2006: High times in the Lowcountry

As my wheel man and I drove north toward one of my favorite destinations, the South Carolina coast, I was savoring the prospect of three days of golf. My wheel man’s mind, however, was elsewhere. For days he’d been babbling about fabulous hole-in-the-wall seafood joints along the Palmetto State’s U.S. 17 corridor.

Golf? Seafood? I figured we had the makings of good game plan.

Day 1, Hilton Head Island

When Palmetto Dunes director of golf Chip Pellerin moved here in 1978, he recalls, “there was only one stoplight on the island.” Now it’s a year-round family destination. We met up with Pellerin and a pal at the Arthur Hills course, one of three tracks at Palmetto Dunes, and the place where Tiger Woods has said that in a college event he hit a 2-iron recovery that led to an eagle, perhaps the best shot he ever hit.

The Hills course has some fun, sometimes devious short par 4s, particularly Nos. 2, 16 and 17 (where Tiger once took an 8). It’s an ideal resort layout – pleasing to the eye, not too long, but with plenty of challenging shots.

Hilton Head is rich in restaurants, but my wheel man had determined where we would be having our post-round lunch before we even left Florida.

Shoehorned into a nondescript office park off Pope Avenue on the island’s southern end, the Sea Shack has only 11 tables, which are cloaked in bright, plastic table covers. Each table was occupied when we arrived about 2 p.m., and we ate our smoked shrimp bisque, alligator tail appetizer and Shack Attack entrees from plastic plates and bowls. I decided the Sea Shack’s motto – “Nothing fancy, just good” – stated the obvious, but understated its quality. If the Sea Shack were a golf course, it would be dubbed a hidden gem.

Day 2, Charleston

The downtown district here is walkable, so after checking into our hotel on Meeting Street, we wandered over to the harbor, eventually stopping for dinner at the Noisy Oyster, one of the few bustling restaurants on an otherwise quiet weekday evening. Across the harbor you’ll find Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum, home to the USS Yorktown, the decommissioned World War II aircraft carrier. We went aboard the next morning, climbed inside the F/A-18 flight simulator – I now have a sense of what it’s like to live inside a video game – then headed up U.S. 17 a few miles to Charleston National Country Club.

This course was built amid much anticipation, but Hurricane Hugo ripped it apart only days after its September 1989 opening. The Rees Jones design finally reopened in 1991, and the prevalent marshland makes this a course not to be trifled with. The starter warned that this can be a penal layout, and he wasn’t joking.

Just north of Charleston, in blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Awendaw, you’ll find the See Wee Restaurant, which was converted from an old general store in 1993. The See Wee has a red tin roof and baby-blue exterior. Cars buzz by along U.S. 17 about 30 feet from the front door, and like the Sea Shack, customers have to walk outside to reach the bathroom.

The front door squeaks when you open it, the manager greets visitors with a “Hey, y’all,” and well-worn wood floors shake as waitresses walk by, calling customers “babe” and “hon.” The shelves are lined with family-sized cans of Hunt’s ketchup, Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom and Hanover Black Beans, and you’ll find Nehi on ice by the cash register.

But we didn’t come here for any of that. We came for the she-crab soup with a shot of sherry on the side and the generous dinner portions. It was all my wheel man had promised.

Before we pulled back onto the highway, the See Wee’s manager called to us, “Don’t let ‘The Man’ get you.” On the drive to Myrtle Beach, my wheel man still was babbling about the See Wee’s oversized scallops.

Day 3, Myrtle Beach

With three distinct courses, a lighted practice range, pubs with ambiguous closing hours and comfortable condominiums, the Legends Resort is a classic guys’ golf hideaway. We arrived late and asked when the Ailsa Pub closed. “It could be 11 p.m., it could be 4 a.m.,” a busboy told us. “It all depends when people leave.” Now that’s service.

The next morning we were paired with Andy and Jeff, a pair of Jersey-to-the-core guys, for a round on Tom Doak’s Heathland Course.

Legends veterans, Andy and Jeff avoided shop talk. But after much prodding, Jeff, who looked to be in his late 30s, described himself as a “retired” banker. I suggested that banking must have been lucrative. “It was a fair exchange of wages for services rendered,” Jeff said, smiling. It was one of those moments when I questioned my choice of careers.

Heathland, opened in 1990, was Legends’ first course, and one clearly can see a young Doak showcasing his love of Scottish golf and exploring themes he later would master at Pacific Dunes and elsewhere. The course is virtually treeless, with the exception of Nos. 5 and 6, and several holes pay tribute to links classics such as St. Andrews (No. 7 loosely replicates the Road Hole bunker and green), Cruden Bay and Royal St. George’s.

I left Legends contemplating when I could schedule a return trip to play its distinctly different Moorland and Parkland courses. Meanwhile, my wheel man turned the SUV onto U.S. 501, jabbering about where to stop for dinner.

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