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The Charm of Charleston: The Daniel Island Golf Club

Andy Reistetter@GolfWriter59Analyst IOctober 31, 2009

Golf writer Andy Reistetter was on site at the Nationwide Tour Championship at the Daniel Island Club in Charleston, South Carolina last week. He helped cover the action for The Golf Channel and thoroughly enjoyed witnessing in person the crowning tournament of the Nationwide Tour where 25 golden golfers earned their 2010 PGA TOUR cards.

 

To top that experience he was invited by Greg Keating, Vice President of Club Operations and Bobby Donnellan, Director of Golf to play the Rees Jones designed Ralston Creek Course on Monday morning. From the tips and with Sunday hole locations this devoted amateur golfer tells the story of the Nationwide Tour Championship and his "Monday Morning Golf" outing in his own words.

I have always wanted to go to Charleston, South Carolina so it was a no-brainer to drive up from Jacksonville Beach, Florida on Thursday morning to catch all the action of the Nationwide Tour Championship at the Daniel Island Club.

My connection with Charleston was through the movie The Prince of Tides. You know the one nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture in 1991 with Barbara Streisand and Nick Nolte. I loved it when Nolte drove over the picturesque bridge in a convertible. So my dream was always to go to Charleston and drive over that bridge with the top down.

The Daniel Island Club is a couple of miles off the interstate highway. It’s a Wizard of Oz Munchkin like moment. It is that dramatic of an entrance into an enchanted land of Low country natural oaks, beautiful palms and saltwater marshes.

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What is the quickest way to paradise from Interstate 526 around Charleston, South Carolina? Take Exit 24- Daniel Island and proceed to the Daniel Island Club.

Sixty of the best golfers on the Nationwide Tour did exactly that for their championship event- the culmination of the landmark 20th season of PGA TOUR Driven excellence. There is no question that the skill, desire and work ethic of these golfers mirror that of the big tour.  

In fact the PGA TOUR is simply the grown up version of its younger brother. Nationwide Tour graduates account for 258 PGA TOUR wins including 13 Major and 3 PLAYERS Championships.

Make that 259 PGA TOUR wins with Nationwide Tour alumni Troy Matteson winning the Frys.com Open last week.

You do the math on that one- 20 years, about 40 PGA events a year is about 800 events… so about one in three come from the Nationwide Tour. With Tiger Woods with 71 victories and players coming directly from the European Tour being the key exceptions.

Matt Every who came in at No. 49 shot 63 in Friday's second round and a pair of 67s on the weekend to overcome the tour's best golfer Michael Sim who came out firing on all cylinders with a 64 on Thursday.

The 25-year old Every would make his first win on the Nationwide Tour his biggest and hopefully his last. His stellar performance vaulted him to No. 10 on the money list. That gold status earned him his playing card on the PGA TOUR in 2010.

The heart pounding and heartwarming story of the week on Daniel Island was 44-year old Fran Quinn. Turning pro in 1988 he made it to the PGA TOUR for the first and only time in 1992 when he finished T8 at Q-School.

First and only time until now.

After twelve straight seasons on the Nationwide Tour where he is now ranked third in all-time starts at 324, Quinn fought off a painful bladder infection and was inspired by his 11-year-old son Owen.

"Dad, you're going to do it. You're going to have a great day," were the words spoken early Sunday morning though it was the tone that was really inspiring.

The son in his heart already knew his father was a champion and all he hoped was that everyone else would know the same thing come the end of competition on Sunday.

His father was locked in as No. 25 when Brian Stuard missed an eight foot birdie putt on the final hole to finish T14 in the Championship and only $2,844 out of the Top 25 and a golden passport to the big show next year.  

Quinn's success really was determined by his finish on Saturday. At 6-under par for the tournament he missed a short par putt on the 13th green. He then hit a poor iron from the fairway bunker on No. 14 failing to get out which led to double bogey.

On the par-3 15th he hit a poor chip shot and then a good one for a one-putt bogey. On the 16th he drove it left into the water and came away with another double bogey.

In total, he was 6-over par for four holes and back to even par for the tournament.

It easily could have been the end of the story but not for this gutsy competitor playing hurt.

Beware of the ill golfer.

After steadying the ship with a two-putt par on No. 17 he finished strong with a birdie on No. 18.

