While Charleston might be a three-hour drive from the nearest “professional” city with NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball franchises that doesn’t mean the Lowcountry comes up short when it comes to spectator sports.

This middle-size market packs plenty of punch, including some up-and-coming stars in the minor leagues that go on to play at the highest levels. The Lowcountry features professional baseball, soccer and hockey at the minor league level.

The Cooper River Bridge Run has been among the most popular 10K races in the United States for the past two decades.

Charleston also has three NCAA Division I athletic programs and the Volvo Car Open, which has the longest tenure on the Women’s Tennis Association Tour.

Cooper River Bridge Run

The largest participation sporting event in South Carolina is the Cooper River Bridge Run.

The race, which had more than 29,000 finishers this year, has been among the nation’s top-10 road races for the past 25 years. The Cooper River Bridge Run had more finishers than the Boston Marathon in 2019.

With a $10,000 first-place price for top men’s and women’s finishers, the race attracts a world class field.

Silas Kipruto’s winning time of 27:58 was the sixth fastest in the race’s 42-year history and just 18 seconds off the course record. Moncah Ngige took home top honors in the women’s division.

College football

After making the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs in 2016, The Citadel and Charleston Southern are looking to return to the postseason.

The NCAA will add three more bowl games to its schedule in 2020, and Myrtle Beach will be the site of one such postseason match-up. Johnson Hagood Stadium, home of The Citadel, is vying for one of the 2020 bowl games.

Just up the road in Conway, Coastal Carolina made the jump from the FCS to the Sun Belt Conference and the Football Bowl Subdivision last season.

College basketball

Charleston of College’s Jarrell Brantley became the third player Cougars history to be selected in the NBA Draft. Brantley was the 50th overall pick by the Utah Jazz and was one of the franchise’s top performers in the NBA summer league.

The Cougars will feature one of the top scoring guards in the country in Grant Riller, who is on pace to set the school’s all-time scoring record.

Besides the Cougars, The Citadel and Charleston Southern also play at the NCAA Division I level. The Citadel’s “embrace the pace” high-scoring offense has been among the nation's top-scoring teams over the past three seasons.

The annual ESPN-owned Charleston Classic will be played in downtown Charleston at TD Arena in late November.

College baseball

The Citadel, College of Charleston and Charleston Southern all play highly competitive NCAA Division I schedules every year. South Carolina, North Carolina, Clemson, Georgia and Coastal Carolina, which captured the 2016 College World Series title, have all made their way to the Lowcountry in recent seasons.

More than just a tennis tournament

While the Volvo Car Open on Daniel Island is designated as a third-tier “Premier” event on the WTA Tour, it usually draws an A-list field. The top names in women’s tennis such as Serena Williams and Venus Williams have played in the event along with rising stars Sloane Stephens and Naomi Osaka.

But the Volvo Open is more than just a tennis tournament, it’s an event. It’s a place to see and be seen. The food, the music, the shopping make the week-long tournament a must-attend experience even for the casual tennis fan.

Madison Keys won the 2019 tournament. The 2020 Volvo Car Open is set for April 4-12.

Let’s go to The Joe

There’s nothing like sitting at the ballpark on a hot summer night, drinking a cold beer, and watching the sunset over the Ashley River at Riley Park.

Riley Park, known as The Joe to locals, is home of the Charleston RiverDogs, the Class A South Atlantic Affiliate of the New York Yankees.

Before becoming one of the premier home run hitters in Major League Baseball, Yankees sluggers Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez got their professional starts at The Joe.

The Joe also has one of the most eclectic food menus in minor league baseball, which includes such fan favorites as the Shrimp-N-Grit Corn Dog and the She-Crab Sweet Fry.

And be on the lookout for actor and Lowcountry resident Bill Murray, a co-owner and frequent patron at the games.

Fastest game on ice

When Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2018, South Carolina Stingrays fans rejoiced. Holtby got his start in professional hockey with the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays, which is the affiliate of the Washington Capitals.

He isn’t the only former Stingrays player to get his name etched on the Stanley Cup. Goalie Philip Grubauer, forwards Nathan Walker and Rich Peverley have also won hockey’s ultimate prize and played for the Stingrays early in their professional careers.

The Stingrays have won a league-record three ECHL titles and have been to the Kelly Cup finals in two of the past four years.

The beautiful game

The Charleston Battery have won four USL titles in its quarter-century of existence and its alumni of players include Major League Soccer’s Osvaldo Alonso, who led the Seattle Sounders to an MLS championship in 2016.

The Daniel Island-based club hosts the Carolina Challenge Cup, a week-long tournament that features teams from the MLS in late February. The Battery also routinely plays host to teams from Europe, including the occasional English Premier League side, during the summer months.

MUSC Health Stadium was the first soccer-specific facility built in the United States in 1999.

Reach Andrew Miller at 843-937-5599. Follow him on Twitter @APMILLER_PandC