Thursday, September 30, 2010

Wade Hampton Golf Club

Wade Hampton Golf Club (ranked #88 in the world) is located in Cashiers, North Carolina near Asheville, close to the South Carolina border. Cashiers is in the Western mountainous part of the state where the Great Smokey and Blue Ridge Mountains are located. The course takes its name from a confederate soldier known as "The Giant in Gray," General Wade Hampton III. Hampton's family owned the land the course was built on for generations, and they summered in the area; they also had a hunting lodge nearby. The Hamptons used to harvest ice from the lakes and where the eighteenth green sits today there was previously one such ice house.

Wade Hampton sporting a serious handlebar mustache

Hampton was the highest ranking Confederate cavalry officer under Robert E. Lee's command. He fought in the Battle of Antietam, the First Battle of Bull Run and the Battle of Fredricksburg. He was injured numerous times at Gettysburg. After the war he served as Governor of South Carolina and as a U.S. Senator. The likeness of Hampton seen above greets you in the form of a big painting hanging in the pro shop.

The course was designed by Tom Fazio, and he remains an active member today. The club was opened in 1987 with 120 charter and founding members, all from below the Mason-Dixon Line: seven from Augusta, Georgia and the remainder from Florida, Alabama and North Carolina. Although the membership has changed somewhat since the club's founding, Wade Hampton remains a below-the-radar Southern club. Similar to Fishers Island, in order to be a member of the club, you have to own property or a house bordering the course, making it a small, tight knit group, which explains why it took so many years for this cantankerous Yankee to get invited to play.

At the guard-gated entrance we were greeted with a big "Good maw-nin." Once through the gate you make a "ryat" followed by a "layft" to get to the clubhouse.

The course has a program where they sponsor young adults from South Africa to apprentice as caddies and in other jobs to learn the golf business. These well-mannered youngsters add some nice character to Wade Hampton. The course also has the nicest staff of any course I have visited. As at the Honors Course and Muirfield Village, your car is valet parked. EVERY employee greeted us warmly and welcomed us to the club. This was consistent all day long; they have really developed a culture of service excellence here that is unmatched.

The dramatic, downhill par 5 opening hole at Wade Hampton

Cashiers sits at 3,650 feet in elevation. The course begins on the highest point on the property with a 534 yard par five that plays down into a big valley. The course is essentially built into the mountain and has a lot of elevation change. The major characteristics of the course are its brilliant use of the elevation, its lushness and the creative routing through the large and omnipresent trees.

The downhill par three sixth hole

The par threes at Wade Hampton, as with most Fazio courses, are all very good. The sixth hole is a good example. It plays 152 yards downhill. In a very interesting design feature, the water in front of the green flows over a large granite slab that slopes down the hill. Two of the golfers in our group (yours truly included) came up short and the ball bounced off the rock onto the green. Apparently, there has been a hole in one recorded on this hole from a ricochet off the rock.

Seventh hole from the tee

The seventh hole is a 376 yard par four with a forced carry over both scrub and water. Wade Hampton was blasted through granite and carved out of thick forest, and you can get a sense of the density of the trees and foliage on the course from this picture taken off the seventh tee. The hole is a good risk-reward hole since you can choose how much of the water to take on with your tee shot.

The par three 11th

The 172 yard par three eleventh is another downhill beauty that uses the trees and bunkers to perfectly frame this verdant hole.

At least twelve holes at Wade Hampton play from an elevated tee box and the thirteenth is the most dramatic of them all. The 406 yard hole plays from an elevated tee and the second shot is also down a hill to the green.

The dramatic par four 13th hole with the mountain backdrop

What makes the thirteenth hole so dramatic is how close the granite face of Chimney Top Mountain is to you. It is not in the distance, but quite close to you as you play the hole and about 1,000 feet high. It's hard to focus on playing the hole, the grandeur of the mountain is so distracting. This was one of my favorite holes, along with the eighteenth.

The par three 17th hole, framed by two giant hemlock trees

The tantalizing seventeenth is also a very dramatic par three. It plays 190 yards downhill, with a small stream running in front of the green. The green is framed by two giant hemlock trees and the mountain. Wade Hampton is one of only a handful of mountain courses ranked in the top 100, the others being Highlands Links in Canada, Homestead (Cascades) in Virginia and Naruo in Japan.

18th green
The 18th green with the lovely clubhouse in the background

The eighteenth is a really good short par five finishing hole that gets progressively narrower from tee to green. Down its entire left hand side there is a stream and the fairway slopes right to left. It is equally as magnificent viewed from either the tee or the green. The intoxicating clubhouse provides a welcome distraction as you approach the green. It has a series of cascading porches, verandas and patios and exudes understated Southern elegance. The boys put some serious money into this hideaway.

18th fwy back
The 18th fairway looking backward from the green

There are probably only a handful of courses better to play on than Wade Hampton on a sunny summer day; certainly almost none away from the sea. Playing at Wade Hampton is like being inside a Thomas Kinkade painting: Idyllic, with bucolic scenery and an idealized version of the world.

With the exception of the par four thirteenth, I liked the par threes and fives on the course better than the par fours. The par threes all make great use of the downhill terrain and are perched in special locations, tucked into corners around the property. The four par five holes were all very well designed and rewarded bold shots, but also gave a safe play for the higher handicapper. The course is quite difficult, with slope ratings on the various men's tee boxes ranging from 136-146.

