Down the road from Kiawah, I stumbled on a priceless golf experience
Always Bring The Sticks/YouTube
Not all golf courses are created equal. Charleston Municipal? It’s better than most. It’s more than a golf course. There’s a strong Cheers vibe to this community hub. Everyone seems to know each other’s names.
A few weeks before the PGA Championship, I spent some time in Charleston and the surrounding Low Country areas. On a whim, I gave Charleston Muni a phone call on a Thursday afternoon to see if they might have a spot up for a single Friday morning. While they were booked solid, I was told to come down anyway first thing in the morning. “There’s bound to be someone who doesn’t show up,” said Herb, the pro shop attendant. “I’m sure we can find you a spot.”
That was all I needed to hear.
I woke up bright and early and arrived at 7:15 am, 15 minutes before the first tee time. The parking lot was near full already. I walked into the brick pro shop, where Herb greeted me. He recalled our phone conversation and said for me to check in every 20-30 minutes and to let him know of my whereabouts. During our conversation, golfers would walk by one by one, shout hello and make their way into an adjourning room. Eventually, inspired by the smell wafting through that same door, I decided to follow.
I found a grill room that resembled something out of an American Legion. Tables and metal-framed chairs sat informally next to a grill top. A dozen golfers of middle and advanced age had already gathered for pre-round breakfast and ball-busting. Whoever walked into the room next was merely a walking target.
This place had a blue-collar-country club vibe. The men’s group was filled with obvious diehards; a few had arrived early, when flagsticks were being put in, and compared notes with the others on early-week pin placements.
After getting my eavesdropping out of the way, I made my way over to the counter to order a buttered roll, a standard on-the-go breakfast in Long Island, where I’m from. If that sounds like a weird experience to you, well, you’re not alone. Record scratch. I might as well have walked up two-headed and ordered spaghetti and meatballs. One onlooker asked if that meant just some butter slapped on a hamburger bun.
I quickly glanced at the menu and ordered grits and hash browns, the first thing to catch my eye. (After all, this New Yorkah just had grits for the first time a few days prior. I’m a grits guy now, folks!) But it was too late: I’d already been outed as a newcomer. A member of the men’s group struck up a conversation while we waited for our food; he was quick to point out they’ve been seeing a lot of visitors from the northeast in the last year.
Charleston has become a tourist hotbed, but that’s not the only trend buoying the muni. If I didn’t already know that the course had recently undergone a complete restoration, I would’ve quickly learned. This local crowd talks about the changes with great pride. Their home renovation was just completed and they’re eager to show it off. I got some advice, too: Spend some serious time on the practice green and don’t attack any pins. Better yet, he offered to keep an eye out for me if a member of their group didn’t show up, and this was no idle offer. He actually came over to apologize to me 30 minutes later when a spot didn’t open.
Southern Hospitality holds up to its reputation, folks.
I made my way over to the range with breakfast in hand. Before I could even take a swing, the gentleman next to me started talking about course conditions and doling out some familiar advice: Use the practice green and don’t attack pins. And once again, he politely stated I could join his group if someone decided not to show. Two other golfers overheard our conversation and started to share some first-time playing advice of their own and favorite elements of the Troy Miller restoration. Go ahead and tell someone it’s your first time and I guarantee you will hear their glowing review of the recent work.
The Always Bring The Sticks YouTube Channel did a great job covering this entire process.
To be perfectly honest, I’m not much of a course architecture geek. Course designer? Types of grass? Green complexes? All that fun stuff doesn’t do it for me. I judge a course by asking myself two questions:
1) Did I have fun playing the course?
2) Would I go out of my way to play it again?
That’s it for me.
Here, my muni loyalism sucked me in. I was starting to believe this chatter about the restoration and how it held up against country clubs in the area. From Jan 2020 to September 2020, the course was closed to complete the restoration. Given the chatter I heard all morning, it must have been worth the wait. It only took a few putts on the practice green to understand these wouldn’t be your typical muni greens. No automatic two-putts here…
Now I just needed a no-show.
Every 20 minutes I would continue to check in with Herb. Ninety minutes in, nothing. Turns out the rest of Charleston was eager to play today, too. Herb put it well. “No one works on Fridays in Charleston,” he said. “These people just have their Friday golf routines.” I respect that.
By now it was a more reasonable morning hour and the outdoor patio crowd included several local law enforcement who had stopped by for breakfast. Municipal meeting municipal. Several elderly gentlemen without clubs had assumed positions on benches at the rear of the range, coffee in one hand, book in the other. The Muni is clearly part of the routine for more than just golfers.
The morning was a success already because my two-hour wait had nudged me to do something I don’t do nearly enough: practice. The restoration brought a grass range, big putting green, a separate short game area and a practice par-3. I would’ve been satisfied with my time spent there.
But at 9:30, I was just getting ready to head out when I finally got the wave from the pro shop. For $65, I was off with a push-cart.
It took me exactly one hole to ignore the advice I’d been given repeatedly. The first pin was perched up on the front of the green, my ball landed damn near it — and then it rolled a good 40 feet past and onto the back tier. (These greens are still very firm from the recent work.) My first putt rolled down a 3-foot drop smoothly, made it about 2/3 of the way up the 3-foot hill on the other side of the green and then rolled back towards me. Three putts later, I walked to the second tee looking like Charlie Brown.
The course is a prime example that you don’t need a lot of property to offer up a challenging layout. It’s not overly long. It’s pretty flat. But the fairways are lined with just enough trees, the bunkers are strategically placed and the greens are the perfect combination of challenging and fun. There’s just enough water on the course to give you a low-country marshland feeling, too. That comes into play on holes 11, 12, 13 and 14, which sit on the other side of the street. On a windy day, those four tree-free holes don’t have much protection. They have teeth. They’re a real change of pace.
I’d have to say No. 14 was my favorite hole on the course. It’s a par-3 that can play anywhere from 100 yards to 180 yards, depending on the wind. The green is perched up on a hill and it’s surround by a bunker, moat-style, with water guarding the front edge. As one playing partner so eloquently put it, the green is shaped like a toilet seat. If you get a dead-center pin placement, you just might get a little assist in funneling towards the bowl.
A reoccurring theme throughout the day was just how damn friendly everyone was. From Herb in the Pro Shop to the men’s group locals to my playing partners to the people we encountered on the course, I didn’t come across a single person who felt like there was anywhere they’d rather be. That’s all you need to know about Charleston Municipal Golf Course.
So, to answer my course-judgment questions from earlier:
- Yes, I thoroughly enjoyed playing Charleston Muni.
- Yes, I would absolutely go out of my way to play it again.
Next time, I’ll plan my tee time well ahead… and I’ll follow the locals’ advice from the very first hole.
This is part of our Muni Monday series, spotlighting stories from the world of city- and county-owned golf courses around the world. Got a muni story that needs telling? Send tips to Dylan Dethier or to firstname.lastname@example.org and follow Muni Mondays on Instagram.