Best golf courses in South Carolina, according to GOLF Magazine’s expert course raters

Congaree golf course

Congaree Golf Club in Ridgeland, S.C.

Russell Kirk/

For every great course that made GOLF’s 2020-21 ranking of the Top 100 Courses in the U.S., dozens of more must-plays were left on the outside looking in — including at least a handful in your home state. Some of these designs just missed out on a Top 100 nomination, others finished deeper down the ranking, but all are worthy of your time. To shed light on the best courses in every state, we broke out the full results of our Top 100 Courses polling into state-by-state lists. Here’s a closer look at South Carolina.

South Carolina golf by the numbers:

Number of courses and U.S. rank: 355 (17)*
Number of golfers per capita rank: 18*
Average public-course greens fees: $$$ out of $$$*
Average daily temp and rank: 62.4 (8)
Annual precipitation and rank: 49.8 in. (11)

*Source: National Golf Foundation

Best South Carolina golf courses (2020/2021)

1. Kiawah Island – Ocean Course (Kiawah Island) [1, 2, 3, P]

The blend of tidal marshes, scrub-topped dunes, live oaks and the soothing sound of the Atlantic on every hole make this one of the South’s most memorable playing experiences. Though the course is barely 30 years old, it already has an illustrious history of hosting famous events, none more so than the drama-filled 1991 “War by the Shore” Ryder Cup. Much more short grass has been added around the green complexes since then and now the design is more thought-provoking rather than terror-inducing. Look for four of its plateau greens, namely those at the 2nd, 3rd, 11th and 14th, to have a large say in who wins the 2021 PGA Championship.

Book a tee time at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course.

2. Yeamans Hall (Hanahan) [1]

Marrying classic Seth Raynor design with coastal South Carolina topography, Yeamans presents a charming tour of Redan, Biarritz and Road holes woven through marshland and magnificent live oaks. Over the years, the course’s original wonder faded as bunkers grew in and green complexes shrank. But a two decade-long renovation based on Raynor’s original property maps — discovered in the clubhouse attic — has returned this Golden Age masterpiece to its original brilliance.

3. Congaree (Ridgeland) [1]

The number of par-4s on a course generally outnumber its par-5s and par-3s, and as such, go a long way in defining a course’s quality. The better the range of such holes, the better the course. From two of Fazio’s all-time finest short two-shotters (the 3rd and 15th) to two of his best long ones (the 6th and 11th) this design excels. Layer on the club’s desire for the fastest, firmest playing surfaces possible and the course flourishes.

4. Harbour Town (Hilton Head Island) [1, 3, P]

The professionals weren’t sure what to make of Harbour Town when they first tangled with it in the early 1970s. Unlike so many other courses being built in that timeframe, this design by Nicklaus and Dye didn’t rely on length as much as it did in having unique green shapes that were in turn protected by all sorts of hazards, including railroad ties at the 13th green. Standout holes abound, including the V-shaped green at the short 9th and the finishing stretch from 13 in. Even 50 years after their construction, these exemplar holes remain as compelling and interesting as anything that modern architecture has to offer.

Book a tee time at Harbour Town.

harbour town no. 18
The 18th hole at Harbour Town Golf Links. Courtesy Photo

5. Palmetto GC (Aiken) [1]

One of the great starts to the game with a series of diverse two-shotters leading the golfer well away from the Stanford White clubhouse. Each green is so good, and no surprise why: Alister MacKenzie lent a hand to them when he was working in neighboring Augusta. Picking favorite holes is difficult in the wake of Gil Hanse’s excellent restoration. Two of the best, though, are the one-shot 7th, with its shelf green reminding many of the 6th at Royal Dornoch, and the par-5 14th, which falls downhill in the most appealing manner imaginable. The finish is fascinating, too, with a couple of short par-4s in the final four. That works at Prestwick in Scotland, and it works here too.

6. Long Cove (Hilton Head Island)

7. CC of Charleston (Charleston)

8. Chechessee Creek (Okatie)

9. Sage Valley (Graniteville)

10. May River – Palmetto Bluff (Bluffton) [3]

11. Secession (Beaufort)

12. Old Tabby Links (Okatie)

13. The Dunes (Myrtle Beach)

14. Kiawah Island – Cassique (Kiawah Island)

15. Caledonia (Pawleys Island) [3, P]

Book a tee time at Caledonia.

16. Kiawah Island – River (Kiawah Island)

17. Greenville – Chanticleer (Greenville)

18. Musgrove Mill (Clinton)

19. Legends – Heathlands (Myrtle Beach) [P]

Book a tee time at the Legends.

20. Briar’s Creek (Johns Island)


1 = GOLF Top 100 Course in the U.S.
2 = GOLF Top 100 Course in the World
3 = GOLF Top 100 Resort
P = Resort/public golf course

Ed. note: Some courses were omitted from our rankings because they did not receive enough votes.

Course spotlight: The Dunes Golf and Beach Club (Myrtle Beach, S.C.), ranked 13th in South Carolina. Opened in 1948, this is one of the first great courses built after World War II and it remains one of the best in the state over 70 years later. Robert Trent Jones Sr. was given a surprisingly rolling site and his routing capitalizes on the terrain. Still, the design is best known for its use of water hazards, including the fronting pond at the reachable par-5 4th and the all-world par-5 13th that bends around Lake Singleton. Rees Jones further helped the course when he relocated his father’s 11th green well right, creating a testy par-4 with a green that juts into the marsh. The course was regrassed in 2013 and presents some of the firmest Bermuda playing surfaces in the southeast. — GOLF Top 100 Course Rater

Palmetto in Aiken, S.C. Larry Lambrecht

How we rank America’s best golf courses

For the newly released 2020-21 U.S. list, each panelist was provided a list of 489 courses. Beside that list of courses were 11 “buckets,” or groupings. If our panelists considered a course to be among the top three in the country, they ticked that box. If they believed the course to be among Nos. 4-10 in the U.S., they checked that box, followed by 11-25, 26-50, and so on.

Panelists were also free to write in courses that they felt should have been included on the ballot (we had fewer than a handful of such additions in the U.S. vote).

Points were assigned to each bucket; to arrive at an average score for each course, we divide its aggregate score by the number of votes. From those point tallies, the courses are then ranked accordingly. It is an intentionally simple and straightforward process. Why? Because it invariably produces results that are widely lauded. Like the game itself, there’s no need to unnecessarily overcomplicate things.

For much more on how we rate courses, click or tap here.

Meet our course raters

We empower and hold accountable a group of 97 well-traveled — and well-connected — golfers/aficionados, each capable of expressing their own sense of design excellence at the highest level. The group is seasoned and experienced — we look for raters who know what’s out there, what’s changing and what’s coming down the pike. And from judging posts across four continents, our panelists are positioned to place courses from different regions around the globe into proper context, one of the main reasons GOLF’s Top 100 Courses rankings are the most esteemed in the game.

Other ranking outlets employ thousands of raters. Our less-is-more approach creates a more meaningful and thoughtful list. Think about it: When you plan a golf trip, do you call every golfer you know for their take? No. You contact a handful of people whose opinions you value most.

Meet our full crew of panelists here.

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