Yes, I have spent the last seven years of my life pursuing Golf Digest’s Top 100 golf courses in America, but please don’ t think I live on Top 100 golf alone. In addition to my primary mission of playing the Top 100 I have a long list of non-rated courses that I am interested in visiting. Near the top of non-rated courses list is Palmetto Golf Club in Aiken, South Carolina.
Palmetto Golf Club has an interesting place in the history of American golf. It’s one of the oldest clubs in the country having been founded in 1892. The club’s first golf course was a simple four hole affair that was laid out in a corner of the property where the practice range as well as the 16th, 17th and 18th sit today. Shortly after opening the four hole course Herbert Leeds expanded the course to nine holes and then in 1895 another nine holes were added which had been designed by Leeds and James Mackrell, the first golf professional at Palmetto.
About 30 years later Dr. Alister MacKenzie was in the nearby area working on a little project called Augusta National Golf Club. When he completed his work in Georgia the good doctor was asked if he would come to Palmetto to put together a plan for converting the sand greens to grass and adding a little length to the course. Dr. MacKenzie drew up the plans and Wendell Miller, the construction manager who had just finished building Augusta National for Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts, agreed to manage the project.
Interestingly, Mackenzie and Miller are not the only ties that Palmetto Golf Club has to Augusta National. Over the years there have been many members who belong to both clubs and legend states that Palmetto was THE place in the early days for pros to warm up the week before The Masters. It seems logical that they would want to spend some time putting on greens designed by the same architect who created Augusta National’s incredible putting surfaces.
Over the years the typical sort of neglect that happens at golf clubs everywhere took its toll on Palmetto Golf Club as well. Fortunately in 2005 the club hired Tom Doak, an authority on MacKenzie’s work, to consult with the club on a restoration. Doak put a plan in place that would call for a faithful restoration of MacKenzie’s vision by reworking the golf course’s greens and bunkers. The work, as I understand it, was very well received by the membership.
Okay, lets get back to present day and my interest in visiting Palmetto Golf Club. Despite the fact that I had been wanting to play there I hadn’t made any inquiries with my friends in South Carolina, so I didn’t have any leads. Luckily for me I received an email out of the blue from a member one day inviting me to join him for a game and obviously I gladly accepted. After a few false starts we finally got a date on the books and put a plan in place.
Driving into the parking lot at Palmetto is one of those experiences that I absolutely love where you feel like you are stepping back in time. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but the club immediately exudes a very low key vibe and just feels great. This is not the type of place that has a valet waiting to snatch your clubs out of the trunk and whisk them away to the range.
In the parking lot I met up with my friends who would be joining me and we went off to find our host. Once he was located we checked in at the pro shop, changed our shoes in the VERY cool old locker room, took a few practice swings on the range and then headed to the 1st tee. We decided to play the red 6,451 yard tees which play to a par of 71.
Hole 1 – Lookout – 389 Yards – Par 4
We get a heck of a view from the 1st tee to start the round off. The bunkers on both sides of the fairway are in play. In case you were wondering the green on the right side is for the 14th hole.
A view of the approach shot into the 1st green.
Hole 2 – Whiskey – 368 Yards – Par 4
Here we have a shortish par 4 where we are again hitting from an elevated tee box, though not quite as elevated as the 1st hole. Note the bunker on the right side protruding into the fairway.
Hole 3 – Southern Cross – 410 Yards – Par 4
The 3rd hole is a long par 4 featuring a tee shot to a blind landing zone.
Here is a look at the long approach into the green which is protected by bunkers on the left and right.
Here we get our first real glimpse of what a MacKenzie green is all about. This picture hardly does it justice, but notice the contours and the extreme false front.
Hole 4 – Red – 388 Yards – Par 4
From this tee box we get another opportunity to bomb a drive downhill. Note the bunker on the left which could be in play for longer hitters.
The approach shot into the green.
Hole 5 – Palmetto – 439 Yards – Par 4
Here we have another long par 4. The elevated tee box helps but even with the extra yardage from that this hole still plays really long.
