Review: Palmetto Golf Club

Information:

  • Aiken, South Carolina
  • Private
  • HC Leeds (1897), Alister Mackenzie (1932)
  • 93rd in the US (Golf Magazine)

Granted, I am not as well travelled in the southeast as others, but Palmetto Golf Club has to be one of the best experiences and golf club’s… right? After all, HC Leeds, the architect of Boston’s Myopia Hunt Club is credited for the first layout. Along comes Mackenzie, and during his tenure at nearby Augusta National Golf Club, he delivers similar concepts that Augusta National is built on. A Stanford White clubhouse (of Shinnecock Hills clubhouse and Madison Square Garden fame) and a small membership only adds to the fun.

Speaking of fun, everyone loves a downhill tee shot, and Palmetto opens on one. After walking either across or around the 18th green, the golfer steps up to the 389 yard par 4, 1st.

It goes without saying, but splitting the bunkers is ideal. That green on the right you see? That’s the splendid par 5, 14th, as well as the 15th tee that plays back up near 1 tee/18 green. Members will tell you to take note of the pin location for 15 before walking to the 1st fairway.

Most players will have a relatively short iron or wedge into 1. The 2nd tee acts as a small backstop and a fairly consistent tilt towards the front are the main features here.

The 2nd comes early, and perhaps a reason why I felt like people rarely talked about this hole. Nonetheless, the 368 yard par 4 is exceptional. The landing area plays through a small depression, with a slew of bunkering up the right and one left.

The approach shot is uphill ever-so-slightly, and brings the golfer their first taste of the short grass surrounds at Palmetto. Hint: these small and devilish greens are nasty if you miss.

Like the 2nd, the 3rd is exceptional. At 455 yards, a monster par 4 awaits, though the tee shot is relatively straightforward. One bunker right that hides behind the crest of the hill.

As mentioned, the bunker hiding on the right. At least the top shot bunker off the tee on the right helps push the golfer left!

This approach shot is absolutely superb. What you see from the fairway…

…versus what you see as you approach the green. The front bunkers hide the false front, which is quite gnarly.

Continuing the good stretch of the golf, the canted fairway at the 4th is aggressive. A bunker left is the ideal line to either start the drive at, or perhaps gear down and hit it hard at the bunker and let it fall down to the right.

The hole itself is only 388 yards, and like the 1st, the golfer will most likely have a short iron or wedge in. Like the rest of the golf course—a common trope, in fact—the greens are the main defence. A huge collection area right, only accentuated by a hanging lie for a righty and a hook lie for a lefty, is most certainly in the mind of the player.

I mean, short right is nasty!

The last of an opening jaunt of five par 4’s to open, the 5th is the longest yet, clocking in at 3 yards longer than the 3rd at 458. Somehow, each tee shot has played fairway flat or downhill, and the tee shot at the 5th is yet again downhill.

The approach shot plays likely a club uphill, but again, the green complex shines. In fact, I could not help but see similarities to the 3rd at Augusta National. The shape itself is similar, and the tilt, heavily to the front left and a harsh fall off short of the green (minus the high right side), seems inspired by Palmetto’s big brother across state lines.

Some beautiful contours around the green, and while the camera always flattens such features, hopefully everyone can see some wicked tilt.

The 6th is a very seductive par 5, and short, too. At 464 yards, I venture the long hitters here have 9 iron or wedge in, depending on the day. When we played, it was colder and raining, so certainly no 9 irons for me!

The bunkering you see from the tee in the distance beautifully sits in the landscape. As a result, the bunker hides the green complex from the fairway for those going for it in two.

For those laying up, the bunkers that distract those going for the green in two also acts as layup bunkers also.

While Palmetto features a strong supporting cast and an overall very enjoyable golf course, the par 3, 7th is the lead actor. This is why you came, and for good reason: the 180 yard one-shot hole is nasty, yet iconic and among the better par 3’s I’ve seen.

