The Links at Stono Ferry and Innisbrook Copperhead are the subjects of this installment of More 18s of the USA.
We imagined that golf season was winding down in Buffalo-Niagara, so our attention momentarily turned to domes, trips and television. However, Mother Nature in the guise of El Ninyo disagreed, so we golfed through December 23rd, took a break, and returned to the course in January. To keep the appetite whetted, I’m going to offer up a new series on eclectic eighteens across the USA. The only thread tying them together is my having played them. That, and the fact that all of the courses are worthwhile. You’ll never play them all in one sweep, as I once did, but when you find yourself in these regions, know that these courses are worth your money and your best game.
Golf in the low, low country of South Carolina is known for its private enclaves. Places like Yeamans Hall, Bulls Bay and Country Club of Charleston garner attention for their birthright: it’s hard to top Seth Raynor or Mike Strantz. Many other courses in the Charleston area offer an opportunity to experience a unique golf look, and should not be bypassed on the way south from Myrtle Beach.
The Links at Stono Ferry offers a variety of looks throughout its 18 holes. The majority winds its way through the tall bog trees of the area, while a few break free and play along a stretch of open land. Another triumvirate dallies along the intracostal waterway, before returning to the tree-lined appearance to conclude the round. Stono Ferry demands a majority of straight drives, as fairway width is not at a premium. Approach shots, in contrast, are usually played to welcoming green locations, offering a balance to the tee-to-green journey.
The most memorable and enjoyable holes are the par threes. They vary in distances from long iron to pitch shot, and in topography as well. The 2nd hole is a mid-iron across a bit of water to a fairly-level green. The 6th plays with a bit more distance, but down to a green sited well below the tee decks. Number 11 varies the most, playing long iron from the tips but a 120 yard pitch from the regular deck, all across a marshy area to a green tucked in a glade. Finally, the 14th, one of the waterway triumvirate, plays heroically across a finger of the current, with a wind typically whipping in from the river.
I’d not ever played a PGA Tour course a mere four weeks removed from its annual playing until I toured the Copperhead course on February 13th. I’d been a fan of the Innisbrook layout since I was a high schooler; a number of article praising the then-site of the Mixed Championship (LPGA and PGA Tour two-person teams) wetted my whistle for a narrow, water-logged layout that demanded straight, long and accurate shots from tee through green.
The Copperhead course underwent a complete green resurfacing after Jordan Spieth won the 2015 Valspar Championship. The greens were very puttable, considering that they were barely 6 months old. Bunkers were fortified and sharpened during the same restoration. Copperhead offers elevation changes not usually found in Florida, with both the 1st and 10th holes dropping down from the crest where the clubhouse rests to ample fairways below. A number of holes offer blind tee balls over fairway ridges, demanding either a familiarity with the course or the foresight to purchase a course guide in the pro shop.
Our round on the Copperhead went off the White tee blocks, measuring between 6200 and 6300 yards in distance. We easily might have dropped back to the Green tees, whose length comes in at 6650, without much trouble. The Black deck (7000+) would have been a bit too much. Copperhead demands decent (but not overwhelming) accuracy from the tee, proper distance control into the greens, and appropriate weight on putts. Greens like the 9th, 18th and few others have extreme movement to them; the rest are fairly flat and offer opportunities to hole a longish put.