Story by Ian Guerin
PAWLEYS ISLAND, S.C. | Two years ago, Glen Campbell and his wife decided they were leaving their home state of Ohio and heading to South Carolina. The weather and the golf were a huge draw for their retirement years. They initially toyed with the idea of Hilton Head, then the Mount Pleasant area just north of Charleston. Eventually, they locked in on Pawleys Island. They had vacationed here several times, and after one more exploratory trip, they elected to buy a home in the neighborhood adjacent to Tradition Golf Club.
To say Campbell has been pleased with the decision would be an undersell. The house and area, he said, are great. But the course he plays three times a week is off the charts.
“I like the combination of holes. It’s not repetitive and it’s not tricked up. It’s a good, quality course in that regard to me,” Campbell said. “I play from the golds, and I’m 67 years old. It plays real strong, and everything comes into play. We’re a little closer to the ocean, so that comes into play. All that stuff is pretty even. The condition is pretty excellent.”
Formerly distinguished by the South Carolina Golf Course Owners Association as its course of the year statewide and once given 4.5 stars by Golf Digest, Tradition’s accoladed reputation tends to back up Campbell’s beliefs.
The Ron Garl layout, which originally opened in 1996, has impressed for more than two decades for a number of reasons. There’s the solid conditions, regardless of season, as well as excellent variety from hole to hole. Maybe most notable is how Garl crafted the 18 holes here with players, and not esteem, in mind. What’s more, he did it during a time when other architects were going another direction. “In the late ‘90s and early 2000s, everyone was moving to ‘How difficult can you make these things?’ Everyone wanted to see a huge slope and rating,” said Christa Bodensteiner, Tradition’s head golf professional and general manager. “That’s not really a whole lot of fun for the average golfer, even though it sounds impressive. I think designers are moving back toward that.
“I think it’s entirely an unconscious thing. If people play better, if people score better, they tend to like it better. Even if it looks difficult, with a marsh or a tree line, the better the scores, the more then tend to appreciate it. You can score on this course.”Another way to put it is that even when Tradition looks intimidating, the end result counteracts that.
The 453-yard par 5 No. 9 may be the best example of that. Approximately halfway through the hole, a wetlands marsh cuts the fairway in half. As scary as it appears, the reality is that even an adequate drive (from any of the five tees) puts most players in position to traverse that natural hazard on the second shot with a long iron or fairway wood.
Garl then reloaded and went right back to another par 5 on No. 10, where a dogleg left cuts around an oversized waste bunker that spans the entirety of the fairway. Again, though, a large landing zone off the tee and a left-side tree line thins some at the bend leaves nearly everyone with a legitimate shot of reaching the green in regulation, if not earlier.
On either side of the two holes sandwiching the turn are approach shots where bump-and-run golf is encouraged, a beautiful island green (No. 7), another par 3 (No. 15) that sits on a semi-island strip of land and some par 4s that inspire thoughts of mega tournaments.
“I love No. 6. I stand at the tee box and I feel like I’m at Augusta because of the rolling contours,” Campbell said. “We have the restroom, kind of that Butler Cabin hiding over in the corner.”
Said Bodensteiner: “It’s got 18 interesting holes. People remember so many of them. That’s one of my favorite things. My other favorite thing is that it’s always in great shape. … It’s definitely a first-class establishment.”