PALMETTO - 16 POINTS
Palmetto is old American golf. It lays claim to being the second oldest course in the US and the club is steeped in history. Having said that, there is nothing prissy about the place. They open their doors to the public during Masters week and there was no snootiness whatsoever, no indication we were privileged to step on the hallowed turf. Rather it was a question of get out there and have some fun.
The website for Palmetto doesn’t have a lot going for it but you can read about the history here. When Alister Mackenzie finished up at nearby Augusta he turned his hands to reshaping (and grassing) the greens which are testament to his work. Since then many great architects have tinkered with it – Doak, Hanse and Ross have all had a hand and it has paid off.
It is a course which is laid out there in front of you with nothing tricked up about it at all. It’s only 6,100 yards long and pretty open so you can take a driver at every hole without feeling you are taking on too much risk.
However, the starter did warn us though that this may feel like the longest 6,100 yard course we had ever played (we were off the members’ tees) and he wasn’t wrong. The reason for that is that pretty much every green is elevated and you can’t run the balls up to them so you had to land everything on the greens and that is where the problems start. That’s because the greens were slick and there was a lot of movement on them – this really was a course you had to have a short game going to score well.
The course was playing fast all-round when we were there. One of the contributory factors was that the grass was just coming out of dormancy which meant it looked brown and was fairly ragged in places. The greens themselves were fine and the condition didn’t really detract from the experience, I just think you’d get quite a different one in the summer months.
Three and a half years on there are still some holes which stick in my mind. The early par 4s are great, Hogan called 3, 4 and 5 the best par 4s he’d ever played and the par 3 7th is a wonderful creation – Bobby Jones called it the best non water par 3 in golf.
If I was going to split hairs then I’d say that the last few holes do feel slightly out of keeping with the rest of the course – they are a bit crammed in to a corner of the site but hey, it’s a small point.
This is a really hard course to score. It’s probably a very high 16 or just sneaks into a 17 but the experience here is one of the best I have come across. It’s fun to play, very scoreable and tremendously interesting. If I compare it to Garden City, a similarly historical place, I would say it beats it hands down.
If you need to whet your appetite any more then read this article from Michael Bamberger and it should do the trick!
BOOKING THE COURSE
Palmetto is a private members club so getting on isn’t easy. However, during Masters week they do accept guests, at around $250 a head which includes lunch and cart (although this is really a course to walk). Their website only shows that a couple of months before The Masters but if you give them a call they will book you in.
We didn’t explore the town of Aiken as we were staying in Augusta for the Masters. It’s about a 30 minute drive from there and if you are around in Masters week it’s a very good way to spend a Saturday morning before going onto the course to see the leaders heading out.