Marriott Hilton Head Resort & Spa, which is a mere drive-and-a-pitch from RTJ’s eighteenth green. I could use a little rest myself, so I’ll complete my Gulf Coast recommendations next time.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but the RBC Heritage is being played 525 miles from Pensacola on Pete Dye’s 52nd-ranked Harbour Town Golf Links. It’s the course with the lighthouse.

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