Golf on the Georgia coast is associated with two areas along the I-95 corridor – Savannah and the Golden Isles, which consists of Brunswick, St. Simons and Jekyll Island.
Golfers from around the state, as well as visitors from up and down the Eastern seaboard, are very familiar with the quality of golf offered at the courses in the Savannah area, as well as the resort destinations on St. Simons and Jekyll.
But there is a relatively unknown course between Savannah and Brunswick that is gradually gaining deserved attention, especially after its rapid recovery from some tough times following the downturn of the U.S. economy that began in late 2008.
Sapelo Hammock, which is located in the community of Shellman Bluff near Darien, closed down for almost a year from the Fall of 2010 through the Summer of 2011. By the next year, there was no remaining evidence of the course being out of operation, and two years later, Sapelo Hammock is in superb condition and well on the way to achieving the bright future anticipated for the course when it opened in 1999.
It took a little while for the word to get out that Sapelo Hammock was operational after it re-opened three years ago, with the club now owned by a group of members and managed by Cornerstone Golf Partners, a Savannah-based company that also oversees the operations of courses in metro Atlanta and Savannah.
The ownership group, most of whom live in the immediate area, have provided a personal touch to the upkeep of the course, occasionally gathering to take care of minor concerns, such as clearing away brush and deadwood from areas bordering on the small bodies of water and marshes that dot the course.
PGA professional Jim Mancill, Sapelo Hammock’s General Manager and Director of Golf, credits superintendent Chris Hankey and his staff with doing, “a remarkable job. We’ve got the course to where it was when people remember it being in really good condition.”
As word of mouth about the course has gotten out, the volume of play has picked up, both from the local area and for visitors from more distant parts of Georgia and out of state.
“When people leave here after having a good experience, they help spread the word,” says Mancill.
Sapelo Hammock has added a Stay and Play component that has attracted a variety of groups to the course, including guys’ weekend outings, couples’ getaways and groups as large as 32.
The Eagle’s Nest is located in the upstairs portion of the clubhouse, and overlooks the 18th green with an appealing view of the adjoining marsh. The 2-bedroom unit sleeps four and is fully furnished with a full kitchen and WiFi.
Sapelo Hammock has added several condos along the fourth fairway that can accommodate up to five persons, with each one also fully furnished with a full kitchen, two baths and WiFi.
The area offers a welcome respite from life in the fast lane, and Mancill says one of the main attractions for visitors is that Sapelo Hammock and the surrounding area “is quiet and simple.
“The people down here are friendly, and it’s a great place to get away from the hustle and bustle. We have some great local seafood and great fishing on the river, or you can go offshore. A lot of the groups that come down will fish for a day, then play golf for a day, then may fish another day.”
The area also offers some excellent hunting opportunities, mostly quail and turkeys in the Fall, with the nearby Harris Neck Wildlife Refuge providing a variety of enjoyable nature activities.
For those looking to play golf more than once during their stay, Sapelo Hammock offers an interesting, scenic and very affordable golf experience that will keep you entertained, as well as providing a reasonable challenge after two or more trips around the well-designed layout.
Rusty Simmons, who worked with Davis Love’s design firm, is the course architect, and turned in a quality layout in his first solo effort, with its marsh side setting providing ample amounts of scenic appeal.
Sapelo Hammock is short by modern standards, measuring just under 6700 yards from the back tees. The course features five nicely spaced groups of tees, with the blues 6225, the whites just over 5800, the golds 5257 and the forward tees 4753.
The course rating/slope numbers are 72.9/134 from the tips and 70.4/126 from the blues, with Sapelo Hammock holding its own the last two years as the host of an NGA (formely Hooters) Tour event sponsored by NeSmith Chevrolet.
This year’s winning score was 15-under for 72 holes, with the short, par-5 18th playing as a par 4 for the tournament to make the course play to a par of 71. Only four players finished at 1east 10-under for the tournament, with just seven players in the field lower than 3-under for the week.
With a few exceptions, Sapelo Hammock offers reasonably generous corridors off the tee, but you will pay a price if your tee shot winds up in close proximity to some of the trees with Spanish moss that line many of the fairways.
