The first recorded evidence of golf in America dates back to 1739 when a shipment of clubs and balls arrived in the port of Charleston. But it wasn’t until the Country Club of Charleston came along in 1901 that golf really gained a foothold in the city. The original course was located on the peninsula near downtown until 1922 before moving south just across the Ashley River to its present location along Wappoo Creek.
To design the course, the club tapped C.B. Macdonald protégé Seth Raynor, known for fashioning “template” holes based on famous Scottish designs. One of the most distinctive on the “Wappoo Links,” as members call their course, is the 177-yard 11th, a reverse Redan green with a huge false front and two deep bunkers.
“This course is in the upper reaches of Raynor designs,” says Brian Silva, who restored the 6,776- yard par-71 to its original glory in 2006. “They had great aerial photos from the 1930s and the club was fully committed to putting it back to the way it was.”
Silva even rebuilt a controversial five-foot-high berm that complicates the layup on the 533-yard 15th. “I was thrilled that the club wanted to bring it back because that’s really unusual,” says the architect, who has completed nearly a dozen Raynor restorations.
Another rare feature is a “Lion’s Mouth” green at the 464-yard 16th. Fronted by two steep, pawlike ramps surrounding a gaping, seven-foot-deep bunker, the elevated green is much more receptive than it looks thanks to a punchbowl-like design that keeps long approaches from running off the surface.
With their fast speeds and steep fall-offs, most of the greens don’t offer such Southern hospitality, particularly when there’s a breeze blowing off the surrounding marsh, which is often. The greens and the wind have always been the course’s prime defense in the club’s many big tournaments, most notably the 2013 U.S. Women’s Amateur and the Azalea Invitational, one of the country’s premier amateur events, which the club has hosted each April since 1946.
Hall of Famer Beth Daniel grew up at the club, while current member Russell Henley credited the course with helping him capture his first win on the PGA Tour at the 2013 Sony Open, played on the Raynor-designed Waialae Country Club.
Like Waialae, what Wappoo Links lacks in dramatic terrain it more than makes up for in strategic nuance. “It’s an example of subtle greatness that few golf courses possess,” says six-time Azalea champion and longtime member Frank Ford III, whose grandfather won four of the first seven Azaleas. “The course provides both enjoyment and demands for every level of golf ability.”