Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Yeamans Hall Club

Occasionally, one of the courses I go to play takes me completely by surprise. Several "below the radar" courses have made a lasting impression on me thus far - Cruden Bay, Woodhall Spa and Myopia Hunt Club, in particular. Yeamans Hall Club now joins this group.

Located in Charleston, South Carolina, Yeamans Hall Club (ranked #92 in the world) is a treasure. This part of the country has retained its uniqueness and character and has resisted the homogenization that has largely swept most parts of the country. South Carolina is still representative of the Deep South and jealously guards its heritage. Tucked away just north of Charleston, the club is very discrete and isolated, located off a street marked "No Outlet". Reminiscent of Pine Valley, you have to cross a railroad track and immediately have to stop at a guard gate. Nowhere is there an indication that this is Yeamans Hall Club; it is an un-marked, low-key entrance. After the guard verified my credentials (I got in based on my charm and good looks), I passed through the entrance to an enchanted setting.


The entry gate at Yeamans Hall

Driving in you are greeted by a sign that says, "please drive graciously," and it is not hard to do in this setting. You drive on a long and winding dirt/gravel road for about a mile through an idyllic low country setting. The property is full of live oaks dripping with Spanish moss, loblobby pines and native grasses and flowers. Yeamans Halls is an intensely private place. There are 250 members, and the club is owned by 35 "proprietary members" who have houses on the 900 acre property.


The majestic entry drive at Yeamans

The club takes its name from a previous landowner, Sir John Yeaman, who was colonial governor of South Carolina. When you drive through and approach the clubhouse, you pass the first and seventh holes and immediately get a sense that the golf course is going to be as special as the overall property is. The master plan for this property was put together by Fredrick Law Olmstead, Jr., son of New York's Central Park designer. He originally laid it out for 250 houses, two 18 hole golf courses and a hotel. Thankfully, due to the depression, these never got built. Instead, we are left with a sprinkling of houses throughout the property and one hell of a golf course. When you turn right into the drive that leads up to the clubhouse, the intimacy and beauty of Yeamans Hall keeps getting better. There are a dozen or so imposing live oaks set around a circular driveway. Around the driveway are low-slung wooden buildings housing the clubhouse, locker room and pro shop. The trees provide a welcoming shade to keep the area cool from the sun beating down and enclose the entire area under a canopy that gives it the feel of a very large outdoor room.

Live oak with Spanish moss

The Golf Course

Yeamans Hall was designed by Seth Raynor in 1925, and he did a masterful job. The first hole is now a personal favorite. The fairway, like all fairways at Yeamans, is wide; generously accepting of a nicely hit opening drive. The second shot plays over the dirt entry road to one of the most dramatic greens you will ever play. There is a large, false front to the green and a couple of huge humps on this "double plateau" Raynor signature hole. Hopefully, the picture below does it justice, and you can pick up the severity of the contours on the green.


The first green at Yeamans Hall

Over time, the greens had become reduced in size and otherwise changed from their original state. Tom Doak was brought in several years ago to restore the greens back to Raynor's original designs and he did a fine job. Yeamans has one of the best stretches of starting holes in golf. The first six holes provide an exciting start that showcase a unique design style.

All the greens at Yeamans Hall are as large as I have seen anywhere except the Old Course at St. Andrews. This picture of the 2nd green below is indicative of the greens here. I found Yeamans Hall particularly pleasing because I had played Harbour Town the previous day. I went from playing a course with extremely narrow fairways and tiny greens to a course with generous fairways and huge greens. There is probably no greater contrast in course styles and designs, and it was a welcome change to be able to swing more freely again.

yh2nd green

Approach to the large 2nd green

The third hole at Yeamans (a classic "Short" hole) is a par three that plays out toward the river. It is a spectacular hole with the beautiful marsh grasses serving as a back-drop. The green has a horse-shoe shape in the middle. Raynor squared off many of the greens at Yeamans, as you will see, many are cut at 90 degree angles to bunkers and fairways. Most of the holes at Yeamans Hall feature a geometric shape on the green.


The par three 3rd at Yeamans


The horse-shoe 3rd green

The 5th is Yeamans rendition of an "Alps" hole, modeled after the "Alps" at Prestwick, although more suited to the terrain here, which is pretty flat. There are hazards in the middle of the fairway as you can see below, which creates a nice optical illusion off the tee.

yh5th tee

"Alps" hole from the tee

The green on the fifth hole is also very large with big humps running through it and a ninety degree angle at the corner.

yh5th green

Squared off green on the 5th

Raynor used his imagination and the terrain to great effect at Yeamans Hall. See the big dip in the 11th fairway below, a "Maiden" hole, modeled after the original at Royal St. George's.


"Maiden" hole at Yeamans

The "Biarritz" hole, the 16th, is a super rendition of this classic hole with a large swale protecting the front of the green.


"Knoll" green at Yeamans Hall

The overall feel of Yeamans Hall is magical. The place has character, old-world charm and a sense of complete isolation from the outside world. More or less, everything is perfect. The small building that houses the locker room is understated and has the feel of a small hunting lodge (seen below). I like their philosophy and approach, as exemplified in their recommended pace of play, "3 1/2 hours is adequate for four ball match." After our round we had sandwiches - shades of Augusta National - I had a delicious pimento cheese sandwich.

Yeamans is much more than a golf course set in an old plantation surrounded by a marsh; it is an experience in Southern charm and hospitality that is hard to beat.

I have previously been a critic of Raynor's design, particularly at Fishers Island, which is generally viewed as his masterpiece. I still think Fishers Island is over-rated relative to its merits. It has a half dozen really good holes but I think it gets too much credit as being great simply because it's on the water. To me, Yeamans Hall is a much better design and I would rate it as Raynor's masterpiece, particularly because the conditioning of the golf course here is so fine.

Raynor hit the nail on the head when he wrote, "one is bound to fall in love with golf at Yeamans Hall."

The unique tee markers of Yeamans are cut-up railroad tracks

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