The tree lines are not thick, but any attempted recovery shot must stay within a few feet of the ground or the dense nature of the individual trees will deny any attempted advancement down the fairway.
A few of the trees in close proximity to fairways can also impede approach shots that find the short grass, with accuracy off the tee the most vital asset for success at Sapelo Hammock.
The greens complexes are gentle, with minimal bunkering and shaved areas around a number of the putting surfaces offering a variety of options on short game shots. The greens tend to be on the small side without much undulation, but as with almost all Bermuda surfaces, there are enough small breaks to frustrate birdie and par attempts if your touch and green reading skills are a little off.
Sapelo Hammock begins with a relatively tame group of opening holes, including a pair of short par 4s (Nos. 2 and 4), the only non-threatening par 3 on the course (6) and a straightaway par 5 with trees lining the right side definitely in play for those who tend to stray in that direction (5).
The opening hole is one of three par 4s on the front nine between 406 and 424 from the back tees and in the 380-390 range from the blues. It’s an open, unassuming par 4, unless you wind up in the trees at the corner of the slight dogleg left. The third features water down the right side, one of just a handful of holes early on the two nines with hazards in play.
The seventh begins with a slightly deceptive tee shot, as a trio of angled bunkers down the left side disguises the amount of open room on the right. Big hitters can attempt to carry the bunkers, but don’t gain much for their risk.
The nine closes with a pair of visually striking holes along the marsh, both of which require significant carries depending on which tees you play.
The par-3 eighth ranges from 176 to 210 from the back three sets of tees, and has to clear the marsh which extends all the way to the green and is also perilously close to the putting surface right and long. The only place to miss is left, but it’s hard to tell from the tee, as tall reeds within the marsh obscure views of the green. It’s one of the state’s most scenic holes, but also one of the most demanding.
The tee shot on the par-5 ninth most carry somewhere in the 240-yard range from the back tees to clear the marsh, with trees down the left also very much in play. It’s a much friendlier hole from the blue and white tees, but the marsh remains a serious factor down the right side on both the tee shot and narrow second. At just 455 from the blues, it’s within reach in two after a solid, accurate tee shot.
The back nine opens with a pair of mid-range par 4s, with the 10th beginning with a slightly angled tee shot and the 11th including a trio of tiny bunkers that are in play off the tee for shorter hitters, with trees looming down the right side if you steer away from the sand.
The par-5 12th requires an accurate tee shot to steer clear of a clump of trees in the middle of the fairway near the point where the hole veers to the right. A tee shot that finds the right rough offers a clear shot between the fairway trees and a thicker tree line farther right, but must carry a small pond without a lot of room to miss to either side. It’s a simple hole after the first two shots, but the trick is to avoid the problems presented on those two.
The short par-4 13th offers the last excellent scoring opportunity before a stout trio of finishing holes, although the par-5 18th provides sizeable amounts of both risk and reward. The par-4 16th features a green perched aalong a bulkhead above a pond that makes for an intimidating approach when the pin is cut on the right side near the water. There’s green and bailout room to the left, which is where most second shots will wind up regardless of pin position.
Like the eighth, the 17th hole is an all-carry par 3 over the marsh, which varies in appearance depending on the tides. The 17th is a little shorter (155 to 183), but there is not as much room to miss, as the marsh surrounds the putting surface on all sides, with a little landing area around the green.
Sapelo Hammock closes with a short par 5 that is reachable in two for big hitters, provided they avoid trees right, the marsh left and more trees on the left that can impact the second shot. The marsh also requires a precise lay-up for shorter hitters, jutting out into the vary at different spots, making for a perilous but potentially inviting finishing hole that concludes your round on one of the state’s most entertaining layouts.
From the north, Sapelo Hammock is off I-95 exit 67, and is about 10 miles off the interstate. The course is within 45 minutes of Savannah and is a similar distance from Brunswick, and is well worth the ride from either city given the quality of the course and the modest rates.
For information, call 912-832-4653 or visit www.sapelohammockgolfclub.com