Secession Golf Club has been on my wish-list for quite a few years. I grew up at my home club seeing the logo on members’ shirts, belts, and hats. I was always told, “Secession is a special place… you’ve got to get down there at some point!” An invitation to play the course came up recently and I couldn’t get my “YES” out quickly enough.
The clubhouse at Secession is a traditional southern design with a wrap-around porch. There are rooms upstairs in the clubhouse with a dormitory-style shared bathroom. Nothing is flashy about the place. Beautiful paintings of great golf courses adorn the walls. New members give these paintings of their home clubs to Secession, which is a second or third club for most. Among the paintings was a picture of the 13th at Augusta National that a member (of both Secession and Augusta) had had signed by everyone in attendance at the 1997 Masters Champions dinner… a good way to upstage everyone else’s paintings!
One of the best parts of the club is the Old Pro. Mike Harmon has been at Secession since the doors opened in 1991. He is famous among the clubs in the South (and everywhere for that matter). Henry Longhurst wrote “one of the great unpurchasable assets in any golf club is the continuity of staff,” and Mike is a perfect example. Mike joined us for lunch and the topic of conversation quickly moved to Scotland… He’s taken 2-3 trips over to Scotland every year for 20+ years and I haven’t come across many people who know more than him!
Our round took place in December during superb conditions. The course was perfect and the weather couldn’t have been better. During our round, I was most interested in seeing the bunkers on the course. In the original design the bunkers had revetted faces (stacked sod). Over the years, the bunker faces were changed to typical American faces due to high upkeep costs. Secession recently installed EcoBunkers, which are revetted faces made of artificial turf. The bunkers go maintenance free for 20+ years and they look almost identical to the real thing… Had I not got down on my hands and knees to inspect a few of the faces, I never would have known they weren’t real turf.
Pete Dye and his son PB were originally tapped to design the course at Secession, but the duo stepped aside before the completion of the project. Australian Bruce Devlin, who had a successful professional golf and design career, took over the project and is credited with the design of the course. The course is raised off the Lowcountry marsh, similar to what golfers find at the Kiawah Island Ocean Course. At low tide, errant tee shots can be played out of the marsh. The locker room staff know exactly who spent the most time in the marsh judging from the state of their golf shoes… a “Shitty Shoe Award” is handed out as a badge of honor.
Secession has struck that balance of finding a like-minded membership who love golf, enjoy a drink, and know great golf. On to the course!
The tee boxes raised above the marsh on the first hole warn of what is to come. The fairway is much wider than it looks initially, and a “squared off” green harkens back to classic designs.
Walking directly off the first green and onto the second tee at Secession reminds you of the short walks on St Andrews Old Course. Don’t go long on this hole.
The twisting fairway with clear landing areas on this hole appears a number of times later in the round. Two-putts are not guaranteed on this large green.
You can see the caddie in the marsh searching for balls on this hole. Low tide is the time to play if you aren’t hitting it well!
The huge revetted bunkers on the right side of this fairway reminded my of Carnoustie. A single bunker guards this green, but you can see how the designers wanted to leave run-up shots available.
This tee shot would be particularly intimidating when the tide is up. The horseshoe green provides a number of tricky pin placements and keep in mind that the back bunker is large and very deep.
To put in simply, you need to hit a well-struck mid to long iron on this par 3. No gimmes or easy bail-outs here.
The par 5 9th brings you back to the clubhouse in grand fashion. The meandering hole is not easy… Best to play to try and escape with your par here.
The 11th is the largest green at Secession Golf Club. It is long and narrow, meaning approach shots could be +/- 60 yards depending on pin position.
This is another challenging hole with a large, semi-crowned green. I was the only player to avoid the marsh here during our round with the hole playing dead into the wind.
Hitting approach shots into this long and slender green is a blast. I wanted to sit in the fairway with a bucket of balls!
The last four holes have remained clear in my memory since the round. The strong finish starts with this long par 3.
The finish continues with the long par 5 16th. The green is guarded by deep bunkers that look more Scottish than Lowcountry.
This tricky island green par 3 that calls up images of the famous island green at TPC Sawgrass. It is a short shot, but can also play very long depending on the wind. My host said he has hit everything from a wedge to a five iron into this green.
Hole 18 – 425 yards
The 18th hole finished back at the clubhouse with an 18th at Pebble Beach-esque dogleg left par 4. If you play the hole correctly you shouldn’t get into much trouble, but with everyone watching from the porch of the clubhouse, the pressure is on.
I thoroughly enjoyed my day at Secession Golf Club and it lived up to all of my expectations. The club has struck a perfect balance between amenities, golf, people, and attitude. The focus is on the golf, not anything else.