Here I am back in South Carolina playing golf again. This time my friend Rob who lives near Columbia, SC and played the Ocean Course and Long Cove Club with me has managed to set up a round at the mysterious Sage Valley Golf Club. I say mysterious because it’s next to impossible to find ANY information about this course on the internet, so I was beginning to wonder if it really existed. Well, it’s real . . . and it’s spectacular! Turns out the owner and membership like to fly under the radar and keep a low profile.
After a long drive from Richmond, VA to Lexington, SC and spending the night at Rob’s place we were off the next day to Sage Valley. We met up with our friend Aaron another member of our party and then met our host at a spot near the interstate and made the approximately 45 minute drive to Graniteville, SC. Sage Valley is located right off the interstate and we were there in what seemed like no time at all. To say this place is private and exclusive would be the understatement of the millennium. We had to go through two guarded gates before we even saw the golf course!
We were greeted at the bag drop and ushered to the locker room where we changed shoes. In order to encourage camaraderie the members are assigned locker mates and share lockers at Sage Valley. I thought it was a nice touch and a great way to get to know your fellow club members.
From the locker room it was out to the range where our caddies waited for us. The caddies made sure to introduce themselves to all the players in our group and we started to hit balls. One of the great things about Sage Valley is that each player has their own caddy. With the caddy only working with one player instead of two you get a lot more personal attention on the course. The caddiemaster at Sage Valley is a former Augusta National caddy who was on the bag for Seve Ballesteros during one of his Masters wins in the 80s. When he was instructed to find caddies for Sage Valley he called on his friends at Augusta National and brought many of them over to Sage Valley.
My caddy Gregory had worked at Augusta for about 20 years. I liked him quite a bit. He was friendly, wanted me to play well, had a country southern accent and always called me ‘boss’ rather than my name. “Boss that was a great shot.” “This here is the club boss, I know this is the one, stroke it real nice now boss.” His reads may not have always been perfect, but they were certainly better than I would have done on my own. The greens at Sage Valley are tricky and my initial read was dead wrong on more than one occasion. I also liked that I never hit ‘my’ ball. Gregory always referred to it as ‘our’ ball. “Now go ahead boss and knock our ball up there on that green.” He took an ownership stake in my round and really wanted ‘us’ to play well which is the type of teamwork caddying ought to be. These guys were not mere pack mules like the caddies at the public resort courses I’ve played. They gave great yardages, excellent club selections and were essential on the greens.
A little bit about the club. This is what I would call a retreat club and not a daily use club. There are about 215 members with 150 ‘local’ members. Our host lives about an hour away and considers himself a local member. The club is set up with cabins where the members can come in and spend several days on the premise and have everything they need. Golf, hunting/fishing, rifle shooting, dining . . . you name it they have it. We did not eat dinner at the club, but the word on the street is that the dining room is out of this world. If you love soft shell crabs or Dover Sole, well, they’ll just fly it in for you. How’s that for service!
The golf course itself only sees an average of 24 rounds a day. That’s just six four-ball groups a day! The day we played we caught one glimpse of a four-ball that was ahead of us and we let a two-ball play through on the 15th. Other than that the only people we saw the entire time we were there were club employees. Apparently the busiest week of the year is Masters week when every cabin is full and the course sees the most action for the year. Being only about 20 minutes from Augusta National I can’t imagine a better place to spend Masters week!
The man who owns the club is Mr. Weldon Wyatt, the founder of SubAir Systems which is the system most famously used at Augusta National, but is also at just about any other high end club in America. The system pulls the moisture out of the greens and eliminates standing water from the putting surface. In 1999 Mr. Wyatt set out to create the perfect golf club. As one of the guys in our group stated, “I believe that when my time comes this is an awful lot like what the pearly gates are going to look like”.
So onto the course. The photos below should be clickable, so make sure you click on them to get the larger scale images.
Below is the view from the 1st tee box. From the 6,700 yard member tees we played from this was a 397 yarder. The elevated tee box was just the first of many hills for the day. Aaron, my partner in our match made the only birdie for the day on this hole.
Below is the one shot 2nd hole. That green is essentially an island. Our host Gregg made an absolutely incredible par from a tee shot that landed back in the woods to the left of the green.
Here is Aaron teeing it up on the 6th hole in the photo below. The tee box had a great view back across the water at the 2nd green and of the 3rd hole just below the tee box.
Below is the 8th hole, a par 5. It was a dogleg right with a a seriously elevated green. This course has a ton of elevation changes. By the end of the day my feet were about as worn out as they’ve ever been. Gregory dropped one of my headcovers and while I waited for him as he ran back to the 7th green I caught this cool photo of the rest of our group marching across the bridge.
The photo below is where I made my approach shot from on the par 5 8th hole. I hit my drive in the woods and had to chip out so this is not a normal place to make the approach from. I did manage to get it on the green with my 3rd shot from 220 yards out, but of course promptly 3 putted.
Below is our host’s favorite hole and I think I have to agree with him. It is the 11th hole which is a par 4 dogleg left up the hill from an elevated tee box. Again, note the elevation change. I’m not sure that the caddies would even be capable of double bagging this course. It is not an easy walk. I was grateful for Gregory who just cruised right a long never missing a step.
Below is the approach to the 11th green. It has a false front and I ended up on the edge with a terrible putt up the hill and back down.
Below is the 15th hole which is a par 5. It is almost shaped like a semi-circle. Its not terribly long so the big hitters can trim some off and get out there where they can get on the green in two. I was on the green in three or so I thought . . . my ball was in the wrong spot. I thought the shot was over and I was walking over to get my putter while someone else in our groups says “That ball is still rolling!” It rolled right off the green. I banished it to my pocket for the rest of the round.
I love the 16th hole which is the par 3 pictured below. In a few more weeks those azaleas in the background are going to start blooming and its going to be beautiful. Better yet in about 10 years those plants are going to be huge and really create a great backdrop for this green when they bloom.
Below is a view from the tee box of the finishing hole, a 387 yard par 4 that goes straight up hill.
The 18th green below. Note the Sage Valley logo over on the left and you can get a glimpse of the incredible clubhouse.
In addition to the 18 regulation holes Mr. Wyatt built three ‘dormie’ holes. These allow for bets to be settled if you are dormie at the end of the round. Our group ended up even, but we didn’t play the extra holes. We had schedules to keep and I think we were all leaking oil by the end of the round. We did not exactly set the course on fire with our golf games on this day.
In general I prefer vintage courses designed in the 20s and 30s to the more modern designs, so I was expecting something COMPLETELY different from what I found when I walked onto this course. It was a layout unlike any other I have played. It didn’t feel like a modern course at all. There was absolutely nothing at this course that would give you even a hint that it was only 7 years old. Mr. Wyatt has created something very special that takes you back to another time and lets his members and their guests experience golf as it was intended.
Even with the lackluster play I can say that this was one of the finest days of golf I have ever had in my life. The course FAR exceeded my expectations and we had a really fun group with whom to enjoy one of the finest golf courses I’ve ever seen in my life. If you ever are so lucky as to get an invite to play Sage Valley Golf Club do not pass it up under any circumstances. It is a golf course that is simply not to be missed.