Savannah Golf Club

6,481 yards, 130 slope from the Blues

Course:  Savannah Golf Club was established in 1794 and bills itself as America’s First Golf Club.  It is certainly one of the first, although the Country Club of Charleston dates itself to 1792 and a couple clubs in the Northeast generally get credit for being the first golf clubs in the U.S., even though golf was certainly played in this area in the 1700’s.  And while the club was established in 1794, the course and club as it is now was established in 1899.  You certainly feel the rich sense of history here the moment you drive through the unassuming entrance, located just a few blocks away from downtown Savannah.  This sense of history continues to the course, which meanders through a series of Revolutionary War mounding.  While Donald Ross is responsible for most of the course’s design, S.W. Stewart installed the first nine holes, then Ross arrived in the 1920’s, followed by some work by Clyde Johnson, when the course was forced to change routing when the city condemned land at the original First and Eighteenth to build a school (which is located behind the current Second).  The course features very unique land forms, many of which come from the historic mounding mentioned above.  The green complexes and mounding, combined with the bunkering and tree placement, make the course extremely fun that gets very challenging around and on the greens.  The character of the greens and diversity of holes certainly makes this a course I would love to belong to if I lived in the area.

The clubhouse from the Eighteenth 

I was fortunate enough to receive an invite to play SGC from a friend when I was in Hilton Head on vacation.  As a big Donald Ross fan and based on what I heard, I decided to forgo golfing in Hilton Head so I could use my one golf pass with my wife to play here.  It was about a 45 minute drive from HH and really was a very easy drive.

Savannah is one of my favorite cities.  The collection of squares, walking/running paths, Spanish Moss trees and laid back/friendly people make it ideal for visiting and lounging around from one great restaurant/bar to the next.  It had been quite a few years since I had last visited, but felt right at home when I noticed not a whole lot had changed since last time I was here.  That sense of hospitality continued once I reached the club, when one of the members showed me the grill room and talked a little bit about the club while I was waiting for my host to arrive.

Once he arrived and we warmed up at the range, we were off for a fun, and very hot and humid, round of summer golf.

The First is a 478 yard par 5 (from the Blues).  A generous fairway with a bit of a drop off on the left side into rough.  The green is somewhat of a turtleback (present on many Ross greens), eschewing most approach shots away from the center of the green, with sunken bunkers dispersed around it.  A longer opening hole that gets you ready for the delicate precision necessary around the greens.

The First

The Second is a 504 yard par 5.  That’s right, back to back par 5’s to start out with and more than enough ground to get you warmed up.  Trees line each side of the fairway, which dog legs slightly left before reaching another really fun green.  The green runs from back to front and left to right, with a bunker on the left and collection area on the far and right sides.  Holding the green instead of falling off into either the bunker or collection area is a challenge, then trying to recover out of either area and get close to the pin is another.  Any shot close to the green is likewise full of options.  I could have stayed here all day with my wedges and putter.

The Second
Moving down the fairway

The Third is a 318 yard par 4.  A shorter par 4.  A narrow tee shot corridor because of trees on either side with yet another terrific green complex that falls off on the left side into a larger bunker and has a steeper fall off on the back side.  The green shape in conjunction with the mound it sits upon confounds putting lines, all coming together to present a stiff challenge despite its short length.

The Third

Approach shot territory

The Fourth 165 yard par 3.  Similar to the Third in terms of the trees encroaching your flight lines, the green undulates and has some subtle waves while there’s a greenside bunker on the right.

The Fourth

The Fifth is a 369 yard par 4.  A forced carry tee shot over water where the contours and trees have you favor the left side, while a lone tree on the left side makes sure you’re not entirely free to belt away off that side.  The fairway near the green swirls off the mound and sweeps right, with the green above.  Any shot short of the green will likely end up going backwards while even shots on the front of the green may get sucked back in to the fairway.  This hole certainly deserves its number 2 handicap position, as two very well struck shots are required to avoid some tricky recovery shots.

The Fifth

Approach shot territory

The Sixth is a 326 yard par 4.  A short par 4 with a blind tee shot, as the fairway starts downhill towards the green.  The green drops off on the back side while bunkers on the front left and right side flash towards the fairway, which screams for an aerial approach right at the center of the green.  The green is larger than it looks from the fairway, but precision here is necessary.

Moving down the Sixth

Approach shot territory

The Seventh is a 201 yard par 3.  Donald Ross typically has at least one longer par 3 but this one has ben changed over the years in various ways.  It features a generous with the amount of area you have to miss and still have a decent chance at scrambling for par.  While trees line both sides of the hole for the first 150 yards, it then opens up to a large green with bunkers set far apart on either side.  Despite its length, it’s a hole that should be used to make up lost strokes on some of those green complexes on the prior holes.

The Seventh

A closer look at the green

The Eighth is a 546 yard par 5.  The fairway is on the outer perimeter of the course, to the left of the driving range.  Smaller trees litter both sides of the fairway, which then turns almost 90 degrees to the right before going another 180 yards to the green.  The hole essentially goes around the driving range and because of the length to the turn, there are many tee shots that will need to carry the trees to the right to set up a decent approach.  I suspected it was not original to the course and that is correct, it was changed by Clyde Johnson during his work and re-routing.

The Eighth

A look at the hard dog leg, with the green at the right center on the other side of the trees

The Ninth is a 380 yard par 4.  This is another hole done by Johnson that parallels the entrance drive back to the direction of the clubhouse.  A slight dog leg left framed by trees where the green has a deep bunker on the left with collection areas on the other sides.  I think the hole fits in nicely with the Ross holes.  The green is a little more receptive and the collection area probably doesn’t come into play except for the really bad approach shots.  Yet considering the longer approach distance, a little more receptiveness is likely justified.

