What if David battled Goliath but both emerged victorious? That’s the idea behind Episode 154 of the “Talking GolfGetaways” podcast as hosts Mitch Laurance and Darin Bunch dissect two similar but very different recent golf trips — Cheraw State Park in South Carolina and iconic Pebble Beach on the Monterey Peninsula of California.
Just an hour and a half from Pinehurst, N.C., and about 15 minutes more from Myrtle Beach, Laurance met up with friend (and Tobacco Road owner) Mark Stewart for a round on the Tom Jackson-designed course in the middle of picturesque Cheraw State Park. For those of you who don’t know Tom Jackson, he’s helped build 124 golf courses throughout the East Coast with a particular focus on the Carolinas. But Cheraw might be one of his best-kept secrets — a course that is not only hidden among the impressive scenery of Lake Juniper, towering trees and surrounding nature but hidden from some of the locals as well. It’s about as far from a “bucket list” as you can find. But the natural design and enjoyable architecture were two of the many aspects that impressed Mitch throughout the round.
“I think what makes Tom Jackson great with the courses that I really like is that he’s taken what is there and just really didn’t disturb it that much but has given us a great place to play, a really enjoyable place,” Laurance says of the architect.
With the state park offering hunting, water activities and a variety of overnight accommodations, golf isn’t exactly the top draw in these parts. Neither Laurance nor Bunch had ever heard about it, and Moree’s Cheraw Country Club across the street, designed in 1924 by the legendary Donald Ross, has escaped their travel itineraries to this point as well.
“We throw around the term ‘hidden gem’ a lot, but this was so hidden that I didn’t even know it was there — and it’s an hour and 45 minutes from me,” Mitch says.
“It’s crazy that you went in search of this little state park golf course because you just wanted to get together somewhere between you and Mark, and you stumbled upon this makeshift stay-and-play golf getaway. And next time I come to the Carolinas, we’re definitely going to go back,” Darin adds.
On the other end of the spectrum in this episode, Darin recounts his recent day at historic Pebble Beach, home to six U.S. Opens and generally considered one of the best golf courses in the world. Coastal terrain, sometimes-unpredictable weather and stunning Pacific Ocean views highlight this “bucket-lister with a bullet” where he and three friends took advantage of a “pandemic offer” that eliminated the overnight-stay requirement while the resort’s hotels were closed.
Both Cheraw and Pebble spotlight the beauty and fun of golf. And both created memories for Bunch and Laurance. But something besides their locations on opposite sides of the United States separates the two: Money. At Pebble Beach, Darin and his buddies plunked down $495 each. Meanwhile, Mitch and Mark played Cheraw State Park for just $28.
“All along the way [at Cheraw], I’m reminding myself that I had just paid $28 dollars, including a cart,” Laurance says. “And the replay rate was 11 bucks. … After I finished — and this without any of the amenities in the clubhouse [which weren’t available that day because of coronavirus concerns] — I said, ‘This is the best value for a golf course I think I’ve ever played for a full 18 holes.”
The discussion of price raised an issue about whether the low cost could actually be hurting Cheraw. If you hear a course is only $28 including a cart, you might not think highly of the course or be compelled to play it. Mitch believes they could get double that in green fees given the “pure Carolinas” experience provided.
And Cheraw State Park offers a variety of accommodations to turn any visit into a stay-and-play golf getaway. Perhaps the most intriguing lodging amenity is the hunting Clubhouse at Moree’s Sportsman’s Preserve, which can house up to 16 people for just $895 a night (that’s about $56 per person).
Back on Pebble Beach, Darin spends a few minutes of the podcast outlining how the resort is handling recent pandemic restrictions — and how the golf course itself is in the best condition he’s seen it in nearly 30 years of visiting famed 17-Mile Drive. And he takes a moment (or more) to recap the day’s battle for the Bumage-Smoyes Cup, a two-man-team match he’s discussed on the podcast many times over the years as it has been contested from Bandon Dunes to Monarch Dunes to Tobacco Road — and now on the historic links of Pebble Beach.
—Words by Zack Noll & Darin Bunch