Robert and David Dargan, brothers and business partners, have been playing golf almost since they could stand unaided. Their late father Bob, Sr. was one of Columbia’s top players. Summers and weekends usually saw the family hitting shots and sinking putts at their favorite local courses — a tradition that continues for the brothers.
Both are accomplished players — together finishing second in this year’s S.C. Lefty-Righty Team Championship — and regular contenders in Columbia’s Midlands Chevy Dealers City Tournament (Robert has won twice) and statewide S.C. Golf Association amateur events. They take the game seriously, but not so seriously that it isn’t fun. Both agree: when it comes to the ideal time for golf in South Carolina, the fall months win, hands down.
“That’s definitely my favorite time of the year to play,” says Robert, the elder brother and the left-handed player in their lefty-righty tandem. “It’s not oppressively hot like it can be in the summer, and we still have tournaments in the fall — mid-amateur events (for players aged 30-55 in South Carolina) and the Palmetto Cup Matches are in the fall.
“I usually play up until the end of November and then take December and January off. We both play quite a bit in the fall, in part because the climate in South Carolina allows bent grass greens to be at their best that time of year. The greens have come back from the summer heat and are firmer and faster.”
Course conditions are important for better players, for sure. But other factors make fall a favorite time to play for all golfers: cooler temperatures, less-crowded courses because children are back in school or, as Robert notes, because other golfers are at college football games on Saturdays. Also, there’s the aesthetics: the brilliant array of colors in the fall foliage.
Whatever reason drives a player, though, all agree that a 70-degree afternoon anywhere in the state is hard to beat for a good golfing day.
“I think most golf courses play better in the fall, and it’s more fun when you get more roll on the fairways on firm courses,” says Jim Burgess, another accomplished player who previously lived in Kingstree before relocating to the Midlands.
Eddie Hargett, another Columbia Country Club player, 2012 Midlands Chevy Dealers City Tournament champion and regular playing partner with the Dargans, says the best thing about South Carolina golf anytime is the diversity. “We have mountains, midlands and coast, and you can see so much, you’re never bored,” he says. “Every golf course is different; you get to the coast, and you have windy conditions, while in the Upstate you have elevation changes and woodlands.
“That’s what makes golf fun. It’s not a 100-yard football field or a tennis court, where they’re all alike. There’s always something different.”
Irmo resident and 1983 South Carolina Amateur champion, Jimmy Hawkins also enjoys a change from the Midlands’ courses, most of which have Bermuda hybrid greens because of summer heat. “The cooler temperatures in the Upstate are a welcomed change, and the leaves are pretty when they’re turning,” he says. “Those bent grass greens and the scenery — I enjoy that.”
In the fall, a tradition of getting away to enjoy several rounds — on one course or more than one — is the “buddy trip,” with four or more players staying in hotels or villas and eating together in a classic “male bonding” ritual. Golf courses in South Carolina offer a wide selection of golf package deals at sites stretching from the coast to the North Carolina border — and beyond.
“David and I used to take trips with Eddie and Brad Krapfel for 10 years, one or two a year,” Robert says; that was before his children started demanding more of his recreational time. “We’d pick a weekend when USC was out of town, and we’d go play Friday afternoon, Saturday morning, watch football on TV Saturday afternoon, play Sunday morning and be home Sunday night.
“I like the leaves changing, the crisp air and wearing a pullover sweater. A good trip for us that wasn’t too far, was Aiken: playing Palmetto Golf Club, Woodside Plantation, Houndslake or the Aiken Golf Club. You’d get in 54 holes, sort of like a mini-tournament.”
“My tournament time is summer, but in the fall, I’ll go play just because we can get out for fun — and I enjoy not sweating,” David says.
Eddie is a fan of the Hilton Head-Bluffton area for buddy trips. “Oldfield in Okatie is a great facility with cottages to stay in, and you can play there, Belfair or Colleton River. It is great because once you’re in the housing, you don’t have to leave until you’re headed home,” he says.
Jim Burgess, who finished eighth in this year’s South Carolina Senior Amateur, says that he once had a group of eight to 12 friends who would take three-day weekend trips to Myrtle Beach, down around Litchfield Beach. “We’d play Caledonia, True Blue, The Reserve at Pawleys Island, the Traditions — all of the courses there are good, and we’d try a different one — or two — each year.”
For Jimmy Hawkins, a pleasant surprise was a 2013 trip to Cheraw State Park Golf Course. “It was a regular group that had played SCGA events, but most of them had moved out of state,” he says. “This past year we decided to have a get-together, so we rented a cabin at the state park. Even getting rained out one day, I really enjoyed it.” Jimmy also enjoys another off-the-beaten-path course, White Plains Country Club in Pageland, where the head professional is an old friend.
All five Columbia players have their favorite S.C. courses — and are quick to mention their home clubs — but several spots get near-unanimous endorsement. Some are private clubs — Camden Country Club, Musgrove Mill near Clinton, Chanticleer, Hilton Head’s Long Cove Club and Bluffton’s Colleton River — but others, such as Hilton Head’s Harbour Town Golf Links, Myrtle Beach’s Dunes Club and Barefoot Resort courses, are available to anyone with golf clubs and a credit card.
For the Dargans, it’s more than just a way to enjoy the cool weather and colorful scenery. It’s a family tradition. “Some of my best memories were family time with my dad, David and me,” Robert says. “That’s a special thing.”
In South Carolina, it’s a special time of year, too.
So where are you going for your fall golf getaway? Choices abound, and plenty of good deals, too. “Courses are slow that time of year,” Robert says. “They need the rounds, so you can get some pretty good bargains.” Following is a curated list just to name a few:
Mount Pleasant’s Comfort Suites offers deals for a day or long weekends. Courses include Charleston National, Patriots Point, Stono Ferry and both Wild Dunes courses — Links and Harbor. Also, Kiawah Island Resort has five courses, including the world-famous Ocean Course, and island villas.
Hilton Head Island
From the high-end “Inn at Harbour Town” package to less pricey deals, Sea Pines offers accommodations and play at Harbour Town, Heron Point by Pete Dye and the Ocean Course — not to be confused with Kiawah’s. Palmetto Dunes offers beachfront villas and three courses: Fazio, Cobb and Jones.
The Grand Strand is the “king” of golf packages, with 100 courses and hotels aplenty. Courses such as Barefoot Resort, Glens Golf and Legends Golf all offer all-encompassing deals.
With courses in Greenville, Spartanburg, Anderson and all points in between, plus mountain and lake views, the Upstate is ideal for autumn golf. The Patriot, Links o’ Tryon, Furman Golf Course, Clemson’s Walker Course and Cherokee Valley also are teamed with area hotels.
Just south of Columbia is the economical golf alternative to the beach or the mountains, with 17 courses including Orangeburg Country Club, Santee Cooper Country Club, Santee National and Wyboo Golf Club.
This laidback, historic community has the state’s oldest course — Palmetto, a former LPGA tournament site — Mount Vintage — and a throwback to 1912 golf — Aiken Golf Club. While nearby are bargain deals at Hickory Knob State Park and Savannah Lakes Resorts.
South of Charlotte on I-77, the Rock Hill-Fort Mill area has a lineup of courses including Waterford, Tega Cay and Springfield, with plenty of hotels nearby.
Want to venture farther? North Carolina’s mountains, sand hills and coast are within easy driving range. For the Smokies, visit First Tee Mountain Golf. Also, remember the Outer Banks. If you want to see the Pinehurst area, visit Pinehurst Resort. While less than an hour from Boone, N.C., on the Tennessee side of the state line is the scenic RedTail Mountain Resort.