The Ninth

The front nine starts off with some very cool and challenging green complexes before easing up a tad, yet providing a fun creative round throughout.  Ranking them, I’d go 2, 3, 5, 1, 6, 4, 7, 9, 8.

The back nine starts with a 400 yard par 4 Tenth.  We go back into the trees after being more out in the open from the Sixth on.  The hole doglegs left to a terrific green complex that runs from back to front and has a great shaved look to the contours, especially off the back.  A pretty cool hole.

The Tenth

The back side of the green

The Eleventh is a 424 yard par 4.  A dog leg right with trees on either side and bunkers on either side of the green.  The historic mounding form the Revolutionary War is off to the right, separating the Eleventh and Twelfth while also providing some tricky shots off of it for the most wayward of shots (like mine).

The Eleventh

Approach shot territory

Some of the mounds from the Revolutionary War

The Twelfth is a 527 yard par 5.  The tee shot goes over the mounding, which partially blocks the fairway.  Trees are on either side after the mounding, then the hole bends slightly left while cross bunkers rest as you advance to the green, which is fairly level with the fairway.  A nice, flatter par 5 where the wider more shallow bunkers stand out as the trees reside a bit.

The Twelfth

Approach shot territory

Looking back at the fairway from the green

The Thirteenth is a 412 yard par 4.  Trees on the right make you decide between going over or around them on your tee shot.  Using trees to dictate tee shots is something I’ve seen at a few Ross courses, and typically done effectively, such as here.  The fairway is generous, so the tree is an immediate issue to put a little more pressure on the tee shot.  There are some contours running up to the green, which was nice and firm, with a view of Savannah in the background.  A solid hole.

The Thirteenth

Approach shot territory

The Fourteenth is a 130 yard par 3.  An excellent volcano hole for its pitched green that slopes severely to the surrounding bunkers and collection areas, then continues to slope downwards on all sides.  A do or die short par 3 that still allows for tricky recovery shots on mis hit tee shots, it was one of my favorites on the course.  The Fourth at LuLu is similar, although it’s shorter and steeper than here.

The Fourteenth

The front left

Back left

The Fifteenth is a 453 yard par 4.  A tee shot over the mounds with trees narrowing things a little, getting in play is easier than it seems once you get to the nice and wide fairway.  The green is straight away, unimpeded from the fairway, so a well struck tee shot makes things much easier to score here.

The Fifteenth

Approach shot territory

The Sixteenth is a 323 yard par 4.  Another fun short par 4 with a wavy green complex that demands precision.  Where your approach shot lands, then releases, is vital in determining how to get the ball close to the hole, which is all set up with the tee shot.  Another solid short par 4 where despite its length, is quite challenging and fun.

The Sixteenth

The green

A look a little further left to see the drop off

The Seventeenth is a 196 yard par 3.  When juxtaposed with the Fourteenth, these par 3’s typify what makes this course a great play.  Here there is more distance to the green, but the concept is the same as it was at the Fourteenth, your tee shot must be precise to a raise green, which is larger and more receptive than the shorter Fourteenth, yet you encounter the same deftness around the green, which places a premium on a creative and skillful short game.  In the second photo, my ball was pin high and I had several options to try and recover to the green.  I chose to lob it close, which although it worked out well, could have also been disastrous.  As I was going through the different shots and weighing the plusses and minuses, it dawned on me any of them could turn out very badly, so finally committed to the one shot I was most comfortable with.  When you’re presented with that type of thought process on most of your shots during the round, the course has done a good job in my opinion, as is the case here.

The Seventeenth

From the left side

The Eighteenth is a 329 yard par 4.  The last hole is another short par 4, which features a tee shot between mounds to a fairway that is slightly downhill.  The approach shot is to a green with bunkers on either side and there is water off to the right to consider on both tee and approach shots.  While not a Ross hole, I think it fits in nicely, yet would like to see the mounds in play off the tee shots be shaved down as a way to play off of them, but I understand why it makes senses to keep them a little more penal.

The Eighteenth

Approach shot territory

The back nine has a couple outstanding par 3’s and a gaggle of great par 4’s.  Ranking them, I’d go 14, 17, 16, 10, 11, 13, 12, 18, 15.

Generally, Savannah Golf Club has some very good green complexes that places an emphasis on shotmaking and your acumen near/on the green.  The mounds and contours on the relatively flat terrain make for many interesting holes.  The greens have a lot of character and are quite challenging to figure out as well, all of which makes for a nice round of golf.  The visuals of the course, including the tee shots and angles into the greens, are appealing, yet subtle.  The Ross characteristics are also apparent here, with some of the green shapes and the variety in the par 4’s and 5’s that I really think is one of Ross’ less recognized strengths.  This is definitely one of those courses I would like to play on an endless loop, trying different approaches and shots around the green, never seeing the same shot twice.

Gripes:  Nada.  I just wish my short game traveled with me for the round.

Bar/Grill:  As a private club, there are a number of areas and rooms, but the men’s grill had great food and a gregarious atmosphere.  Definitely what I like to see in a club.

Clubhouse/Pro shop:  Downstairs near the First tee, they have a nice selection of everything.  The logo fluctuates on the apparel and I just wish I ended up with a shirt with the little guy on it.

Practice area:  A range and putting green.  There might have also been a short game area that I missed seeing.

Nearby:  Downtown Savannah!  A huge plus.