Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Santee Rejuvenation

One of South Carolina’s favorite stopping-off points for golfers migrating south has been transformed into an affordable, resort-like destination

(SANTEE, SC) — A casual observer might think nothing ever changes around sleepy little Santee, South Carolina. While it’s true that this tiny lakeside town with a population of fewer than 900 has remained true to its roots dating back more than a half century, upon closer review you will discover that Santee has been quite busy lately making subtle but tasteful changes with the times.

Start with the new exit off I-95 with access to Santee that is going to open in 2016. There are high-powered Tesla charging hook-ups at Clark’s Inn & Restaurant, a new Conference Center, a 17,752-foot, state-of-the-art facility with three breakout rooms can host up to 1,200 people. The YMCA-run Santee Recreation Center and Waterpark, which opened last year, features an aquatics center with an 80,000-gallon pool separated into three sections for all ages, basketball courts, baseball fields, soccer and bocce fields and recreation pavilions — along with a thrilling, 300-foot slide that starts about 100 feet in the air and takes you on a tube down through the three loops.

And that doesn’t even include the golf, for which Santee has made its name through the years.   Check out the fully-equipped villas overlooking the beautiful Lake Marion Golf Course, situated alongside Santee National’s fairways or rising high above the big waters on Lake Marion’s north shore. Lake Marion has 24 villas available with 10 more currently under construction. “Santee is growing,” said Brock Hannay, Santee National’s office manager. “Everyone here has a vision.”

Santee is set up like a sprawling resort, offering an array of more than a dozen accommodation properties designed to suit any taste or budget, from hotels and motels to well appointed two bedroom deluxe villas just a short walk from Santee’s famous southern hospitality, delicious cuisine and vibrant nightlife. When all the rooms around town are full, Santee’s population swells to 20,000.

Located on the south shore of Lake Marion, South Carolina’s largest freshwater lake where a number of world records have been set through the years for largemouth catfish and sea bass, Santee is dissected by Interstate 95 — almost exactly halfway between New York and Miami — and just off Interstate 26, midway between the Palmetto State’s popular cities Charleston and Columbia. Among budget-conscious golfers, Santee has morphed into a revered year-round destination. Within a mile of town, there are three outstanding courses that don’t cost a small fortune to play — a trinity has become sacred ground for golfers from all over North America.

Santee Cooper Country Club, designed by George Cobb and opened in 1967, is the oldest of the three courses and arguably the venue you should never leave off any Santee itinerary, due to its prime positioning on Lake Marion. Set among majestic pines, this classic challenge winds its way from an opening tee shot over water, through a series of scenic dogleg holes, with elevated greens and featuring some of the best par 3s in the region.  The best closing hole in Santee is unquestionably the par-4 No. 18 that provides a panoramic view of Lake Marion from its elevated green.

Lake Marion Golf Club, which opened in 1978, is Santee Cooper’s sister course and features outstanding, Miniverde greens. Architect Eddie Riccoboni designed the traditional layout with tree-lined fairways, bordering lakes and dotted by 47 sand bunkers that will test your golf course navigational skills. Santee Cooper and Lake Marion are part of the Santee Cooper Resort.

Another popular golf course on the menu at Santee is the Porter Gibson-routed Santee National Golf Club, which opened in 1989 and underwent a renovation in 2005. This 6,858-yard offering is positioned in a truly natural setting filled with mossy live oaks is a more wide-open layout than Santee Cooper CC and Lake Marion.

There are five other reasonably priced gems within 20 minutes of Santee and another 10 courses within 40 minutes. Upscale premium green fees are nowhere to be found around these parts and your dollar definitely goes further. For about $60 during the off-season you can play golf with a cart, enjoy nice accommodations and a full, hearty breakfast the next day. “Our prices are reasonable, but we’ve also been able to improve our product playability-wise the past few years as well,” said Todd Miller, the general manager of Santee Cooper Resort for almost 20 years.

Most of all, Santee is a “people place.” Behind golf counters, inside restaurants, hotels and on the streets you find friendly faces and welcoming hosts offering good old-fashioned Southern hospitality. When you go to the Oasis Bar and Grill, you might meet the owner Dennis, and he might buy a drink. It’s all part of the Santee charm. Coasters is a Santee must-visit for golfers, where the Jack Daniels steak will rival most cuts of meat along the east coast, while the fish and prime rib at Captain Kirk’s is equally tasty. During the season, Clark’s Inn & Restaurant — which celebrates its 70th anniversary in 2016 — will serve 350-plus people a night.

“People are what make a community and that is what makes Santee different,” said Hannay. “People care you’re here and they treat you that way.”

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