The game of golf is unforgiving enough. But at Cherokee Plantation, a Colleton County recreational sporting club so exclusive it largely remains off the Lowcountry golfing industry's radar, members also face a layout that goes against their natural athletic and mental flow.

After playing the 13th hole, golfers have to pack up their clubs and trek some 600 yards through the historic plantation grounds to reach their next tee box. The member-owned course doesn't permit powered golf carts.

That's why the club near Yemassee recently proposed plans to build a new 13th hole at the Donald Steel-designed tract, directly over wetlands that drain into a tributary of the Combahee River.

The private club is seeking permission from the Army Corps of Engineers to fill 5.39 acres of wetlands, an area slightly smaller than Marion Square in downtown Charleston, on land that now separates the two holes. The acreage is farmed wetlands that grow corn, said general manager Robert Drouin.

"They've been farmed since the plantation's been here for several hundred years," said Drouin, who would not disclose the number of members at the private course. "It's not ... what most people think of as a traditional wetland."

As a trade-off, club members plan to preserve a portion of Sweetleaf Swamp, a 595-acre property in Jasper County.

Still, the proposed project raised eyebrows among local conservation groups that questioned the necessity of it. "It doesn't seem like a very good reason to fill in wetlands," said Nancy Vinson of the Coastal Conservation League.

Environmental agencies should allow developers to fill in wetlands only if it's unavoidable, she said. Golfers have been playing on the course for years, suggesting the project isn't necessary.

On this point, Drouin and Vinson seem to agree: It's a golf course. Of course it's a luxury.

"This would make the golf course more player-friendly," he said.

In its permit application, Cherokee explained that most golf courses have a green-to-tee between holes of less than 75 yards, putting players on the next hole in less than three minutes.

At Cherokee, the commute between holes 13 and 14 is so long that it has an "adverse effect on play performance because of muscle cooling and extended breaks in mental concentrations," according to the permit application.

Filling in the wetlands and moving the holes closer, according to the club, also would promote "green living" because the course would become more walkable.

Cherokee Plantation's roots date to the late 1600s, when it was established under a royal grant. It has changed ownership only a handful of times over the centuries.

In the late 1990s, the property became part of British entrepreneur Peter de Savary's exclusive Carnegie Club concept, a collection of upper-crust getaways he launched at Skibo, a castle once owned by steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie.

Cherokee offers its members an array of outdoor activities, such as boating, fishing, hunting and shooting. The golf course was added in 1999.

Drouin said he didn't know the proposed cost of rebuilding the 13th hole, though the mitigation credits alone would cost about $150,000.

The Army Corps of Engineers has not decided whether it will approve the project.

Reach Katy Stech at 937-5549 or kstech@postandcourier.com.