Before beginning on the Top 100 journey, the name Frederick Law Olmsted didn't mean much to me. I vaguely remember hearing that he designed Central Park in Manhattan, but didn't know much else. However, this name has come up a few times in my travels. While Olmsted laid out the plans for many American parks and even some university campuses, it was actually his son, Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. who's name comes up here and there in the golf space. The younger Olmsted worked as a landscape architect and city planner with his father's firm in Brookline, MA, and is attributed to many projects, including Acadia National Park and Cornell University. He happened to have some involvement in some of the Top 100 golf sites too, including the Village of Pinehurst, and much to my surprise, Yeamans Hall Club.
Based very near Charleston, SC, Yeamans Hall was to be a large residential community of 900 acres which would largely serve as a winter destination for notable businessmen from the North. However, for whatever reason (likely the timing of the club's opening, shortly before the Great Depression), few homes were ever built, and what stands now is a massive swath of peaceful land. There are 35 homes on the property, whose owners are known as "Proprietors" by the members. 250 or so full members have access to the club year-round, with another several hundred "Associate Members" who have access in the quieter times of the year, outside of the high season. From the club's yardage book:
After his September 1923 visit to the thousand-acre tract just outside Charleston which Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. envisioned could be 'an admirable winter resort,' golf course architect Seth Raynor said there is not a 'doubt in my mind about your being able to build a magnificent golf course amid such surroundings.' Upon its completion two years later, 'Mr. Raynor expressed himself as being very pleased with the results.' Construction of the clubhouse and implementation of the 1924 Olmsted General Plan for Yeamans Hall quickly followed and the original vision for the property became a reality. As Yeamans nears it centennial, the membership continues to respect the traditions and ideals of those who came together to found the Club nearly one hundred years ago."
This is certainly the case, as a visit to Yeamans Hall is something of a visit to another era. This is a golf club with no frills beyond the course and a few small buildings that complement it. The golf shop is a small and relatively spartan locale that is separate from the clubhouse, not unlike many clubs from the early 1900's. The clubhouse is reserved for the use of only the full-time members, with associate members not having access. As I was a guest of an associate member, I didn't get to check out the clubhouse from the inside, but from the outside it exuded understated Southern charm, and looked like a wonderful place to have a cocktail and a bit to eat.
As far as the golf course goes, again from the Yardage Book:
"This classic design from the Golden Age of American golf architecture contains the distinctive features found at many a Raynor course. A restoration begun in 1996 under the guidance of Tom Doak and completed by Jim Urbina in 2017, has returned each of the eighteen holes to their original integrity. Greens now total approximately 136,000 square feet as compared to the 80,000 square feet to which they had been reduced through the years. Green complex characteristics include squared-off edges and deep steep-faced bunkering which are staples of Seth Raynor designs. Dozens of bunkers removed over the years have been returned to their rightful place. Fairways and tees have been planted with Celebration bermudagrass to complement the Champion G12 bermudagrass found on the greens. The golf course once again plays as Seth Raynor intended and fulfills a prediction he made in March 1925 that it, 'combined with the invigorating climate and all the other fine features this spot contains, is bound to make one fall in love with golf at Yeamans Hall.' "
I was fortunate to be able to play this course with several high school buddies, who now live all over the country. After doing some shopping in the shop, we headed to the range to loosen up. It was over 90 degrees, humid, and sunny, so it didn't take long to have a good sweat going. When it was time to go, we all grabbed our bags and walked the short distance to the first tee. While carts and available, Yeamans is a very pleasant walk. The only thing getting in the way was the harsh Southern heat, but it's quite flat and walks from green to tee are quite limited. The course isn't terribly long, with the Rust Tees serving as the tips. Those tees measure 6,783 yards, but par is 70 at Yeamans Hall, so that's still a rather substantial test. We close to play from the Yellow Tees, which are next up and play to 6,280 Yards. While that sounds short, the par of 70, coupled with the fact Hurricane Dorian hit the area literally a week before, made the Yellow Tees an appropriate test. From there, with a rating of 70.7 and slope of 130, we thought we'd have the best chance of having a fun afternoon. I'll quote those distances below:
#6, "Redan," Par 3, 173 Yards
The Redan template is probably my favorite of the four Raynor template par three holes. I always put the most pressure on myself to hit the perfect shot to be able to use the slope properly. The prototype Redan requires a shot to the right portion of the green to catch a slope that feeds the ball to the left, where the pin is usually located. Miss long and right, and you generally have a nearly impossibly recovery to a green that slopes away from you. The best miss is usually in the left bunker where you have a shot into the slope of the green. However, get the shot right, and it's an incredibly fun and satisfying experience to watch your ball funnel toward the hole.
