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Q&A with Lowcountry Golf Hall of Famer, Clyde Johnston
Tuesday, October 15, 2019
Q&A with Clyde Johnston, Lowcountry Golf Hall of Famer and redesign/renovation architect of the famed Club Course of Sea Pines Country Club

When you set out to renovate the Club Course, what sort of template did you have to work with?

The layout was solid and had good bones, but we did not keep anything other than that. We wanted to modernize the course but retain its Lowcountry character. We designed and built new green complexes, greens, bunkers and installed new turf. We tried to lengthen it, but there’s really no room and frankly, it is an outstanding course without adding yards.

Without exception, members love the Club Course. Why is it such a great “members” course?

First, superintendent Tom Metzger keeps it in amazing and consistent condition. That’s half the battle. Second, it appeals to the private club demographic because you don’t have to use driver on every par 4 and 5. Seasoned players enjoy the added element of club selection off the tee, and oftentimes the Club Course rewards the shorter, smarter shot.

What would you say was your team’s number one objective other than modernizing greens, bunkers, tee boxes, etc.? Was there a theme that ran throughout the project?

The Club Course sits along an incredible stretch of Lowcountry terrain with numerous marshes, lagoons and of course, the tidal marsh on No. 18. We wanted to bring more of the geography not only into the line of site, but into play as well. For example, we relocated the green on 18 further left, extending it out into the marsh using a retaining wall. If there was one seemingly small change that had a major impact, it was that one.

On (par 4) 13, we pulled the green closer to the water using a bulkhead wall. On the sixth hole, we pushed the green back closer to the lagoon and because of that, changed the shot values on the hole. You just don’t want to be on the right side with your drive, period. Overall, pulling more of the Lowcountry features into the layout was a top priority.

Do you have a favorite hole that may not scream “favorite hole?”

The par-3 11th is a nifty one-shotter with two Live Oaks framing the hole and coming into play. It’s the easiest hole on the course, but it reminds some people of (Pete) Dye and (Jack) Nicklaus’ par 3s at Harbour Town Golf Links (at neighboring Sea Pines Resort). We installed an angle green with bunkers on the left side.

You mentioned Harbour Town Golf Links, and the iconic layout casts a long (and wonderful) shadow across the island. At the risk of embellishment, does the Club Course remind you of it in any way, shape or form?

Certainly in shape, if you will. The hole corridors, fairway widths and turning points for doglegs feel similar. Believe it or not, the fairway widths at the Club Course are fairly standard for the time, 30 yards or so. They feel tighter because of the tree lines. At Harbour Town, 25 yards isn’t uncommon. Some of the “tree chutes” there (like on the par 4, first hole) are only 20 yards wide and really add to the experience and ambiance.

Other than 18, what hole do you feel like you and your team enhanced the most in terms of design, not just aesthetics?

On No. 14 (the longest hole on the course at (562 yards), we put in a deception bunker that appears to abut the green but actually proceeds a false front. Lots of approach shots end up in the valley between the bunker and the green, and the lies down there can be tricky. The green has ridge in the middle and is tough to putt.

Sea Pines Country Club 30 Governors Road Hilton Head Island, SC 29928    P: (843) 671-2345
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