During my visit I stayed at the High Hampton Inn, which is less than a mile from Wade Hampton down Highway 107. It is an old-style traditional inn where you still have to wear a jacket and tie at dinner; it has no air conditioning, no TV's; and still has its original 1930s knotty pin wood interiors. We sweated profusely at dinner but still enjoyed the show put on by the old-time Southerners who frequent this region in their seersucker suits and summer linen outfits, strutting their stuff up in the mountains. Our food at the buffet dinner was awful and the lack of air conditioning led me to develop a serious case of prickly heat. Plus, the place was also over-run with toddlers and kids. On the positive side the breakfast was quite good and the place has serious ambiance. One night staying there was enough, since I'm too uncouth to appreciate it and I miss my MTV.

My regular readers know I'm a big fan of the South and enjoyed playing Yeamans Hall, The Honors Course, Kiawah and Harbour Town. Wade Hampton is no exception. Wade Hampton is hard to get to, and frankly, like a lot of out-of-the-way places I have played like Sand Hills and Barnbougle Dunes, that is part of the charm. I drove the three hours from Atlanta to Cashiers, the last 45 minutes of which you ride on the single lane South Carolina State Highway 107. It is a long and winding road which snakes steeply uphill with 'S' turn after 'S' turn in the back woods, with the occasional old broken-down general store or barbeque shack. I continue to love the countryside, traditions and feel of the Old South, although I wouldn't want my car to break down on any of these back roads. It's not hard to see why Deliverance was filmed near here.

Only one more course in the South to play. I'm livin' the dream out here!


Nathan McGrath said...

Good Luck with getting on that other southern course,

Loved this blog, looks a truly beautiful course,


Anonymous said...

Correction - two in the South left for you to play.

Top 100 Golfer said...

OMG. Good point, Homestead is south of the Mason-Dixon line and clearly in the South. My Bad.

Anonymous said...

As I was very fortunate to be with the Master Top 100 blogger on this trip to Wade Hampton, I wanted to share my views of this elite course. The top 100 blogger tends to prefer more historic and links-style courses -- which is perfectly justifyiable -- my question to him is that if you had to choose to belong to five top 100 courses in the U.S., would Wade Hampton be one of them? First of, let's exclude Augusta. Beyond that, there are the obvious, such as Cypress, Sand Hills and one of the Long Island premiere courses. But, as a fan of unique mountain courses and their varying terraine, I would have to vote Wade Hampton as one of the top five. What a treat it was to play this course and walk the grounds. In fact, if I didn't have clubs with me, it would be a great experience just to walk the grounds and take in the scenery and condition of the course. There was absolutely nothing to criticize about the Wade Hampton experience -- the course was fabulous, the treatment from the staff was first-rate and the overall feel of the club was magnificent. It was a tremendous experience and anyone who is a frequent visitor to this blogsite should know that Wade Hampton deserves to be at the top of anyone's list. The top 100 blogger gave it very high marks -- I'd take it even higher. A first rate experience and golf course.


Anonymous said...

What's with all courses that have almost no rough. It's either fairway or lost ball. It looks like this course is like that. A couple of holes it's ok,but not on all of them;it's to penal.

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing this Post.I would like to say that I stayed at an excellent Golf Hotel in US.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review. I spent this summer near the Highlands/Cashiers area and have been waiting for you to visit and review Wade Hampton. Most people may have never heard of the Highlands/Cashiers area, but considering the isolation and sparse population, the concentration of elite golf courses is truly amazing. However, they are almost all private, so the average golfer has little hope of experiencing this idyllic setting for mountain golf.

The funny thing is that the club pro's and serious golfers that I met in Highlands/Cashiers consider Wade Hampton to be only the 3rd best course in the area (#1 being Mountaintop and #2 being Highlands Country Club...the summer home of Bobby Jones). Since these were the three courses in the area that I did not get to play, I cannot offer an opinion. But I mention this as an example of the high quality of golf in this small, isolated, yet nonetheless ritzy mountain community. There's something about 78 degree summer afternoons that attract people from Atlanta and Florida to build 2nd houses in the area.

Golffrontier said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
scott said...

I live in the area and played college golf here as well. I love the mountain courses in the Sapphire/Cashiers/Highlands areas, and have been fortunate enouh to play a number of them, including Trillium, Lake Toxaway, and High Hampton. Naturally, Wade Hampton is at the top of my list. Like with many of the private top 100 courses you play, I am curious to know how you were able to access Wade Hampton.

Top 100 Golfer said...

Scott - Thanks for the comment, it took me over five years to connect with a member. Tough to find a member since they have to own land on the course to be a member.

Anonymous said...

I have really enjoyed reading many of your blogs about Top 100 courses. Wade Hampton is the one course on the list I know much of anything about. My college rommate was a member at Wade with his family and I played it a few times. It is definitely a fantastic layout and a great day of golf. If you ever make it back to the area you should try to play The Country Club of Sapphire Valley. I worked there for five years and its a wonderful layout. My wife worked at Highlands Country Club and as someone else mentioned its great as well. I hope to play Mountaintop this summer so fingers crossed.

Anonymous said...

I've played every course in the Highlands/Cashiers/Sapphire/Lake Toxaway area except Wade Hampton, Mountain Top and Burlingame. Regulation Courses I've played include Sapphire Valley, Trillium, Highlands CC, Highlands Falls,Old Edwards,Sapphire National,Lake Loxaway CC,Cullasja,High Hampton, and Wildcat Cliffs. Also two Courses are par Three's (Headwaters & Red Bud). Two Courses are 9 hole courses (Bear Mountain & Chipaquien). Sapphire Valley is very flat and lovely scenic course. Trillium is somewhat hilly. The best Par3 holes are found on Highland Falls and Sapphire National. High Hampton has one of the most famious par 3's the #7 island hole.

Anonymous said...

Surprised Balsam Mountain Preserve did not make the list. It is located near Ashville.