Golf

Bob Gillespie

SOUTH CAROLINA INSIDER

 

The Traces: With 27 holes to choose from, golf options aplenty in Florence

Posted 10/8/2012 12:01:00 PM

If you’re looking for golf in South Carolina’s Pee Dee region, there are plenty of options. But if you want a single course that offers three distinct experiences -- three separate nine-hole layouts and the possible combinations thereof – then The Traces Golf Club is the destination for you.

Opening in 1991 with The Meadows and Creekside nines, owner and designer James Goodson decided in 1999 to add a third nine holes – no wonder, since at the time, The Traces, located less than a mile off Interstate 20 and four miles from Interstates 95, was hosting upwards of 55,000 rounds on its 18 holes. For that job, Goodson signed Florida architect Ron Garl, whose previous work included popular Golden Hills Country Club near Lexington.

“Business then was fantastic,” says E.B. Bell, head professional since 1996. “We could see golf booming, so we added The Woodlands,” Garl’s contribution to the package. “We’re the only 27-hole club in the area.”

The slumping economy has cut into The Traces’ numbers, but it remains popular among locals and tourists alike, drawing 40,000 rounds a year, Bell says. Its biggest selling point, obviously, is its variety, with three distinct designs.

Bell, who runs the club along with his assistant pro and son, Ryan Bell, admits that The Woodlands (the shortest of the three at 3,444 yards from the back tees; all nines are par-36) is his favorite, largely due to its difficulty and smaller greens. He especially likes the par-5 eighth hole – “you’ve got to hit two bombs to get there, with bunkers on the right and water on the left,” he says. But each nine-hole layout has its strong points, he says.

“The Meadows (3,515 yards) is a friendly nine,” he says. “You can mostly hit the fairways and go for the greens without much trouble. It’s got a few links-style holes and also has the rolling terrain. It’s the most generous” of the trio, he says, with fewer tightly tree-lined fairways.

While The Meadows, as the name suggests, has gentle elevation changes, Creekside (3,579 yards) demands accurate driving with its thick forests along the perimeters, plus dramatic hills and slopes. “The greens are exceptionally big, though,” Bell says of the putting surfaces’ 7,000-square-foot average.

Then there’s The Woodlands, which features Garl’s trademark bunkers located in strategic spots – “in driver range,” Bell says. “(Garl) wants to make the player hit an accurate second shot on the par-5s; the layout is based on those. He expects you to choose your shots and think.” That’s especially the case at the signature par-3 fourth hole, which has a “beach bunker” that runs into water.

Once The Woodlands reopened Sept. 22 following a two-month resurfacing of its greens, all three nines were to have the same Tif Dwarf Bermuda surfaces. “Woodlands had Tif Eagle, but that required two different types of maintenance,” Bell says. A number of trees were also removed, he says.

So what’s the best combination for 18 holes? Bell says that depends on the player. “The novice golfer doesn’t want to go to Woodlands, but they love Meadows,” he says. “Low handicappers like Woodlands; it’s got character to it, and you’ve got to hit good shots – though, honestly, I love Meadows (because) I can score on that nine.”

Most busy mornings, players are likely to start on Creekside and then go to Woodlands, or start Meadows and turn to Creekside, Bell says. “I try to get the not-so-good players on Meadows” for pace-of-play reasons, he says.

On a recent visit, Bell’s guidance proved correct. Meadows featured a number of doglegs guarded by fairway bunkers, but only two holes with water in play. Still, it had surprises, such as the “drivable” par-4 fifth hole – drivable if you can launch a high fade over trees in the dogleg right and drop it onto the green. More conventional tee shots face a tight fairway and a palmetto tree in play.

Creekside, besides the looming trees on both sides, has water on the first, sixth (a par-3 island green) and ninth holes. Notable are the par-5 seventh, a long (555 yards from the back tees), up-and-down journey with drop-offs all along the left side, the par-4 third (a brutal 470 yards, much of it uphill) and the par-4 ninth (447 yards), with a pond running along the left side all the way to the green.

While The Traces is a local favorite, Bell says “snowbird” golf can account for 5,000 rounds. Each year, too, nearby Darlington’s Southern 500 helps boost rounds – including, earlier this year, crewmembers from driver Kyle Busch’s team. “This is the most-played course in the area,” Bell says.

Well, of course. Who else has 27 holes? No one in Florence, for sure.

For information and tee times, call (843) 662-7775 or go to www.thetracesgolfclub.com.