The River Club opened in 1985 at the southern end of the Grand Strand in Pawleys Island, S.C. The Tom Jackson design features bent-grass greens which, as advertised, play true and fast. Housing is located throughout the course but is generally well distanced from the lines of play.
Our foursome arrived bright and early for a Sunday morning tee time, coffee in hand. Our starter warned us about aggressive crows invading carts and making off with keys, watches and food. Though the pesky birds were visible, we did not experience their antics. We were also told this is Lowcountry — translation: There is water everywhere. This is no exaggeration, although there is no actual river at the River Club, just an abundance of lakes and ponds.
The water is not simply ornamental. It is fully in play on a dozen or more holes. Wild shots are often followed by a splash, and there are plenty of situations where players must either confront the water or consciously avoid it. But the course does not demand long, forced carries over water or marsh. Almost every hole has a safe option for steering clear of trouble, making the course very playable and a great option for foursomes of mixed abilities.
Even though the course is accommodating to novices, it is demanding on better players. While there is usually ample room off the tees, approach shots to well-protected greens can be difficult. Getting it close is no easy task.
(339 yards, par 4)
The water does not really come into play on this short dogleg right. A large bunker protects the turn in the fairway and teases you to cut the corner. This is a case of risk and reward, but the risk is not justified. Playing safely left of the bunker from the tee leaves only a short iron or wedge to the green. Challenging the bunker may take 50 yards off of the approach, but the slightest slip to the right can create problems with trees and awkward lies. It may even be possible to overdrive the fairway and find trouble on the far side. Stay safe and try to avoid the bunker guarding the front of the green.
(477 yards, par 5)
I never had so much fun making an 8 as I did on this hole. At 477 yards from the white tees, the hole invites longer hitters to go for the green in two. A solid drive, favoring the right side of the fairway, will leave a little over 200 yards to the green. It sounds simple enough, but the shot is entirely over water and the price for errant shots is high. Conservative players will likely fare better here, as a mid-iron lay-up down the narrow fairway will open up the green for a soft wedge. Pay attention to the bunkers, which protect the left side of the lay-up area.
(160 yards, par 3)
With water intruding directly in front of the right side of the green, this par 3 turned out to be a real pest. Our entire group attempted to pursue the right front pin. The wind was strong, and although we felt we had properly adjusted our club selections, all fell just a yard or two short of the dance floor. Two managed to hang on to the steep bank in front of the green, while the other two rolled back into a watery grave. We spent all of our time on the front half of this green, but I would highly recommend avoiding the three rear bunkers at all costs.
Hole 9 (394 yards, par 4)
This No. 1 handicap hole runs straight from tee to green, but a large bunker guards the right side of the driving area. After all four of our group found the left side of the fairway, we discovered a very tricky approach from there. The green is large, but the left side is well protected by large bunkers, which punish anything less than a perfectly struck shot. We managed only one par from our four good starts.
(524 yards, par 5)
This is a gorgeous dogleg right. It’s not terribly long, so don’t worry about staying too close to the inside of the turn. Hit a nice, easy drive down the middle. Then, a midiron lay-up will leave a short iron to the green. Those who elect to challenge the hole by driving around the dogleg will find the green is well protected from long approaches by water and sand. There is no chance to roll up onto the putting surface, so reaching in two would be a tremendous accomplishment.
2 (360 yards, par 4)
This is one of the few “dry” holes at the River Club, a nice little dogleg right and a good scoring opportunity. A large bunker protects the inside of the bend. A fairway wood from the tee should find the turn in the fairway, leaving a mid-iron approach. Feeling heroic? Try hitting a driver over the bunker and have less than 100 yards to go. The choice is yours.
(149 yards, par 3)
With so much water in play, I suppose an island green par 3 was inevitable. The hole appears daunting, but the green is larger than it looks. Check the yardage, test the wind, pick your stick and swing. Play safely to the middle of the green and let your putter do the talking. Those who can control their nerves may be rewarded with a birdie opportunity.
(493 yards, par 5)
This water-filled dogleg left is certainly the most entertaining. Cautious players will play the tee shot to the bend in the fairway. More adventurous players can aim for a peninsula, requiring approximately 240 yards of carry, but shortening the approach to the green by 70 yards. A safe mid-iron will leave a short pitch to the green. Thrill-seekers may attack the green in two, but the shot must be struck with absolute perfection. Anything short is in the water. Anything long finds the rear bunkers which, as I found, are not an easy up and down. I never did find out why this is rated the No. 18 handicap.
The River Club
11 Pine Drive
Pawleys Island, S.C. 29585
tel 800 344 5590
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I had just taken off my sandals, stepping onto the white-sand beach for a late-morning walk to a secluded spot I heard about from a front desk clerk, when I glanced down and saw the time on my phone. It had just turned 11 a.m., which meant it was only 7 am back home, the perfect time to call and say good morning to by husband before he left for work. Not quite ready to head back to my room, I decided I’d test the WiFi signal and made the call as I continued walking toward the shoreline.
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