For the past 20 years, David Staley has known he owned and operated one of the finest golf courses in the Lowcountry. It now appears that the rest of the area golf community shares his pride and appreciation for Old South Golf Links.
Already preparing for its two-decade birthday celebration in November, Old South and its leadership team can now add a Golf Course of the Year distinction to the party, as it has been recognized by the Lowcountry Golf Course Owners Association as the most outstanding golf facility in Beaufort County for 2011.
It's an honor that most would agree has been a long time coming, but it's also one that is more than deserved considering the course's longtime commitment to value, experience, service and conditioning.
"Obviously we are very pleased by the recognition," said Staley, who has owned and operated the course along with an active partnership group for the past two decades. "We feel like we're worthy of this award because our staff has always worked hard to make Old South one of the best golf courses in Hilton Head."
Staley won't say it, but I will; the course of the year distinction is one that should have come Old South's way some years ago. Politics or location aside, when it comes to design, challenge, conditioning and service, few courses on either side of the bridge to Hilton Head Island do it the way Old South does. The Clyde Johnston-designed layout is among the most scenic courses in Bluffton, given its location to the Intracoastal marsh areas. And its shot-making demand requires imagination and accuracy from the opening hole to the stunning finale.
"We've always considered Old South to be one of the toughest but fairest golf courses in (Hilton Head)," Staley said. "We feel like the course layout rates up there with any in the area."
From personal experience, so does the "experience" of playing the golf course. A lot of facilities pay lip service to condition and customer service, but at Old South it's a religion. From its dirt beginnings to its grass roots, the club has been managed by general manager Scott Adams and has enjoyed a staff of some the most influential golf professionals and dedicated customer-service-minded individuals you can find anywhere in Beaufort County. That recipe, combined with the course itself, has proven to be a model worth replicating in a difficult industry environment.
"We've always had the best combination of a great facility with even better people," Staley said. "When you look at the ambiance of the property, the quality of the conditions and staff we have had in place, we feel like Old South rates with any facility on or off the island."
While it might not carry the national cachet of Sea Pines' Harbour Town Golf Links or Palmetto Dunes' Robert Trent Jones oceanfront course, Old South takes a backseat to no design in the Lowcountry. A true shot-makers course, the Johnston design features a litany of memorable holes, highlighted by a quartet of finishing holes that both challenge and awe golfers of all skill levels and preferences.
Among those holes is the difficult par-4 16th that features a 200-yard carry over marsh to a tight landing area and the long par-5 finishing hole that offers a carry across marsh on the drive and an approach over a small creek to an elevated green. That finish is also highlighted by stunning marsh views that local golfers have long appreciated and visiting players are not likely to forget.
"The challenge and the ambiance of those holes are simply the best of the best in my opinion," Staley said. "In fact, the conclusions of both our nines are blessed with the marsh exposure that makes them memorable and challenging."
Indeed, those are two words that best describe the two-decade legacy of Old South that began in the glory days of the area's golf rise and has remained resilient during the past few years of more difficult times. In a little more than two months from now, Old South will celebrate its 20th birthday and will welcome back long-since-departed staff members to stand next to a talented current staff that combined have helped created what is now the top course in Beaufort County.
It's taken that long to earn the recognition it has today, but I've heard it said many times that good things come to those who wait.
"We've been blessed to have a lot of talented people work here," Staley said. "From the beginning to today we have maintained a level of service, condition and experience that has served us well."
It's taken 20 years, but it's clear that those in the know agree with Staley's evaluation of his own golf course.