Why Aiken Golf Club is the best course you’ve never heard of
Our knowledgeable crew of course raters have played golf just about everywhere. Many of those courses you’ve probably heard of, but some are less renowned — at least for most golfers. In Best Course You’ve Never Heard Of, we celebrate those sneaky-good designs.
Aiken, South Carolina, is a little more than a stone’s throw from some of the finest courses in the country, the likes of which are undoubtedly familiar (Palmetto, Sage Valley, and, ahem, Augusta National). For a small and unassuming city, it casts a long shadow in the world of golf.
But there is a course in Aiken you may not know, and it is the heartbeat of the city’s golf scene: the Aiken Golf Club. This gem — less than two miles from Palmetto — was built in 1912 by Donald Ross and John Inglis as an amenity to a resort, and it has a ton of history (more on that here). While the hotel did not survive the Depression, the city of Aiken stepped in to support the course through hard times. Though the property is now privately owned, its community spirit endures.
The par-70 course, which tips out at just under 5,800 yards, opens with a drivable par-4, followed by a par-5 that can be reached with a driver and a mid-iron. But even if you open with consecutive birdies, you’ve still got a long road to beat the course record of 58, set by James McNair, Sr., the club’s owner of 30 years.
The course winds through the local neighborhood, but the routing remains clean and intuitive. The community around the course does nothing to impose on the golf, except to provide the occasional view of a golden retriever out on its walk. Carolina pines frame the course beautifully, but unlike on many courses throughout the region, they have not been allowed to impede the line of play.
Perhaps the most striking feature at Aiken Golf Club is the land movement: the walk is not for the faint of heart. Uphill, downhill and sidehill shots abound, and no two shots present the same. The course rolls naturally with the dramatic terrain, and with that comes a myriad of challenges.
The charm of Aiken Golf Club doesn’t start and end with its 18 holes, either. After plunking down $25 in the low-key pro shop to walk the course, we spent more time than I’d like to admit on the practice green, which is really more akin to a miniature golf course: a snake-shaped, zig-zagging putting surface, with an abundance of cross-campus putting competition opportunities. It will put you in the perfect, fun-loving frame of mind to enjoy the walk.
Your ball will draw some bare lies, and you’re best off playing with a half-set in the bag. But if you are in Aiken and looking for a twilight loop, do yourself a favor and stop by.
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