That was the key to the tournament for Quinn. Despite his ailment, he finished with a birdie put the poor stretch of golf behind him. He came through with a decent 74 on Sunday, a T46 finish and the $3,750 he needed to finish in the 25th slot after starting the week at No. 20.

 
"Those words (of my son) were an inspiration for me all day," the elated Quinn said afterwards.

While Quinn was fortunate to remain in the Top 25, another golfer named Steve Wheatcroft came into the gold with Every. 

The 31-year old Indiana University graduate from Indiana, Pennsylvania shot three rounds in the 60s and an even par 72 on Sunday to finish T3, win $58,000 and vault from No. 31 to No. 20.

In the tough reality of championship golf and a limited number of PGA TOUR cards to pass out at the awards ceremony late Sunday afternoon when two come in two have to go out.

Along with Brian Stuard who started at No. 23 Alastair Presnell the "bubble boy" at No. 25 coming in slipped to No. 28 despite a respectable T19 finish.

The big picture of the Top 25 movement for 2009 was that Matt Every (1st) and Steve Wheatcroft (T3) came out of nowhere and surged ahead to No. 10 and No. 20 respectively on the final money list.

Quinn held on for dear life to remain in the Top 25 while Stuard and Presnell were bumped out despite reasonable finishes in the Tour Championship at Daniel Island.

Daniel Island was the perfect place for the championship with the difficult "U.S. Open Doctor" designed Ralston Creek course, superb facilities and near perfect weather.

The winning score of 21-under par on the 7,446 yard par 72 masterpiece was due surprisingly to a lack of wind in this beautiful coastal community. Generous fairway widths in the landing zones despite the deep Rees bunkers was also good news for the bombers.

The winding 557-yard par 5 9th hole with water right off the tee and water short left of the green on the second shot was an exciting finishing hole. A perfect drive meant an opportunity to reach the green in two and possibly make eagle.

The beauty of the grounds with the purplish hue to the whimsical vegetation and the majestic clubhouse setting on high ground to the left as the player walks down the 18th fairway for the last time on Sunday afternoon.

Imagine the thoughts, feelings and emotions of Michael Sim as he completed perhaps the most dominant season ever on the Nationwide Tour.

Or Matt Every who triumphed as Nationwide Tour Champion just in time to catch the train to the PGA TOUR for 2010.

The informal hospitality of the Low country and that of Daniel Island was certainly evident on the grassed plateau behind the clubhouse. Overlooking the vast marsh the view is literally endless with natural beauty as far as the eye can see.

An open hospitality tent designated the 19th hole provided spirits and musical tunes to dance to as the evening sun set over the marshland.

On Sunday afternoon the festivities were taken inside the large ballroom where Golf Channel Host Jerry Foltz emceed the final chapter of the Quest for the Card series where the 25 golden graduates of the 2009 Nationwide Tour receive their official 2010 PGA TOUR card.

The graduation ceremony started with 25 empty chairs on stage draped in the numbered gold caddie bibs. One by one the successors are introduced and come across the stage to shake hands with Bill Calfee, President of the Nationwide Tour and Jim Lyski, Chief Marketing Officer for Nationwide.

Better than a high school or college graduation, this ceremony utilizes high tech life size portraits of each golfer with a twirling PGA TOUR card framing the background for the handshakes and presentations. There is no pomp and circumstance playing over and over again.

Family and friends whoop it up a bit as each player is introduced. This ceremony being the culmination of the hard work of a year or of a career brings out the emotions and tears of joy especially for the successful bubble boys and streakers like Every and Wheatcroft.

The joyous gathering spilled out to the grassy plateau where Jerry Foltz continued the festivities recognizing a Nationwide Tour volunteer for the past 31 years in a very inspiration manner.

The lady Lainey Keller drives to many tournaments from her home in South Carolina. Her car with over 300,000 miles on the odometer has seen better days. A grassroots collection was taken up with contributions received from players, caddies, other volunteers, and the media among others to purchase her a new car so she could continue her volunteer activities.

Though she did not leap on the car like Rich Beem did when he aced the 14th hole at Riviera in the 2007 Northern Trust Open Lainey was obviously moved by the outpouring of love and respect for all she has accomplished in a humble manner the last 31 years.

The celebrations on the grassy plateau continued on into the darkness on Sunday evening with hugs and kisses and pictures and toasts occurring nonstop for a few hours as players, caddies, family, friends and fans milled around enjoying the special moment.

Want to experience the Nationwide Tour family up close and personal?

