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|The first tee looks out on a narrow window to a wide fairway at Penny Branch Club. (Lisa Allen/WorldGolf.com)|
FURMAN, S.C. - Who better to own a golf course than a family in the course maintenance business? That's the case at Penny Branch Club, a pristine 18-hole course in the middle of nowhere owned by the McKenzie family. As its Web site says, no development, no houses, just golf.
The golf course evolved out of Trumac, an aerating, chemical application and maintenance company started by Truett and Susan McKenzie in the 1980s. Son Chris, an avid golfer, encouraged his parents to build a golf hole on which to train employees. That one hole turned into three, partly so Chris had a place to hone his game. Three holes then grew to nine and they invited in the public. Only a year after that, Chris and Truett designed and added another nine. It was then, in 2000, that sister Wendy Wolverton agreed to manage Penny Branch Club with some help from her parents.
The McKenzies built an addition onto the 97-year-old family farmhouse for the pro shop. The snack area is in the kitchen, and the bar is carved out of the space once occupied by a bathtub. As a golfer said, truly bathtub gin.
That's the background.
The golf course is kept in immaculate shape. The tiff eagle Bermuda greens are huge, undulating and slick. The plush fairways are like little pillows for your golf ball, but let your drive roll, roll, roll.
As for the design, there are several memorable holes and a few that remind you that this once was a farm - long, flat and wide. However, each hole usually boasts at least one redeeming feature.
John Crapse, a 15 handicap, sums up the course: "It's fast, long and forgiving."
Because of the roll on the fairways, the holes play much shorter than expected, allowing shorter hitters a chance to reach the greens in regulation. The back tees measure 6,641 yards, the front 5,016. The middle tees are 5,567 and 6,113 yards. It's a par 72 with three par 5s and three par 3s on the back.
Bunkers are not pervasive, and those that are there are shallow, making for easy exits. Instead, the course uses the Penny Branch creek as a hazard across several fairways, making course management necessary.
No. 2 is a sharp dogleg right with a marsh at the corner and a green with its own backstop in the form of a steep slope. This is when you realize that the course takes its greens seriously.
"No. 2 is a challenge," said Brent Terry, a 12-handicap. "You've got to place the shot. It's not just 'hit a driver.'"
No. 4 is an island green on a short par 3 measuring only 140 yards from the backs to 85 yards on the red tees.
No. 5 squeezes your tee shot between a marsh on the right and a bunker on the left, giving you only about 40 yards across to place your drive.
No. 10 puts a sand trap in the middle of the fairway on this par 5, so drive with restraint.
No. 16 is a sharp dogleg left with patches of rough in the middle of the fairway and a creek with a tree-studded bank across the fairway short of the green. Your tee shot is critical to give you a window to the green. Then, you have to hit the green because there is a shaggy ditch fronting it that makes the thought of a chip and a putt pretty daunting. It's a tough hole that likely would take a few rounds to master.
The closing hole is one of the longest in South Carolina, at 616 yards from the back tees and still a healthy 481 from the reds. The first two-thirds of the par 5 are long and straight, with a few side bunkers to keep you centered. However, the last third is the tough part, so keep your second shot right. If it goes left, you have a line of trees at the creek that makes a direct hit to the green impossible.
Yes, the Web site is correct. Penny Branch Club is worth the 45-minute drive from Sun City, Hilton Head or Savannah. It's a pleasant drive in the country to a course with turf that should make Penny Branch the envy of any high-end club around. And the course layout will help you card a lower score with long, long drives to brag about.
Chris Costello of Omaha, Neb., played Penny Branch Club for the first time with his children and father.
"I was impressed," he said. "I like the home style about it. It has nice, neat, beautiful holes."
Penny Branch, in tiny Furman (population 300), is a laid-back, friendly place that will entice you to return for the atmosphere, the inexpensive green fees and some of the best turf around.
August 11, 2009
Lisa Allen is a golf, travel and business writer based in Beaufort, S.C. She has edited newspapers, magazines and books in Michigan, Indiana and South Carolina. Follow her on Twitter @LAllenSC.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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