For decades, tiny Santee, S.C., has slowly but surely carved a niche as one of America’s best golf destinations for the money.
By Brad King
SANTEE, S.C. (September 2014) — There are pros and cons to being known as “America’s Value Golf Destination.”
Santee, S.C., (population 800) is located on the south shore of picturesque Lake Marion just off Interstate 95. Long before the interstate rolled through town, however, Santee had been considered a stopover point for northerners heading further south.
Today, Santee has forged a reputation as a must-stop for golfers.
For starters, Santee is not hard to find. “Get on I-95 and turn left, it’s a straight shot,” laughs Bill Clark, whose family has spearheaded Santee development since the mid-1900s.
In one exit, golfers find themselves less than five minutes from three lakeside golf courses, with an additional 17 layouts within a 45 minute to an hour drive. And while the Santee price tag may appear no frills, those hoping to enjoy scenic, unhurried good golf, good food and clean accommodations — without spending lots of money or time in the car — will have it made.
Santee offers quality, value and convenience, which is why more than 50,000 golfers arrive from northern destinations each year. For as little as $55 (low season), they get a nice room, a round of golf with a cart on one of the area’s 17 courses — and for good measure a tasty, home-cooked breakfast to kick-start their day.
The con? Prospective visitors planning their golf getaway often look at Santee’s blue-collar rates and question the quality of golf. The pros? In Santee, you get good, quality golf on well-maintained and over-seeded courses. And golfers feel more appreciated, their trips are not as expensive and they tend to return year after year.
In fact, that is what makes Santee different than most golf destinations. The cast of characters who have meticulously and lovingly nurtured this sleepy little lakeside outpost in the South Carolina Lowcountry have always preferred having a host of happy golfers to Top 100 rankings and empty fairways.
Which is why a few years back, when the bottom began to fall out of the economy — as opposed to the Palmetto State’s more popular and luxurious resort destinations such as Charleston, Hilton Head Island or Myrtle Beach — Santee not only survived, but also thrived.
First, the golf: Seventeen courses within one hour of one another. The three courses located in town, less than a mile apart, Santee National, Santee Cooper Resort and Lake Marion, offer wide fairways, challenging greens, water hazards and impeccable maintenance, and have all been upgraded through the years. “Country-club good looks and municipal-course pricing,” gushed a recent Canadian publication.
Five of the courses are a little more than a 4 iron away on the north side of Lake Marion, (20 minutes), the must-plays headed by the Tom Jackson-designed Wyboo Golf Club near Manning, S.C., and the Players Course at Wyboo Plantation. If those weren’t enough, with I-26 just a few more miles down the road, golfers can make a short day trip to Charleston and play the likes of The Links at Stono Ferry, Legend Oaks, Westcott Plantation and Charleston National to name a few.
Of course, golfers need fuel for their engines between rounds of golf, and Santee offers a unique collection of dining and nightlife options that add plenty of small-town character. There is Clark’s Inn and Restaurant, with its gingerbread appearance, and fried chicken and cobbler specialties, while Lone Star is more of a buffet-style eatery. The Jack Daniels steak at Coasters will rival most cuts of meat along the east coast, while the fish and prime rib at Captain Kirk’s is equally tasty.
In addition, Santee Cooper Golf Resort is rapidly gaining popularity among a wide variety of traveling sportsmen. Through the years, Santee golf has been intertwined with the region’s world-class fishing — no surprise as green fairways and blue fresh-water bodies accentuate the area. Lately, however, golf has assumed an even more substantial role for sportsmen in the state’s lakes region, which offers the transient golfer no fewer than 17 immensely enjoyable golfing experiences.
Santee sports a pair of lakes — Marion, ranked among the top-50 in size in the nation, and Moultrie — along with two rivers, two canals and a vast swamp that combined form 450 miles of shoreline. It is around these inland water sources that golf courses of a wide variety have sprung within a 45-minute drive of central Santee.
Where bragging-sized bass and monster catfish were once the talk of this quaint resort town, birdies and eagles have transformed a perpetually fertile fishing ground into more of a dual air-and-sea assault.
“There are still great fishing spots around Santee,” says Todd Miller, general manager of Santee Cooper Resort, “But we’ve definitely been focusing more on the golf lately.”
Finally, when it’s time to rest one’s head and dream of the next day’s round, Santee offers up approximately 1,200 hotel, motel and spacious villa style accommodations.
Behind golf counters, alongside first tees, inside restaurants, hotels and on the streets of Santee you will find friendly faces and welcoming hosts. It’s that kind of town.
“Same thing with the hotels and restaurants,” Miller adds. “Our better restaurants and bars are owned and operated by residents. When you go to the Oasis Bar and Grill, you may meet the owner Dennis and he will buy a drink. That’s all part of the charm.”
And so it goes — despite how fishy it may all sound. You have to experience Santee golf to believe it.