June 2007

Old South: Public Golf Lowcountry Style

Author: Paul deVere

“I had no idea it was this beautiful.” That’s the reaction Head Professional, Jim Uremovich, hears most often from golfers who’ve just played Old South Golf Links for the first time. He understands completely. “I can never get over the beauty of the course—like when I’m on the 15th hole with the marsh views. Every time I’m out there, something different catches my eye,” Uremovich said.

In an area densely populated with some of the most spectacular private, semi-private and resort courses in the country, Old South, the third public course built along the U.S. 278 corridor in the late ’80s and early ’90s, had a certain level of the golf experience to live up to. After all, this was Hilton Head. At the opening ceremonies in 1992, award-winning architect, Clyde Johnston, predicted that this seeming anomaly—a “public” course in the high-end golf mecca of Hilton Head Island—would become a favorite of all golfers, with or without memberships at private clubs. Johnston’s prediction came true. When Old South opened, Golf Digest named it one of the top ten new public courses in the U.S. As recently as 2006, GolfStyles magazine put Old South on the list of “must play” courses in South Carolina.

“I think one of the reasons golfers like Old South is the design itself and the lack of houses on every hole,” said Uremovich. While there are homes on a few fairways, the course is primarily free of backyards. Seven marsh-front holes and three island greens in the routing give Old South that Lowcountry authenticity that not many area courses can claim.

Initially, memberships were available at Old South, but over the years, that program was phased out. What is fascinating to see is the way Old South evolved in the highly-competitive golf market in the Hilton Head area. The market defined the course.

To attract local and tourist dollars, Old South has to remain in topnotch condition all year, every year. Every golfer who drives up to the bag drop has to receive topnotch treatment. “We try to treat every golfer who comes here as if they were a ‘member’ of Old South,” said Uremovich, “like they would be treated at a private club.”

Now in its 15th year, Old South has truly become a local public course in the very best tradition. Partnering with adjacent Hilton Head National, there is a summer league (in place for about nine years) for local golfers to compete and pay reduced fees throughout the year. This year’s sponsor, Mickey’s Pub in Northridge Plaza, definitely seems appropriate. Old South also offers a “winter membership” for visitors who are escaping northern winters.

Old South is the headquarters for the National Brother-Brother Golf Tournament, in which teams of brothers from all over the U.S. are pitted against each other. The course is also part of the popular Reilley’s annual golf tournament and the Corey Cerrone benefit tournament, and is a popular tournament venue for local civic and social groups.

Old South also offers golf instruction, through clinics and private lessons. Uremovich encourages junior golf with clinics and an interesting price structure: The adult with the junior plays a regular green fee. The junior pays his or her age. Of course, junior golf has an additional attraction for Uremovich. “Google” Rachel Uremovich, his daughter, and you will discover the Hilton Head Prep sophomore’s picture with an arm full of trophies, including the prestigious Beth Daniel Award for top female player of the South Carolina Junior Golf Association in 2006.

There is another bit of local lore about Old South. The restaurant at the clubhouse serves a hearty breakfast seven days a week, a service some private clubs in the area don’t offer. “We have a good number of members of private clubs come for breakfast on the weekends,” Uremovich said. “And they end up playing a round.”

“Public golf” used to be associated with tank tops, cutoffs and a course in questionable condition. At Old South Golf Links, that just never happens. From bag drop to your final putt on #18, for that day, you are considered a “member” at Old South.

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