#14, "Knoll," Par 4, 380 Yards
With a single bunker on the left side of the fairway that lays 255 yards from the tee along with a meaningless bunker just short of the fairway, this is a relatively easy driving hole. Trees overhang the left edge of the fairway, but the right half of the fairway is a better angle into the green anyway. I really liked this green site with a deep bunker fronting the left half. The view to the left from the green is gorgeous.
#3, "Short," Par 3, 127 Yards
The first of Raynor's four "template" par threes comes at the third. This beautiful short par three plays toward the marsh and to a green that's well protected all the way around by bunkers. As with most of Raynor's short template holes, there is a "thumb print" in the middle of the green, which makes precision off the tee necessary to avoid a tough putt.
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#1, "Plateau," Par 4, 397 Yards
The opening hole at Yeamans Hall requires a drive that clears one of only two water hazards on the course--outside from the surrounding marsh. Neither pond is really in play, except for a serious duff, though a duff is certainly possible with first tee jitters! From the tee, the primary "obstacle" is actually the entrance road, which cross the fairways at around 260 yards from the Yellow Tees. In the middle of the fairway, it's 277 yards to carry the road. The green is one of Raynor's "Double Plateau" greens, with plateaus on the front left and back right. The triangular nature of the green makes the back plateau and very small target, with bunkers on either side. These plateaus can makes for some really tricky puts if you're in the wrong spot.
#2, "Leven," Par 4, 345 Yards
The key to the second hole is to avoid the three bunkers on the right half of the fairway. The bunkers at Yeamans Hall generally have fairway grass cut all the way up to the edges, so there is nothing to stop your ball from rolling in if it's on the wrong line. A right-to-left shot off of those bunkers is a good play, and you can lay up short of the bunkers if you don't want to hit driver. It's about 225 yards from the Yellow Tees to the first bunker. Somehow I messed up and missed getting a picture from the tee. The shot from the fairway is a bit uphill
#9, "Long, "Par 5, 508 Yards
There are only two par fives at Yeamans Hall and they both come at the end of their respective nines. The small pond in front of the tee on the ninth is the last water hazard you'll see on the course. The bunker straight in front of you can be carried fairly easily and a drive over the left half of it is a good line. There is a bunker on the left side of the fairway that needs to be avoided. It's 220 yards to reach it and about 260 yards to carry it. The landing area on the second shot is actually quite wide open,beginning at about 135 yards from the green, so feel free to take out a fairway wood or long iron to try to get to the green in two, or as near it as possible. You'll need to get it at least ten yards onto the surface of the green to get it past the huge false front.
#18, "Home," Par 5, 504 Yards
Like the front nine, the back nine finishes with a par five. This one is well bunkered in the landing areas for both the drive and the second shot. Avoid these six fair bunkers, and the hole sets up for a chance to finish strong. However, if you hit one of the bunkers, especially the ones that protect the landing area on the second shot and it can be a tough finish.
#4, "Bottle," Par 4, 410 Yards
Turning away from the marsh, the long par four fourth heads to the East. From the tee, there are three long and slender bunkers that need to be avoided. It's only a 201 yard carry from the Yellow Tees, but if you decided to take on the Rust Tees, it's a 275 yard carry, putting them very much in play for most players. It's 494 Yards from all the back, so this hole is quite a test from there.
#11, "Maiden," Par 4, 392 Yards
Two aiming bunkers lay near the start of the fairway. However, since you can see the entire hole, there isn't a ton of purpose in them. Splitting them is an ideal shot on this straight-away hole. There is a bunker on the right side of the fairway that's about 255 yards from the tee, so longer hitters might want to lay up short of that with a fairway wood. All the tee markers at Yeamans Hall are hut from rails of a railroad line. Given you'll cross the train line on the way into the club, it's sort of a fun object to use as a tee marker.