Make plans to attend the 2010 Nationwide Tour Championship at the Daniel Island Club in Charleston, South Carolina.

I was like a kid that simply could not wait for Christmas morning to come.

An opportunity to play the Ralston Course with exactly the same setup of the tour players was granted to me for which I am extremely thankful.

My peg was in the ground at 8 a.m. walking and playing in a twosome with a distinguished member named Richard.

He was distinguished to me in that it was immediately evident he loved the game and cherished the walk in the park we would surely enjoy over the next few hours.

Off we went with me playing from the tips a la my friend Sir Walter's way… go to the back of the back tee, take one step with your right foot, then another step with your left, bend over and put the tee in the ground at the tip of your left shoe.

Wait a minute, this course measures 7,446 yards. Even for a 7-handicapper that is quite the challenge.

Especially for a 7-handicapper who doesn't get out as much as he use to.

It is definitely try what they say about being in the golf business—you do play less golf.

The key to being able to play a golf course of this length is having the fairways hard and fast so the ball rolls like crazy. That is the only way my 260 yard drives will ever stretch to the needed 300 yards.

Looking back the length of the golf course was not overwhelming to me. It was long and I did hit every club in my bag. I was hitting the ball extremely solid and straight for the most part.

On the four par-3s I hit two hybrid 4 irons and two drivers to carry the marsh on the 250-yard 9th hole and to carry the water into the wind on the 227-yard 12th hole. I bogeyed No. 9 pulling my drive way left though I two-putt for par on No. 12.

On the par-5s after reasonable second shots I hit 6-iron, 8-iron and pitching wedges into Nos. 6 and 18. I played the par-5s one over par and the par-3s two-over par sadly three-putting No. 15 from 30 feet.

The heart of the Daniel Island Club like any golf course is the 14 par-4s which bring the designer's challenge and intrigue into play. The shortest iron I had into any par-4 was an 8-iron on No. 17 which I played from the back tees at 368 yards. The longest was a 3-wood into No. 10 playing 468 yards into the wind.

With Richard as a wonderful playing companion I started off well with hybrid 3-irons into the par-4 Nos. 1 and 2 and coming away with par.

Thinking I was off to a good start with the third hole a par-5 coming up I pulled out my 3-wood to advance the ball as far as I could on the second shot on the 618-yard hole. A quick swing trying to hit the ball from the top of my backswing resulted in a duck hook that rolled to a stop in the left fairway bunker.

Now I was in Rees Jones country—a fairly deep fairway bunker with 160+ yards to the hole over water and the front part of the bunker. Another quick swing resulted in a top shot that encountered the signature Jones grassed finger trying to escape the bunker.

With the ball still in the bunker I was challenged with the same shot only ten yards shorter. Trying to calm myself down a bit I exchanged my 6-iron for a 7-iron. Taking a deep breath I made a perfect swing with the ball rising over the lip of the bunker, carrying the water, covering the back left flagstick all the way to the hole.

I chipped delicately from slightly past the putting surface from light Bermuda rough with an 8-iron. The challenge of disaster had passed as I tapped in for a bogey. Still a good start one over par after three holes.

After a hybrid four iron to 30 feet and a two-putt regulation par on the 188-yard par-3 4th hole disaster struck quietly but soundly on the 402 yard par-4 5th hole.

My drive right landed in another fairly deep fairway bunker. Failing to get my 8-iron I managed to escape barely with a 9-iron. Granted I am not the most skilled fairway bunker player but I am not bad. There is something about these bunkers that subtlety pull you into misjudging the lie or height needed to escape in a routine manner.

A skulled wedge over the green left me with a snarly heavy Bermuda rough lie that I was fortunate to get up near the green only to mischip and two-putt my way to a quadruple bogey 8- a snowman on a warm Charleston morning.

So much for the good start at least score wise. Though battered a bit I felt confident this was still my day.

After parring the par-5 6th hole I drove right again on the par-4 458-yard 7th. Forced to punch out with a 5-iron I wedged to the green only to lip out a 40-footer and make bogey.

After a perfect drive on the 395-yard dog-leg-left par-4 8th hole the beauty of the Daniel Island Club unfolds with a vast marsh to the left of the fairway. The marsh goes forever necessitating a carry over it on the long par-3 9th hole.

The openness continues the full length of the 468-yard par-4 10th hole and then simply expands in all directions. To the north along holes nos. 11, 12, 13, and 14, To the east as far as the eye can see. If the marsh was an ocean you would be at the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland.

