Panel lists best golf courses in state

Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course is rated among the top public-access golf courses in the state and is No. 1 in the Lowcountry, according to the South Carolina Golf Course Ratings Panel. Brad Nettles/Staff/File

Pinehurst, N.C.-based golf course architect Richard Mandell spends more time renovating existing courses than he does building new ones. That’s a sad fact of life these days, with golf construction almost non-existent in the U.S. as designers look for work in China and elsewhere abroad.

Still, Mandell has done quite well reviving other people’s layouts, 35 in all. For 2014-15, in fact, he’s considered the best in South Carolina.

That’s the judgment of the South Carolina Golf Course Ratings Panel, which this week announced awards for the state’s Most Improved Courses of the past decade, as well as its “30 Best You Can Play” (public-access courses). Mandell is a double winner for his 2009 restoration of Orangeburg Country Club, a 1961 design by Ellis Maples, which ranked first overall as well as in the Midlands, and for his 2011 reworking of Greg Norman’s The Reserve at Pawleys Island, ranked best renovation on the Grand Strand.

Orangeburg also was selected as best in the Midlands in the panel’s public-access course rankings; a private club, it allows outside play via Santee golf packages. Topping the 30 best listings for the state’s other geographic areas are Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course (Lowcountry), Furman University Golf Course (Upstate), and Pawleys Island’s Caledonia Golf and Fish Club (Grand Strand). Caledonia was designed by the late Mike Strantz, a Mount Pleasant-based architect, who also designed Top 30 member True Blue Plantation at Pawleys Island. Strantz died of cancer in 2005.

Six other Charleston-area courses are also among the top 30: Wild Dunes’ Links Course, Kiawah’s Turtle Point and Osprey Point courses, Seabrook Island’s Ocean Winds and Crooked Oaks courses, and RiverTowne Country Club in Mount Pleasant.

When Mandell approached Frank Tourville, Orangeburg’s new owner, in 2009, “he said he wanted the best course in South Carolina, and that fueled me,” Mandell said. “He said if it was worth restoring, he wanted it done right.”

The project, which included renovating bunkers, re-grassing greens with Champions Bermuda hybrid and leveling tee boxes, was completed in four months (July-October). In 2013, Orangeburg was ranked 45th in the Golf Course Ratings Panel’s 2013 Top 50, including private courses.

“It’s one of my favorite (restorations),” Mandell said, “for the simple fact that when I think where I want to go play now, I want to go play Orangeburg. I love what we did with the greens complexes. It’s a good, solid, fair test.”

Mandell did a more modest reworking of The Reserve, which was rated third among 2011 renovations under $1 million by GolfInc. “(The renovation) was subtle, not as dramatic (as Orangeburg),” he said. “(It was) little nips and tucks that made a great improvement to its interest and enjoyment.” Cost of the Orangeburg renovation was not disclosed.

Greenville Country Club’s Riverside Course won the Upstate most improved award, while Spring Island’s Old Tabby Links, near Beaufort, was the most improved Lowcountry course.

The Golf Course Ratings Panel is made up more than 100 media, golfers and golf-business members.