The Plantation Course at Edisto
By JONATHON FINLEY
Tucked away in the center of South Carolina's coastal Low Country resting in the heart of Edisto Island is an emerald emerging from the rough. An almost forgotten treasure that is on its way to becoming the newest "X" on any golfer's map.
After driving through the moss-draped Highway 174 you won't be greeted by towering resorts, harsh traffic or exploding tourism. Instead, you'll find a welcoming, tranquil sleepy island with no red lights, hotels, motels or other commercialism to take away from the beauty of this Low Country paradise. After snaking your way through the island's streets, you will come to the gates that hold back a golf course that has been giving golf enthusiasts something to talk about since the early 1970's.
Harbored in giant live oaks, magnolias and towering palms, The Plantation Course at Edisto is welcoming golfers to a course that offers much more than a simple round of golf.
"Our mission statement is that we want to offer a beautiful, well manicured, player friendly course at all times," said General Manager Leland Vaughan. "We are going to provide services that exceed expectations."
And that is exactly what The Plantation Course has been doing since January of 2006.
Due to poor course management in the past, the course was in dire need of repair. A new investment group saw the potential in this lapsing course and stepped in to breathe new life into the course and set out to bring people back to Edisto. So, in October of 2005, the course was closed down in order to begin a complete renovation.
"When it came to grass, it was a critical decision to make based on the water issues we faced," said Course Superintendent Tom Arneman who has over 15 years of experience in golf management and supervision and has worked on Arthur Hill and Fazio courses at Hilton Head, as well as, Coosaw Creek in North Charleston. "There was no way we could change the water so we needed a grass that could stand the poor water quality."
After looking at various options for the course and taking all factors into consideration, it was finally decided that they would go with Sea Isle Supreme Paspalum from Jennings Turf Farm in Soperton, Georgia. Sea Isle Supreme Paspalum, a relatively new grass developed by Dr. Ron Duncan and the University of Georgia, is able to stand up to the harsh water conditions in South Carolina's Low Country. The grass has many features that aided in the selection. Sea Isle is a low growing, rapidly spreading semi-dwarf that is the most salt tolerant of the paspalums. It has minimal pesticide and low fertilization requirements, can recover quickly from injury and is able to hold deep color in cool weather.
The Plantation Course decided to put down a carpet of Sea Isle Supreme Paspalum that would cover the course wall to wall. The entire course was tilled up to seven inches to get ready to lay out the new grass.
According to Arneman, much of the course was sprigged, while sod was used around bunkers and on severe slopes. In addition to carpeting the course in new grass, new irrigation systems, new bunkers, asphalt cart paths, a new proshop facility and new course restroom facilities were added along with extensive drainage work and the restructuring of all six bridges. Also, work was done to clear the overgrowth, prune trees and remove the dead ones.
"It is essentially a brand new course," said Vaughan.
Once the grass was placed, it was time to sit back with fingers crossed. "This was my first time growing paspalum," Arneman said.
As the new grass began taking hold in early January of 2006, the course was hit with a devastating blow. An unusual cold front pushed into the area dropping temperatures down into the mid-20's.
"The paspalum has been great for us," Arneman said. "The response has been really noticeable to us. As soon as it got warm, it responded much quicker as far as greening up. It was much faster to green up than we have seen in courses around the area."
"We had two severe frosts here for about three days," Vaughan said "and we did brown out, but once it got mild the grass greened up. We went from a pretty good brown to a bright green in about two weeks. It really responded quick."
When the paspalum was first planted, "we were prepared to look pretty odd colored for three to four months, but we were able to hold the color," Arneman said. "We are still adjusting the soil after years of poor grass and water quality. When we grew it [paspalum], no more than six inches of rain fell from mid June to September. It was a critical period after sprigging and it didn't have much of a chance, but it came through."
With this being the first time Arneman dealt with paspalum, he was very pleased with the help he received from Jennings Turf Farm when it came to working with the new grass.
"They were always there for us," he said. "We received lots of help to keep it going well."
"I was pleased that Jennings showed a sincere interest in the course," said Vaughan. "They didn't leave us hanging and showed an interest in working with us. I was pleased with their attitude and cooperation with us."
Golfers making the trek to tackle the par 70 Plantation Course at Edisto may get a surprise of their own.
"People think it's an easy course because it's only 6,175 yards," said Vaughan, "but it is very difficult. There's lots of water on 14 holes and the wind [gusts blowing over the island]. It is really a challenging course. One thing we got going is that people enjoy it ... the challenge, beauty and now we've got the pretty grass and traps."
When playing this course, one must not think of yardage being a measure of challenge and quality, especially when staring down small greens and tight fairways. The course has a long, rocky history since first opening in 1974. Over the years, the course has gone from experiencing much success and receiving high national recognition for its layout and design to nearly deteriorating away from neglect to becoming a lush golfer's paradise once again.
"You have to understand where we are," Vaughan said. "When the investors purchased the course, it was in horrible condition. This is an existing course of 32 years that was allowed to deteriorate and suffered from poor public acceptance. We had to rebuild the course and the image. We not only have a new name but a new look and a new service standard to create a pleasurable golfing experience."
The Plantation Course at Edisto is a public course with membership. A renewed interest is already being felt within the course as 62 members have signed up within the first six month. The course is open to the public with daily greens fees as well as offering several membership options and weekly play cards for vacationing guests. And if you forgot your clubs, Nike rental clubs and pull carts are available.
With the extensive face lift the course received, there were only a few significant changes in the course's layout. The first hole is now a par four where it was a par 5. The new owners tried to keep the course's natural beauty intact while working on all the renovations, especially the crowned jewel of the course, hole number 10. The par 4 hole welcomes golfers to a tee box that rises nearly 30 feet above the fairway on a natural bluff. From the tee box, you can really take in the courses beauty and grandeur as you look out and see the flowing fairways shadowed by massive magnolias and some of the tallest palms the low country has to offer.
As the course matures and settles in, a complete program of activities are being planned with member activities, tournaments and charitable events.
The Plantation Course at Edisto is open throughout the year, with its major draw from mid April to October. Since finishing the renovations, no one was sure what to expect; however, in April, the course's first big month, 2,500 rounds were played.
"We are very seasonal," Vaughan said due to the summer tourism. "We hope to be playing 2,500 to 3,000 rounds per month."
Regardless of your skill level, you are certain to enjoy the beauty of The Plantation Course at Edisto and the surrounding area. Don't be surprised to find yourself being watched by some of the island's wildlife including pelicans, ospreys, herons, egrets and even a few Bald Eagles. And be sure to keep your eyes open for one of the course's alligators taking in some rays along the edges of the lagoons.
If you are looking for an escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and want to find a place you can relax, soothe your mind and push your worries away, Edisto's island charm and flavor may be some of the best medicine you can find - a prescription you will want to have filled over and over.
The Plantation Course at Edisto
19 Fairway Drive
Edisto Islands, SC 29438
Phillip Jennings Turf Farm
6311 GA HWY 86, Soperton, GA 30457 or
PO Box 680, Soperton, Georgia 30457
Phone: (877) TURFMAN or (877) 887-3626
Fax: (912) 529-3217