A view from the left side of the 5th green. Notice the contours around the perimeter of the green that stretch onto the putting surface.
Hole 6 – Valley – 464 Yards – Par 5
Just 25 yards longer than the last hole, we get an extra stroke from Old Man Par on this hole. The tee shot is a little narrow, so don’t mind the tree on the left.
A view of the green from about 140 yards out.
Hole 7 – Ridge – 163 Yards – Par 3
Bobby Jones called this the best medal play par 3 hole he had ever played. I’m not sure I could go that far, but it’s a pretty darn good hole. Its imperative to hit the green here. Any tee shots that don’t hit the green will be lucky to get a par.
Hole 8 – Black Jack – 441 Yards – Par 4
Here we have another VERY long par 4. The fairway runs a bit downhill so that is definitely helpful.
Hole 9 – Half Way – 178 Yards – Par 3
I didn’t get a photo from the tee on this one shot hole, but the photo below of the green shows more of the mounding on the perimeter of the greens that flows onto the putting surface.
Hole 10 – Turn – 482 Yards – Par 5
Like the last three shot hole this one is also less than 500 yards from the red tees. Watch your alignment on the drive here. This tee box was difficult for me to get comfortable on for some reason.
Another beautiful MacKenzie putting surface.
Hole 11 – Drop – 170 Yards – Par 3
This is a really cool drop shot par 3 with a REALLY cool green. Unfortunately, this photo does not do it any justice at all. This was my favorite green on the course.
Hole 12 – Pond – 382 Yards – Par 4
Here we have a great two shot hole. I love a drive that challenges me to hit a draw on command. I can rarely pull it off, but it feels so good when I do.
The approach shot into the green.
Hole 13 – Cabin – 423 Yards – Par 4
This course contains a lot of long par 4s. Up to this point, most of them played downhill but this brute of a hole plays long AND uphill. Tee it high and let it fly here.
The approach shot into the green
Hole 14 – Crazy Creek – 550 Yards – Par 5
After the previous two short par 5s we come to the 14th hole which is a fairly lengthy hole. The fairway runs downhill so there is some extra yardage to be gained there.
A view into the 14th green. Note that this is the green we could see from the 1st tee box.
Hole 15 – High – 298 Yards – Par 4
This little corner of the golf course is a busy one. There are shots coming into the 14th green, shots coming off of the 1st tee and shots being hit from the 15th tee. You have to be paying attention to whats going on around you here. At less than 300 yards driver is not a necessity here. The 15th fairway runs up the left side of the hill. On the right side is the 1st tee box, so don’t hit it over there.
A view of the 15th green from the left side of the hole.
Hole 16 – Berrie – 212 Yards – Par 3
After the 15th hole there is a bit of distance to get to the 16th tee which is near the entrance to the club. This long par 3 is fairly straight forward.
A look at the green from the right side of the hole.
Hole 17 – Brae – 388 Yards – Par 4
Here we have a drive to a blind landing zone. Favoring the left side of the hole is probably the best plan here.
the approach shot into the green.
Hole 18 – Home – 306 Yards – Par 4
Everyone knows that I love a short par 4 and having one on the 18th hole is one final shot at glory. This hole plays 306 yards from all tees so longer hitters will have a chance to drive the green no matter what tee they are playing.
A view into the green from about 100 yards out.
Sitting just off of the 18th green is the gorgeous Palmetto Golf Club clubhouse. The structure was completed in 1902 and designed by Stanford White who also designed the very famous clubhouse at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club. If this doesn’t say southern charm I don’t know what does.
What a cool place Palmetto Golf Club is. Everything from the laid back, old time vibe to the fantastic MacKenzie greens give the club a special feel. The course is relatively short, but still provides plenty of challenge. With a wide variety of holes that span from long to short for their relative pars it’s simply impossible to get bored playing this course. The really great news is that each year during Masters week the club is open to the public so when you plan your next trip to The Masters be sure to include this one on your itinerary. Probably would be best to call plenty early as I’m sure they fill up fast.