Appeared in the Winter 2014 issue of LINKS.
It takes a lot of chutzpah to describe a course with “mountain” in its name as a “links.” Which is why Jeff Lawrence—senior architect for the Gary Player Design Group and the man most responsible for the namesake layout at The Cliffs at Mountain Park in northwestern South Carolina—eschews publicity-speak and refers to it as “low profile and traditional style.” Those words work, as Mountain Park certainly sits comfortably in its valley setting and presents players with more old-fashioned shotmaking options than many modern courses afford.
The newest of the seven courses in The Cliffs Communities that stretch across western North and South Carolina, Mountain Park succeeds on numerous levels. It brings old-school elements like big greens, natural bunkering, and open approaches to the very un-Scotland-looking Blue Ridge Mountains. The turf dries unusually quickly considering the topography, trees, and twisting North Saluda River that comes into play especially on the front nine. Plus, it is flat, easy to walk, and offers a selection of tees.
Furthermore, Mountain Park could do big things for Player’s design group, which rarely gets the recognition accorded other big-name firms despite being busy around the world. Player’s people recognize the importance of this project, having moved the Black Knight’s American base of operations from Palm Beach, Florida, to a new office complex overlooking the 18th hole.
Also benefitting should be the entire Cliffs concern, which emerged from bankruptcy last summer after its original owner overextended his finances growing from one private community to seven (each with its own housing development, club, and course). Player’s plan had to wait nearly seven years until a new group of owners took over, but energy and money look to be flowing in, and multi-million-dollar houses going up, including on the hills above Mountain Park.
Down in the valley, expansive greens and surrounding chipping areas put a premium on the short game, a fitting tribute to the strengths of the 78-year-old Player, who still exercises daily—and exercises complete control over his golf ball on nearly every shot, knowing when and how to hit both the low bump-and-runs and high, fast-stopping shots that are necessary for scoring. Most fairways are wide (even if they don’t appear so from the tee), but finding the best angles into greens is essential.
Mountain Park is fine fun for all, but will prove especially rewarding for good golfers who can channel Mr. Player and his thoughtful, throwback ways.