What a feeling to be in awe of these natural surroundings.

A good par on the 8th and the previously mentioned driver over the marsh pulled to safety left on the 9th and I carded a plus-7 43 on the front nine holes. Not bad but I played really well though the score does not indicate it.

I hit a pro long bunker shot from the short right bunker on the 10th green only to miss a 6-footer for par. Other than that putt and a similar 6-footer for par on No. 9 and the 3-putt on No. 15 I putted well all day.

An alligator-less par on the 583-yard par-5 11th hole and a solid driver par on the par-3 12th got my round back to stable condition. Another plus-1 start over the first three holes. I was determined to post a good score on the back nine possibly break 40 for my normal low 80s posting.

Though this was not a normal course. At 7,446 yards it carried a rating of 77.3 and a slope of 143. Who said only Pete Dye was diabolical? Honestly thought the course played fairly with no tricked up holes. Only solid well designed good golf holes coming at you.

I made a good par on the dog-keg-left par-4 467-yard 13th hole. Driving left I hit a flyer with a hybrid 4-iron that just kept rolling and rolling down the firm fairway. A nice chip and tap in gave me confidence.

Plus the back nine holes were the ones I covered for the Golf Channel so I knew them well. I had seen some great golf shots over four days. In fact, I have seen a lot of good golf shots at over 40 PGA TOUR events in the last two years.

Not that I am one of them but I have seen and know how it can be done. Get the ball in the hole however you can—great drive, recovery shot, long putt whatever just get it in the hole in as few strokes as possible and there you have the game of golf.

A key to success for my back nine performance came after I pulled a 6-iron in the left bunker on the par-4 424-yard 14th hole. I had to carry 30 feet of sand, an embankment to a near sided hole location.

An honest assessment is that I did not have the skills let alone the lie to carry that shot off. I played out sideways and two-putted from 30 feet for a "good" bogey.

Two over after five holes on the back nine with a par-3, tough par-4, short par-4 and the par-5 finishing hole left I started to actively think about how good it would be to break 40.

Distracted I three-putted the 15th after a nice hybrid 2-iron to 30 feet. There's nothing worse than a 3-putt to kill the mojo on a golf course.

Now I had the toughest hole of the Nationwide Tour Championship in front of me—a 450-yard par-4 dog-leg-left with water all the way down the left side with bunkers right.

After a solid drive I hit a hybrid 4-iron to 25 feet and drained the putt for my only birdie of the day. What a treat to birdie the toughest hole on the golf course. Richard was beginning to think maybe I was a pro disguised as a golf writer if there ever could be such a thing.

I tried to step up an 8-iron from 140 yards on No. 17 and fell short hitting the bank and rolling back in the bunker. Though I did not get my bunker shot all the way to the green I did perform well with a delicate chip and tap-in bogey.

Four bogeys and a birdie on the back nine. With a par on the closing par-5 I will shoot a respectable 39 on the back nine.

After a drive and a lay-up hybrid 4-iron my wedge fell short of the ridge protecting the back hole location I was faced with a difficult two-putt from 60 feet. The lag putt almost went in and left with a tap-in par for 39.

The 18-hole score of 82 putt a smile on my face.

Though no Top 25 finish or 2010 PGA TOUR card awaits this golf writer it was a fantastic round to play the course after seeing the professionals compete for four days.

I guess I should keep my day job if only I had one.

Daniel Island Club—Charleston's in-town country club amidst a remarkable planned community.

Only a dream for some but if you can make it a reality I would highly recommend doing it.

Did I mention the "other" golf course there is the Tom Fazio designed Beresford Creek?

By the way I did drive over the bridge a few times with the top down.

I think it’s a new replacement bridge but quite spectacular with its twin towers and streaming cables. 

With great sadness, I leave the Charleston area for now.

Remember if you can; catch the Nationwide championship there in 2010.

Andy Reistetter is a freelance golf writer. He follows the PGA TOUR, the Nationwide Tour and the Champions Tour working for NBC Sports, CBS Sports, and The Golf Channel.

 

Wintering in the Ponte Vedra Beach, FL near the PGA TOUR headquarters and home of The PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass he enjoys pursuing his passion for the game of golf and everything associated with it.

 

He can be reached through his website www.MrHickoryGolf.net or by e-mail to Andy@MrHickoryGolf.net

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