It is difficult to follow up such an iconic hole, so naturally, the 8th feels slightly underwhelming at first glance. The actual substance, however, continues to build like a kettle boiling hot water. On this 441 yard par 4, the tee shot moves gently to the left.

The approach shot is really difficult. Shaved short grass on the left and at the back, this tiny green is more than well-protected.

The 9th is a difficult par 3 at 199 yards directly up the hillside. The tee shot looks simple:

Yet the contours on the edges of the complex are delirious.

The 10th is a very pleasant, if slightly unspectacular, par 5 at 518 yards. One thing to note, however, is the beautiful texture and abundance of colours. The contrast is really pleasant on the eyes.

A look at the second shot, where medium to longer hitters can get close to the green in two (or on).

This green complex literally feels like it is sitting on the edge of a cliff, and if you get that feeling, well, that is because it is!

The aforementioned cliff is exactly what the 11th skydives off of, and at only 170 yards, it is a shorter club than the last couple one-shot holes.

The green complex is really smart, with a small little knob in the back that could affect anything in the back half of the green.

The 12th is the only water hazard that really comes into play at Palmetto, and realistically, the only place that is obvious enough to lose a ball. 448 yards, this is a difficult tee shot around the corner.

The player will have a much shorter club in than the outside corner, but I found it played more uphill. It is a bit of a “choose your own adventure” for what you prefer, I suppose.

The majority of the holes play downhill at Palmetto, but eventually, you have to climb. The 12th, while about a club uphill, is small in comparison to the 423 yard par 4, 13th.

Similar to the 4th in that the fairway is sloped to the right, though much friendlier here. The bunker is perhaps the preferred line on paper, though with modern technology, I think most will be able to access the green from the right of the fairway.

Oh, yeah… the green surrounds are pretty tasty, too.

The final par 5 on the golf comes at the 14th, which tumbles downhill from 3 green to 1 fairway. 550 yards, it is the longest hole by a considerable 32 yards.

The second shot plays over a smaller gully/ditch, which works from the right to the left. I did not want to say barranca as I feel that is reserved for Southern California, though it reminded me of some of the features in the southwest.

I appreciate the low-profile nature of the green, which sits seamlessly into the landscape.

From what I’ve been told, the 15th at 338 yards is slightly controversial. But my question for those who do not like it: how many other examples of architecture can you find where the concept is completely daring and unique? Regardless, the 15th is certainly a standout for whatever reason you would like to choose.

The wedge or short pitch for most looks simple. After all, the green is open!

Though the green has a pretty aggressive and consistent tilt towards the back left. It certainly fooled me, and these sorts of small features, though simple in nature, make a golf hole like the 15th so much better.

After walking across 18, past 1 tee, between the clubhouse and pro shop and through the parking lot, you arrive at the 212 yard par 3, 16th. In reality, the sentence before makes it seem longer than it is. Palmetto has a small footprint, so it really is not a long walk at all.

The green complex sits maybe 18 inches above the surrounding turf, which forces the golf ball to come from the sky. A small feature increasing the difficulty considerably.

On the 17th, we get our first true blind tee shot. Thankfully, the hole is only 388 yards, and with a gully ending the fairway, perhaps less than driver is ideal for the longer hitters.

The golfer does not have to walk very far for a full reveal of what is to come.

As previously stated, the hole plays over the gully, but the main feature on the approach shot is the green, which slightly slopes away from the golfer and really forcibly kicks balls towards the back.

Like Olympic Club or Inverness Club, Palmetto ends on a short and potentially drivable par 4 up the hillside. Only 306 yards from the back, who does not want to end on a potential birdie? Sounds like fun to me.

As expected, the green and surrounds are well guarded. Not an easy tee shot, and a much easier wedge. But given it’s the 18th, the decision is in the golfers hands!

Is there a better place for a spin? No doubt, Palmetto would be on my short list of the most enjoyable places to play golf. I very much enjoyed the interesting mix between HC Leeds and Alister Mackenzie, which provided some quirk, charm, standard, and downright weird moments. Such examples are what makes Palmetto standout, and why I am daydreaming about the splendid course on a cold February day.

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