CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA | A few miles southwest of Rainbow Row, the chichi King Street shops and one of the best collections of restaurants to be found anywhere, sits Charleston Municipal Golf Course.
It is the genuine article, a city-owned layout approaching its 100th birthday in a city where history is as ever-present as the live oaks.
Divided by the busy Maybank Highway that separates the front nine from the back nine and leads toward Kiawah Island about 20 miles away, the Muni has all the glamour of work boots that have undoubtedly been worn by more than a few players over the decades.
Not far from the Country Club of Charleston, which hosted the 2019 U.S. Women’s Open, and in the same area code as some of South Carolina’s most enchanting golf resorts, the Muni has a parking lot dotted with pickup trucks and a tee sheet filled by more than 50,000 rounds played by locals each year at the bargain rate of $20.
Like an aging family home in need of repair, Charleston Municipal – where city champions have been crowned for generations – has undergone a transformative revitalization project that shows what a public-private initiative can do for a golf course.
“It had 90 years of dust on it,” said Troy Miller, a Charleston native who is handling the redesign work after years as the head course designer for Landmark Land Company.
Like any such project, it has taken years to put the pieces together and now, like an early Christmas present, the new Muni is reopening. Originally projected to cost $3 million, it’s being done for approximately $2.5 million with the city providing approximately two-thirds of the money and a local group of golf enthusiasts funding the other third.
“I don’t think people realize how valuable an asset it is to the city. I don’t think they know how many people use the facility,” said Bert Atkinson, a seven-time city champion who brought together a nine-member group called Friends of the Muni. “It had not been cared for in a long time. Troy stepped up in a big way. Our group has stepped up. Hope we can keep it going. We don’t want to stop with just the course.”
The clubhouse needs to be replaced. There are no bathrooms on the course. The list goes on.
“The one thing cities need to realize is a golf course is a revenue source. If it’s maintained properly and managed properly and the product is good enough it can be a moneymaker. It doesn’t have to be a suck on municipal government,” Miller said.
All of that revolves around the golf course, which was built on land donated by a developer in the late 1920s with one caveat – that the land be used for golf. While Seth Raynor was working at nearby Yeamans Hall and the Country Club of Charleston, the Muni was built by locals who created a routing with large rectangular green pads (a familiar Raynor feature), no bunkers and no hazards.
If you squinted hard enough, Miller says, it was possible to see subtle Raynor influences, borrowed from his nearby work. It will be easier now.
“We took it back to the umpteenth degree trying to celebrate the Raynor and (C.B.) Macdonald style of architecture,” said Miller, who has worked for Tom Fazio and Pete Dye among others.
Miller has created 12 template holes, starting at No. 1 where a double plateau green (modeled after the first hole at Yeamans) gives players a sense of the new Muni. There is a punchbowl green, a Redan, an Eden, a Cape hole and more.
The green complexes are striking, most of them raised above the flat fairways giving new definition to each hole. The contouring is dramatic in spots, creating a different challenge from the old Muni where most greens were flat and covered in old 328 bermudagrass.
“If you build 18 interesting greens, any golf course can be good. I believe that,” Miller said.
“I believe it was Perry Maxwell who said the greens are the faces on the portraits of the golf course. I want you to remember as many as you can.”
The new greens, which are designed to roll at 9 on the Stimpmeter to accommodate the slopes, feature Tifeagle Ultradwarf Bermuda, a significant upgrade. Miller has also reshaped all of the bunkers into flat-bottomed designs.
A short-game area has also been created, offering more options for youth programs and other activities.
“The quality of the turf wasn’t very good. It had always been treated like a lot of munis around the country have been treated,” Miller said.
“It was maintained like it was 1955. Now we’re bringing it into some modern standards. The course will be firmer, will play faster. It’s going to be more interesting.”
The most dramatic change is on the back nine where Miller figured out a way to hold off the Muni’s most persistent problem – high tide. Flooding in the low country is a fact of life and the Muni fought the double-edged danger of holding water after heavy rains and coping with rising waters in a nearby marsh.
“My joke is you’ll no longer have to check the tide charts before making a tee time,” Miller said.
The new 13th hole is built near a large pond Miller dug in what was once a marsh. The material pulled out to create the pond was used to raise the elevation of the 13th fairway by more than 5 feet to eliminate the flooding threat.
With trees gone and the new water hazard in place, the back nine now has a dramatically different look and feel, particularly Nos. 12, 13 and 14, which are more exposed than other parts of the course.
In a city rich in personality, culture and history, the Muni is a part of the place like the cobblestone streets in Charleston’s historic district. Nearly a century old, the Muni has been made new again.
“(Miller) brought the golden era features back into the course that had been lost over time,” Atkinson said.
“They’ve taken our playground and turned it into a golf course.”
Top: Charleston Municipal gets 50,000 rounds played by locals each year at the bargain rate of $20. Photo: Ron Green Jr., Global Golf Post
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