by Tim Gavrich
Willard Byrd designed the original Wexford Golf Club course in 1983. And it was a good one, albeit not mentioned in the same breath as its more celebrated Hilton Head Island neighbors Long Cove Club and Harbour Town Golf Links. But a team from the Arnold Palmer Design Company led by Brandon Johnson, a promising young golf architect, undertook a considerable slate of renovations to the course in 2011, and their efforts should have the raters moving Wexford up the “best of” lists.
In that all the holes at Wexford weave between homes — big, impressive homes that thankfully sit well back from play — Johnson and the rest of the Palmer team began by removing hundreds of trees that had constricted the playing corridors of the course over the years. Holes that previously demanded a hit-the-fairway-or-else mentality now present players with options off the tee and give those who stray a bit a reasonable chance to recover.
One key part of the increased recovery options at Wexford is the elimination of a large amount of long Bermuda rough in favor of pine straw, presenting a variety of recovery shot possibilities instead of merely hacking the ball forward. Not only do the pine needles increase the playability of the course, they also add some excellent visual contrast as well.
In addition to greens and deep oranges, white is a dominant member of the palette at Wexford. Johnson and the Palmer team eliminated many of Byrd’s bunkers, built some new ones, and gave all sandy areas a more rugged, natural look. In many cases, a bunker that appears to be flush with the edge of a green is a good 30 to 60 yards away. This trompe l’oeil is not only amusing for the first-time player but a renewable part of the psychological intrigue of a round at Wexford for its club members.
A word about the conditioning of the Wexford Golf Club course: It is as well maintained as any course the author has played in the South. Greens are firm and fast, making the relationship with their at-times wild undulations a great joy. The fairways are brand-new sheets of zoysia grass, a breed whose stiff blades prop golf balls up as though on a short tee. Hitting the fairway is a great scoring advantage because of these perfect lies. The same goes for the extensive chipping areas around the greens — also zoysia — from which the player can hit a variety of shots, including a professional-style hop-and-stop shot.
There are no “clunker” holes at Wexford, but there are a few standouts. The par 3s, in particular, are fantastic, where the Palmer team drew particular inspiration from Charles Blair Macdonald and Seth Raynor, two Golden-Age architects who applied numerous “templates” to most holes of their courses. One of the most famous of those is the Redan concept, originally found at North Berwick in Scotland but reproduced across the world. The 13th hole is Wexford’s Redan, with a green that slopes and angles from front-right to back-left. A low right-handed draw with a long iron has the chance to land on the front of the green and trickle some 30 yards to a back-left hole location, avoiding a large bunker that guards the entire left side of the green. It is a fun shot that not many courses permit.
Wexford’s practice facilities, also redone by the Palmer group, are second-to-none as well, sculpted to reproduce many of the visuals one encounters on the course. The clubhouse overlooks a marina surrounded by the property’s most opulent houses and accompanying yachts. The entire scene at Wexford is high-rent but far from stuffy, with a consistently kind, welcoming staff and relaxed vibe. It is a Hilton Head Island paradise.
[Editor’s Note: Current golf homes for sale at Wexford Plantation range in price from the high $300s to $3.2 million. The couple of dozen lots for sale range from under $100,000 to over $1 million for dramatic water views. If you are interested in a visit to Wexford, please contact us and we will put you in touch with a Hilton Head real estate professional who knows the island extremely well.]
Tim Gavrich is a public relations coordinator for The Brandon Agency, a marketing firm in Myrtle Beach, SC. He played collegiate golf at Washington & Lee University in Lexington, VA.