A Club With A Cannon. . .
The only thing more intimidating than the operational cannon at the front of Secession's clubhouse might be the tee shot on the first hole. And the only thing more intimidating than the first tee shot might be the rather large alligators sunbathing on the sides of the lakes throughout the golf course.
I've been down to Secession Golf Club in Beaufort, South Carolina two times in the last few months. In both cases I've been the guest of Rick Hall--founder of the blog, The Best In Golf. Hall, is in fact, one of the best in golf.
As I stood with Hall on the back porch of Secession last week, watching the grounds crew mow the 18th green--which is an extension of the practice putting green--I reflected on my 45 holes in 28 hours.
Beaufort, South Carolina is about 40 minutes from the Savannah, Georgia airport. Secession opened in the fall of 1991. The private club has had as many valleys as peaks in its' 17-year history. The founders of the club parted ways with__ Pete Dye__ before he finished building the course. A classic case of not seeing eye-to-Dye. The designer who was brought in to finish the job was Bruce Devlin.
In addition to disagreements about the layout, the club has used several financial lifelines to stay afloat. Maybe that's why the current membership of 750 strong, which includes__Mario Lemieux__, doesn't seem to take anything for granted.
Some more fast facts about Secession:
-Secession lost two members on 9/11. They now have the__Jeff LeVeen/Steve Roach__ Scholarship Fund. They've had two white wooden chairs behind the first tee in memoriam ever since.
-At the Blue-Grey tournament in the fall, a full field event in which members from the north play against the members from the south, they hold a silent auction. The money raised goes to the LeVeen/Roach Scholarship Fund. They've been known to raise over $250,000 in a single night.
-They fire the cannon at the start of most events throughout the year at Secession, but if the Blue squad wins the Blue-Grey tournament, the barrel of the cannon aims south for a year. If the Grey squad wins, the barrel aims north. Right now the barrel points to the south but a caddy told me it's only because the Grey, who typically dominates, donated a few players to the north side last year to try and balance the power.
-Buddy and Tully manage the locker room. Buddy was a bar owner in Philadelphia for 17 years. Tully was a master sergeant in the Marines. They're people-people, making first time visitors feel like veterans of the club. Their focus might be your FootJoys, but they're so on their game they might buff and polish a bald head if it sits still too long.
-The eight-room cottage on the property, four rooms upstairs and four rooms downstairs, is known as the Black Hole. It's equipped with a 60-inch flat screen TV, which is on the wall of the living room just below the crisscrossed north/south flags--the club's logo. The Black Hole also features a pool table, a poker table, a Jacuzzi, oversized showerheads and wireless-internet. All but one room is named for a golf course. I stayed in__Royal County Down__. One of the guys I was with stayed in__Beaufort County Detention Center__. This wasn't a room in the pokey in downtown Beaufort, it's the one room not named in the Black Hole not named for a golf course. It's decorated with a few mug shots of a guy who you'd hope is no longer roaming the streets of South Carolina.
-An alternative to cottage lodging is one of the 12 to 15 rooms just above the clubhouse. One member referred to these rooms as "zero star living." I say they're functional and located awfully close to the first tee. I give them something right in the middle--say two and a half stars.
-The four tee boxes, Grant (7,035 yards), Lee (6,685), Sherman (6,158) and Jackson (5,512), are named after Civil War generals. Grant is the name for the back tees because the North won the war.
-Secession's 11th, 12th and 13th holes, all sturdy par-4's, might initiate more prayers to the almighty golf gods than Augusta's Amen Corner.
-The 'lunch bunker' is located on the right side of the fairway of the 512 yard par-5, fifth hole. If a player hits it in this trap and makes par, the caddy of the player who makes the par enjoys a free lunch courtesy of his counterpart.
-The pro,Mike Harmon, played the tour in the 80's. Harmon, no relation to__Butch__, has been at Secession since it opened. They call him 'Ol' Pro. He looks and dresses like he's on a movie set. He works the room like a polished politician. If the wind is a factor members say, "the wind's up higher than the Ol' Pro's pants."
Once you get passed the Civil War artillery, portions of Pete Dye's design and things with big teeth, Secession Golf Club is more than worthy of a retreat.
Captions (from the top): The cannon in front of the clubhouse; the back porch overlooking the 18th green, practice putting green and 1st tee box; the two chairs behind the 1st tee in honor of Jeff LeVeen and Steve Roach; the back of the clubhouse at sunrise.