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South Carolina on our mind: Three great upcountry golf courses

Joel ZuckermanBy Joel Zuckerman,
The Furman University Golf Club
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John LaFoy designed the 6,800-yard course at Furman University Golf Club. (Courtesy furman.edu)

Say the words "South Carolina" to any avid golfer and he'll think of three things immediately: Myrtle Beach golf, Hilton Head golf and Kiawah Island golf.

But there's more great golf in South Carolina than the Grand Strand and the coast. Here are three jewels that are found in South Carolina's midlands and the upstate region.

Woodcreek Farms is just east of Columbia, in the capital city's suburb, Elgin.

There's a reason Tom Fazio is arguably the greatest architect of this generation, and Woodcreek Farms shows why. Like almost all of Fazio's courses, this 7,000-yard beauty showcases varied terrain, innovative bunkering, lovely vistas and numerous challenges.

The golf course opened in 1997, part of a 3,000 acre subdivision. It's just a slight exaggeration to claim it looks as though the golf course is laid out on the lion's share of the property. This is no walker's course, as there are long hikes between greens and tees. Besides this one negative feature, Woodcreek Farms is a real treat.

The course bunkering is one of its great strengths. The sand troughs dominate the landscape on many holes, and feature scrub plantings and bushes that can easily make a bad situation worse. Where there's little sand there's often water, most notably as players come to the finishing holes. The par 3 15th is where this phenomenon begins in earnest, a modest length hole of 155 yards which features a pulse-quickening tee shot to an island green. It's one of the better holes on a course with no shortage of contenders.

Compared to more famous college golf courses such as Yale, Duke and Ohio State, the Furman University Golf Club is well under the radar. But anyone Greenville-bound who happens to have golf on their mind would be well-advised to visit this 6,800-yard John LaFoy design.

Its popularity rests mainly with students and faculty, but anyone is welcome to tackle the demands of the course, which is menaced by encroaching streams and creeks on several holes.

Speaking of notable water features, The Reserve at Lake Keowee is defined by one. This up-and-coming development is in the tiny town of Sunset, S.C., at the southern tip of the Blue Ridge Mountains north of Greenville. There are 3,200 acres of land and 23 miles of shoreline on pristine Lake Keowee.

There is also a brawny Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course on property, a thrill ride sure to delight the club members and homeowners who are quickly purchasing building lots far from the madding crowds in Atlanta and Charlotte, both just a few hours away via interstate highway.

The golf course, some five years old, stretches 7,100 yards from the tips. Course and slope ratings of 74.2 and 142 attest to the inherent challenge of the design. It features dramatic elevation changes, massive bunkering, sizeable greens, generous landing areas and abundant wildlife.

This fairly recent addition to the Nicklaus oeuvre will inevitably be compared to his superb design on Lake Oconee, the Great Waters course at Reynolds Plantation, little more than an hour east of Atlanta. There is a scarcity of water holes at Keowee, particularly in comparison to Great Waters, where you practically need oars and a life jacket to negotiate the inward nine.

But this new offering has an epic grandeur that sets it apart, almost a breathtaking quality as players stride onto tee box after tee box. Given time to grow in and mature, the Reserve at Lake Keowee will surely win accolades of its own.

Joel Zuckerman is based in Savannah, Georgia and Park City, Utah. He is the author of five books, and his golf and travel stories have appeared in more than 100 publications around the world, including Sports Illustrated, Golfweek, Travel+Leisure Golf, Continental and Golf International.

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