Appeared in 2012 Fazio Premier Clubs
The South Carolina Lowcountry near Hilton Head is a familiar and comfortable place for Tom Fazio. Within easy flying distance of his North Carolina base and drawn by the distinct tidal-marsh topography, he’s built a number of courses in the area, starting with one at Palmetto Dunes Resort (designed with his Uncle George) in the early ’70s.
So when developers John Reed and David Everett approached him in 1994 to build two courses at a new community called Belfair, he didn’t hesitate to make a site visit with them. “The first time I drove that property I said, Oh, wow, look at this!” recalls Fazio. “I loved the vegetation. We had this beautiful marsh and these gorgeous big trees. I felt honored to have the chance to build there.”
The members are the ones who feel honored now. Not only do they get to choose between two superb layouts, the East and the West, but they also have one of the most active golf memberships in the area, not to mention one of the best practice and teaching facilities in the state. “It’s the best club around,” says Jeff Haworth, who’s lived at Belfair for eight years and plays with two large groups on Saturdays and Tuesdays. “There’s always so much going on. The courses are always in such great condition and the scenery is so gorgeous, they’re hard to beat.”
It’s also harder to find a prettier entrance to a private, gated community. Sixty live oaks line the road, their gnarled, moss-draped limbs arching over to form a sun-dappled canopy; once upon a time it formed the entrance for a grand country estate and working plantation that William Telfair and his wife Betsey Bellinger (thus the name) built in 1811.
More than 200 years later, hundreds of happy couples call Belfair home. Because half of the 770 members make it their full-time residence, there’s constant activity at the 1,100-acre property that includes 33 acres of protected wetlands and a rookery: people walking their dogs early in the morning, working out in the newly remodeled fitness center, or getting together for dinner in the Georgian-style, 32,000-square-foot clubhouse that overlooks a vast lawn and English garden, the 18th holes of both courses, and the ever-changing tidal marsh beyond.
“Everyone is so warm and welcoming,” says General Manager David Porter. “New members never have to worry about finding a golf game or a card game. The other thing is we’re always putting capital back into the amenities to keep them top-notch.”
Both courses, for instance, have undergone recent renovations. Using old aerial photos, Fazio restored the greens of the West Course to their original specs and re-grassed them with MiniVerde bermuda in 2008, while also converting the fairways to the more eco-friendly paspalum grass. Last year, he renovated the East Course greens, switching them from bent to MiniVerde while also redoing all the bunkering.
Both courses are in the best shape they’ve been in years. While the West is the more prominent of the two because it hosted the Players Amateur, one of the top amateur events in the country, for 12 years, many members prefer the more links-like East, especially with the new greens and bunkers. “The holes just have a really good flow to them and the par fives are terrific,” says Haworth. “I also like the terrain because it’s more undulating—something you don’t find a lot around here.”
The rolling topography is especially evident on the East’s first 10 holes, which play around a hill and feature massive waste bunkers. One of the most memorable holes is the 330-yard 5th, a classic risk-reward par four: Depending on the wind, tee selection, and a player’s nerve, the hole is drivable, but the tee shot is all carry over a big lake. The 604-yard 10th is a rollicking rollercoaster of a hole that plays uphill to the right, then sweeps down to the left to a large, sloping green.
The wetlands come more into play on the back, starting with the East’s most picturesque hole, the 189-yard 14th, where the view beyond the green is all marsh. The tee shots from the back tees on the short par-four 15th and par-five 16th must clear the marsh, but those are among the few forced carries. The dogleg-right, 464-yard 18th finishes next to the West’s 448-yard 18th. Completely bordered by wetlands, the West closer is one of the most beautiful—and brutal—holes in the Southeast. Coupled with the Cape-style par-four 17th, which has a tiny green set up right on the marsh, the West offers an incredibly challenging and scenic finish—Lowcountry golf at its finest.
It’s a dramatic counterpart to the quiet beginning, where players have a chance to make some birdies on a few short par fours and wide par fives where they can go for broke. The tempo quickens with the 429-yard 9th, which is bordered on the entire left side by a large lagoon filled with egrets and herons. A causeway leads golfers to holes 13 to 15, located on Telfair Island. A large waste area separates the former and latter, while the 177-yard 14th plays along the marsh and may be the prettiest hole on the property.
Both courses host the club’s most popular event, the spring member-member, which attracts 224 players—80 women and 144 men. The two-day event starts with an 18-hole better-ball competition and concludes with a Pinehurst alternate-shot format with partners playing each other’s tee shots, leading to nonstop ribbing and laughs. That the member-member is a bigger deal than the member-guest proves how close-knit Belfair is.
“This is a golf-driven community,” says Director of Golf James Swift. “We have great participation. Tournaments fill up in two weeks. New members have no trouble getting intertwined, either. It’s a very embracing place.”
And a dedicated one, too. Members play fast and enjoy working on their games at the Jim Ferree Learning Center, a double-ended, 29-acre facility with target greens, short-game area, covered hitting bays, and a high-tech teaching studio. Says Swift: “We have a hard time getting people to go home, which is a good thing.”
The locker rooms are also of the highest quality: The men’s offers lunch service and features three flatscreen TVs on one wall, while the women’s was recently renovated with new furniture, bar-access window, and 32-seat card room. The clubhouse—distinctive for its attractive powder-coated brick exterior—offers lunch seven days a week and dinner three or four times a week. The she crab soup and 1811 prime beef burger are favorites, but all the food is fresh and the variety plentiful. The club takes the concept of farm-to-table meals so seriously that it is the primary sponsor of the local farmer’s market. Says Porter: “Our members deserve the best so we never sacrifice quality.”
Which is a good description of Belfair’s golf experience and every other aspect of the community, as well.