It wasn’t that long ago that Santee, South Carolina was primarily known as one of the best catfish and bass fishing destinations in North America. To this day, big-money tournaments are still held on neighbouring Lake Marion, an 80-mile fresh water lake that continues to attract avid fishermen from every state in the US in search of the one that got away.
Today, Santee has evolved into much more than a fantastic fishing destination. Great golf now is now a part of this small town’s repertoire, as Santee has become one of South Carolina’s best golf destinations. An impressive accolade given that South Carolina is home to some of the best golf courses in the US.
When a group of Canadian golf travel writers arrived in Santee last May we knew we had entered a golf purist’s paradise. What else could we possibly have thought after driving south along I-95 from Charlotte knowing that the town we were visiting had population of 300 and 1 set of traffic lights. Located in the central region of the state, Santee is easily accessible from other urban areas including Columbia, and Charleston. Within a nine-iron from our hotel we had three excellent golf courses to choose from. The Lake Marion Golf Course, the Santee Cooper Country Club, and the Santee National Golf Course were all on our playing agendas and are the reasons why Santee has emerged as South Carolina’s ultimate golf value destination.
Our adventurous group was more than willing to travel 30 minutes beyond Santee’s “city limits” to where 8 more decent golf courses could be found. One in particular, and a personal favourite, is the Royal Oak Golf Club, a 6,599-yard layout delicately carved through several Carolinian forests. What I appreciated most about Royal Oak was the natural beauty that was prevalent on every hole of the golf course. I remember being awestruck by the eagle’s nest that sat high atop a pine tree behind the thirteenth green. I have seen lots of golf courses and never before have I seen something so magnificent (and distracting) as a family of bald eagles watching me 3-putt from 80 feet overhead.
Upon reflecting on my experience, Lake Marion stands out in my mind as being the crown jewel in Santee’s golf course consortium. Measuring 6,670 yards, Lake Marion’s most redeeming quality is its spectacular tree-lined fairways that left me feeling like I had just played Georgia’s famous Augusta National Golf Club. Located a driver and a wedge away, and another personal favourite, is the 6,512-yard Santee Cooper Country Club. Like Lake Marion, it too provided me with a challenging and serene golf experience. Not surprisingly, in 2002 both golf courses were awarded 3 ½ stars as being one of the “Best Places to Play in America” by Golf Digest magazine.
What makes Santee so deserving of its value-destination reputation are the incredible golf packages available through any one of the 14 hotels in the area. In Santee, $40 provides you with accommodation at a comfortable hotel, a continental breakfast, one green fee, and a golf cart at any one of the 17 golf courses within a 1-hour radius from town. Our group had the pleasure of meeting Bob and Cathy Peebles, owners of the Howard Johnson Express Inn in Santee, who more than exemplified the meaning of southern hospitality. A man of few words, I remember Bob saying to us in his South Carolinian drawl, “welcome to the Howard Johnson Inn here in Santee, South Carolina. Let us know if there is anything Cathy or me can do for you during your visit to our fine state of South Carolina”. Bob and Cathy certainly took care of us, as did everyone else we met who seemed to innately understand the meaning of hospitality and friendliness.
Along the “Santee Strip” there are a variety of dining alternatives available ranging from the drive-thru window at any one of the familiar fast-food chains to the more casual dining experience afforded by the popular Captain Kirks’s and Coasters restaurants. For the historically inclined, Clark’s restaurant offers a more formal dining experience and provides its guests with a charming taste of Santee’s past. Established in 1946, Clarke’s is the oldest family-owned business in town. Great care has been taken to preserve the area’s history as numerous artifacts and black and white photographs adorn the walls of what was once a beautiful estate home. We had the pleasure of visiting the restaurant and meeting the owners after our day at Royal Oak. In addition to the ambiance, we were treated to a memorable South Carolina meal featuring such delicacies as crawfish, grits, and Creole chicken. Afterwards we decided to investigate Santee’s bustling night life at LT’s, the town’s most popular watering hole. Live bands from South Carolina and neigbouring Georgia often frequent LT’s, where the locals engage in a bizarre indigenous dance called “shagging”. A cross between line and ballroom dancing, “shagging” is something South Carolinians are proud to call their own.
In total, our group had the pleasure of staying in Santee for five days. We played five outstanding golf courses and were treated to a taste of southern hospitality. When it was time to calculate the cost of a Santee golf getaway, I was amazed that for under $400 US you can spend a week in a golf destination that’s as good as any you’ll find anywhere in the United States. Maybe one day I’ll write Golf Digest and suggest they introduce a new category in future editions of their magazine entitled “America’s Best Kept Golf Destination Secrets”. Without question, the great golf courses in Santee, South Carolina would be deserving recipients of such an award.