#8, "Creek," Par 4, 402 Yards
This was one of my favorite holes at Yeamans. It's one of the only holes where you'll see some houses of the "Proprietors" of the club. The infinity green lays in front of the marsh and the view out to the water is beautiful the entire way. The small bunker on the right side of the fairway is the one most in play from the tee. It's 241 yards to that bunker from the Yellow Tees.
#13, "Eden," Par 3, 161 Yards
As with most Eden templates, the back portion of the green has a reasonably steep back-to-front slope. Hitting it long makes for an extremely difficult up-and-down, with a bunker in the back and a green that runs away from you. There is a false front on the first five yards of the green--false fronts were found frequently at Yeamans.
#10, "Cape," Par 4, 339 Yards
Being a short hole, this is a relatively easy green to hit. However, I also found it to be one of the trickiest greens on the course. While there was a subtle thumbprint on the third green, there is a huge one on this green. Hole locations in the middle of the green would be easy, but my understanding is that these are fairly rare. There isn't a great deal of room on the edges of the green, so it's likely that you'll ball will funnel near the center and have to deal with a slope up to the hole.
Yeamans Hall was a wonderful experience, full of Southern class, charm, and hospitality throughout. I couldn't have felt more comfortable and welcome during my visit. It would have likely been even more peaceful and charming to have the chance to grab a post-round cocktail on the patio of the clubhouse, but it was plenty good without that! Thank you so much to our host, JF, for making us feel so welcome, and contributing to a wonderful day.
#5, "Alps," Par 4, 391 Yards
Six bunkers dot the fairway, making an accurate tee shot a must to shore here. Like nearly all the greens at Yeamans Hall, the greens are cut on very sharp edges. This is something that's quite typical in accurately restored Seth Raynor designs, but it's a bit of an eye-opener for those who haven't seen much of his work.
#17, "Punchbowl," Par 4, 387 Yards
Two holes remain, and both head back to the North and back to the clubhouse. It's only 170 yards to carry the first bunker and about 270 yards to reach the first of two cross bunker that run diagonally from left to right across the fairway. Avoid those, and it's a fairly easy shot into a large green with contours surrounding it that will kick balls back toward the center.
#16, "Biarritz," Par 3, 194 Yards
The Biarritz template calls for a long shot to a green that is flanked on either side by long slender bunkers. A swale always exists; in some cases it's in the middle of a really long/deep green, dividing the front from the back. In other cases, the front section is maintained as fairway and the swale is just short of the green. Yeamans Hall maintains their version with fairway in the front portion. The intent of the hole is for a low shot that lands short of the swale, disappears, and then reappears on the back portion. That's the fun way to play it. Although, with the distances people hit the ball these days, many will just carry it all the way to the hole. This was one of the more difficult Biarritz greens I've seen with a pretty severe spine that divided the right and left portions of the green. Not only to you have to hit a good long shot, but you have to be on the correct side of the green!
#15, "Lido," Par 4, 425 Yards
Heading back toward the setting sun, the 15th is the longest and arguably the hardest par four on the course. A right-to-left shot is ideal off the tee, which bends off of the fairway bunkers on the right. Landing in the fairway gives you a puncher's change to get on the green in regulation. However, if you're wayward, you need to take two cross bunkers into account, which cross the fairway at about 85 yards from the green. Hit either of these and it's a really awkward long bunker recovery shot to make par. As long as you clear them you can play a run-up shot into the green, though a false front occupies the first 5-7 yards of the green.
#12, "Narrows," Par 4, 336 Yards
Another par four that is relatively short, which provides options. The shape of the green is similar to the Redan sixth, but the contour of the green is not. The large humps and bumps to the right of the green are really cool looking, but you should stay away from that side of the green if you can! By now, I had learned from experience that the bunkers really are to be avoided. They are packed with heavy sand, similar to what you'll find on the nearby Atlantic beaches. Maybe I could get good at hitting from them if I played here every day, but being used to more sand and and fluffier bunker, these were tough to get used to.
#7, "Road," Par 4, 409 Yards
For my money, this was the hardest hole on the course. It's pretty long, with properly placed bunkers in the landing area. The pond shouldn't come into play except for a duffed drive. The green complex is definitely tough to hit with the road bunker protecting the left half and the "Road" in the form of a bunker in the back-right. I wish I had gotten a better picture of the green site. Get out of here with a par and you've accomplished something.