Golf clubs aren’t required to appreciate and enjoy the grounds of Caledonia Golf & Fish Club.
From the drive into the clubhouse under a canopy of moss-draped live oak trees, through the layout’s marshland and multitude of well-kept flower beds, the former rice plantation seamlessly weds golf with nature.
“Even if you’re not a golfer you could walk around and appreciate the beauty and arrangement of the flowers. It’s a beautiful place,” said David DuRant of Garden City Beach, an attorney with a 16 handicap who participated in a review of the course in late March.
“I don’t think you’ll find a more aesthetically pleasing golf course than Caledonia in the spring time,” David said. “There’s nothing else around here like it. It reminds me a lot of Augusta [National] during the Masters. They make it like a garden. The attention to detail is amazing.”
But if you are a golfer, there’s that much more to appreciate about Mike Strantz’s first solo design, which opened in 1994. “There’s not a bad golf hole on this course,” said Sammy Truett.
The review foursome was comprised of Truett, an insurance agent and plus-2 handicap from Surfside Beach, me, David and Denise Jarrell of Myrtle Beach, a U.S. Airways customer service representative and 12 handicap.
“The Azaleas are beautiful, and I really like the Spanish moss hanging off the oak trees,” Denise said. “It’s really well-maintained and manicured – both the course and its surroundings. I just like the naturalness of the place.”
Wildlife is always part of a round at Caledonia, and we encountered several alligators sunning themselves on the banks or wading on both sides of a pond that borders the seventh tee boxes and 14th green.
Caledonia is a 6,526-yard par-70 with five par-3s and three par-5s. Champion ultradwarf Bermudagrass greens were installed on the course in 2005 and were in excellent condition for our round. “The greens here are perfect,” David said. Added Denise, “They’re true and they’re quick.”
Fairways have fairly generous landing areas, though a number of intrusive oaks can affect shots from portions of fairways on several holes. “It’s pretty open, but you have select trees that get in the way,” Denise said.
Dramatic and deep bunkers in fairways and around greens also present a challenge. “The bunker shots are difficult,” Denise said.
Caledonia has developed a reputation as a must-play among visiting golfers. “Everyone who plays it always tells everybody that you have to play Caledonia,” David said. “People coming down may want to play two mid-level courses during the week, but they want to play Caledonia at least once. It’s a fun golf course that you can score on.”
Denise thought the yardage book was informative for a first-time player and she appreciated the clean restrooms, quality of the food and menu selections in the restaurant, helpful staff and fast green speeds.
Sammy enjoyed the course’s locale. “I like it any time you can go play a golf course that doesn’t have a lot of housing around it, or a lot of disturbances and traffic,” Sammy said. “When you go to Caledonia you’re pretty much confined to that property.”
David enjoyed the club’s amenities. “I like the clubhouse, restaurant and ambiance,” he said. “A lot of locals come here to each lunch. You can sit on the porch, have a beer and watch golfers complete their rounds.”
Caledonia offers the luxuries of an upscale course, including complimentary Manhattan-style catfish chowder at the turn, club cleaning and iced towels after the round, and complimentary range balls, though you have to travel to the nearby sister course True Blue Plantation to hit them. The chowder was delicious. “I wouldn’t even call it a fish chowder because there was all kinds of stuff in there,” David said.
The group’s primary beef was the lack of a driving range on-site. “When you go to Caledonia you know there’s no driving range, but you can go to True Blue or warm up with a wedge, so you’ve got some options there,” Sammy said. “Trust me, I don’t say I’m not going to Caledonia because they don’t have a driving range.”
Par-3s measure between 118 and 187 yards from the back tees, and between 110 and 175 from the 6,121-yard blue, the second-longest tees. “The par-3s are good challenges because of the green complexes more than their length,” Sammy said.
The 187-yard third hole has a narrow but 56-yard deep green that slopes sharply to the front from a middle-back ridge. A long bunker is left and a waste bunker is right of the green. The 157-yard sixth features a front left bunker that hides the left portion of the deep green, which angles to the left behind it and slopes to the front and back from the middle.
A wide and shallow green on the 118-yard ninth hole has a huge bunker in front and a pair of bunkers behind, and has a higher and deeper right side compared to the left. “It’s a short hole but if you miss the green, especially in that [front] bunker, it’s a tough up and down,” Sammy said. “They made up for the lack of yardage with a little target.”
The 167-yard 11th hole has a creek that runs across the front and left sides of a green that slopes to the front and left from a back right plateau and has flower beds as a backdrop. The 175-yard 17th has a slightly downhill tee shot to a slightly elevated green nearly completely surrounded by a bunker.
