Bob Gillespie



Golden Hills: Private, laid-back atmosphere, but visitors welcome

Posted 5/9/2012 10:58:00 AM

It was during the week of the 2011 Masters – about a month after he became head professional at Golden Hills Golf & Country Club – that Steve Larick first got a feel for what his new golf course is all about.

“We had a couple of guys from Ireland playing here,” Larick says, “and they said if we would cut down the trees, they would’ve felt right at home because of the links-style terrain. The rolling hills, some blind shots – that’s what they found most familiar.”

Something else the Irish visitors recognized: the sort of laid-back, everyone-welcome golf environment so common in their homeland. In South Carolina, it’s called “y’all come back now, hear?”

Though Golden Hills, built along U.S. 378 near the booming town of Lexington, is “member-driven” (the club has more than 300), the reality is that “we can’t get too many golfers here,” Larick said. Via Golf Packages of South Carolina, the club welcomes visitors to its relatively rural, relaxed beauty of a layout.

“We like to get players January-March, when my members think it’s too cold,” Larick says, laughing, “but the truth is, we like guests year-round.”

And visitors seem to like Golden Hills and what Larick calls its “laid-back” atmosphere. “We let the golfers be; we don’t pester them with bag tags or rangers pushing them,” he said. “We have the attitude that we’re glad you’re here and we want you to have fun. We make them feel wanted, but we also leave them alone.”

If the attitude is easy-going, the Ron Garl design’s demands often are not. “It’s challenging for the avid golfer; you have to hit all the shots in your bag,” says Larick, who should know after playing 14 years on mini-tours and including 2005-06 on the Nationwide Tour.

“It’s got a good mix: reachable par-5s, long and short par-4s, long par-3s and short ones with character,” he says. “It puts a premium on shot-making, especially around the greens. You can’t miss on the wrong side.”

Larick discovered that during his first round last March. At the long par-4 ninth, with its two-tiered, elevated green, “I was long and left, the pin was front right,” he recalls. “I thought: ‘This is an easy up-and-down.’ But I chipped too hard and went down and off the other side. Now that I know the course, I would’ve hit 5-iron instead of 4-iron to be beneath the hole.”

Golden Hills has a number of make-or-break holes, notably the downhill, par-4 10th, which requires a long, precise tee shot to be in position over water into a tucked-right green; the short-but-narrow par-4 fifth – “you think, this is easy, then you wind up in a pot bunker,” Larick says – the water-bordered par-4 sixth; and a stretch of Nos. 12-14, two par-5s sandwiched around a par-3 with the same lake in play on each.

Then there’s the tiny par-3 17th, tucked between housing to the left of the 16th and 18th holes, which plays to a severely sloping, back-to-front green with water all around the front. “Miss the green and you’re looking at double-bogey,” Larick says.

Golden Hills is, in a sense, typical of golf in Lexington County. While nearby Columbia features a wealth of both public and private courses, the small-town atmosphere takes over west of the Broad River. “People from Lexington don’t say they’re from Columbia,” Larick says. “This is a hometown, not part of the city.”

Indeed, Golden Hills was constructed on the site of a former dairy farm, and when it opened 20-odd years ago, “there was farmland across 378, which was a two-lane highway,” he says. Today, Lexington is booming, and four lanes run past the golf course toward the town.

It sounds – well, idyllic. As for complaints … Larick laughs.

“Some folks say the course is too difficult,” he says. “(As a pro) I don’t find it that hard, but there’s such a premium around the greens, and those that are bunkered are well-bunkered – there’s a penalty if you hit a poor shot, and you can’t roll it up onto most of the greens.”

So Golden Hills, if your game is off, might leave a mark. But with the laid-back atmosphere, it probably won’t sting – too much. For information and/or tee times, click here or call (803) 957-3355.