Par-3s measure between 80 and 135 yards from the red tees. “Par-3s are easy for women because they aren’t that long,” Denise said.
Par-4s measure between 376 and 462 yards from the tips and between 346 and 441 from the blue tees. “Caledonia provides you with short par-4s that require only a driver and a wedge, such as Nos. 1, 7 and 12,” Sammy said, “and it also has longer par-4s, such as Nos. 4, 14, 15 and 16, which require anything from 8-iron to 4-iron approach shots.”
The 376-yard first hole has an elevated green above bunkers to its right and front left. The 396-yard second has a waste bunker down its right side, a depression across the middle of the green and a large deep bunker left and front left of the green. Bamboo trees are to the left of the tee boxes.
The 419-yard fifth hole has an elevated green with deep grass bunkers right and front right, and the 399-yard seventh has water down the entire left side that is buffered by thin bunkers, and trees nearly surround the green, including a large oak on the right about 50 yards from the green. “The green is framed nicely by trees,” Denise said, “and you have to hit it over the tree on the right if you’re on that side of the fairway.”
Six of the course’s final seven holes are par-4s, beginning with the 405-yard 12th. The 398-yard 13th turns left around a large oak and has a green nearly entirely surrounded by a waste bunker. The 415-yard 14th, featuring a floating wooden bridge to the back tee, has water down the entire left side and three long bunkers on the left side of the fairway backed by a large oak that can affect downhill approach shots to a green that slopes toward the water.
Length makes the 462-yard dogleg-left 15th difficult, as well as bunkers backed by mounds both front right and front left of the green. The 417-yard 16th features a trio of bunkers short in the landing area on the right side off the tee, a small and penalizing bunker deep in the landing area on the left, and a green tucked behind a pond to its front and right. The 18th doesn’t require a driver off the tee and features a second shot that must carry more than 100 yards over water to a green backed by the clubhouse. “It’s a pretty finishing hole,” Sammy said.
“Through 14 holes you can have a pretty good score and you can give a lot of shots back on 15, 16 and 18, the three par-4s coming in,” David said. “The rest of the par-4s are fair and playable.”
The 571-yard fifth hole is straightaway and fairly narrow, with red stakes on both sides of the fairway. A rolling green falls off to the left and back right, slightly curls around a bunker to its right, and has a trio of bunkers short of it on the left side.
The 528-yard eighth hole is a mild dogleg right with four bunkers to carry on the right side of the fairway if you attempt to cut the corner, setting up a slightly downhill approach. A green that slopes to the front from a middle ridge is fronted by water and has a bunker front right and four bunkers behind.
The 553-yard 10th hole has a downhill and partially blind second shot to a green in a swale that is tucked behind a waste bunker. The green has three bunkers to its left and a winding ridge across its middle.
“Par-5s provide length, like holes 2 and 10, and risk-reward shots, like on No. 8,” Sammy said.
Sammy liked par-4 holes 4, 15, 16 and 18, particularly the 16th. “I think 16 is the best hole on the golf course,” Sammy said. “Ideally you have to move your ball left to right, and you’ve got the water in front of the green. If you hit it in that left fairway bunker you can’t get it over the water in two. It’s a demanding tee shot and demanding second shot.”
David’s favorite hole is the par-5 eighth, which measures 512 yards from the blue tee and 477 from the white. “It’s a shorter par-5 that gives players the option of going for it on the second shot if you hit a good drive,” David said. “With water in front of the green it makes for an interesting choice.”
Denise was partial to the par-3 ninth, measuring 80 yards from the red tee. “The ninth hole is beautiful, bordered by the trees and flowers behind the green,” she said.
Least favorite holes
Sammy named the par-4 seventh hole as his least favorite because the tree in front of the green on the right side can come into play on the second shot despite a good drive, “especially for a higher handicap player who doesn’t hit the ball very high.”
David’s least favorite hole was the par-3 ninth, which measures between 80 and 118 yards from the four tees. “The hole is too short and puts players at a disadvantage because it’s hard to find a club you can fully swing,” David said. “It’s always an awkward distance for me.”
Denise’s least favorite holes were the par-4 18th, measuring 301 yards from the red tee, and par-5 10th, measuring 442 from the red. She found the long approach over water on the 18th “very difficult”, particularly if it’s into the wind, and the blind second shot on the 10th to be deceiving. “I couldn’t tell how much room there was in the fairway between the bunkers,” she said.
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