At first glance, the Hackler Course at Coastal Carolina University seems pretty straightforward. It’s a traditional design with wide fairways and soft, receptive greens.
But low scores aren’t a sure thing at the old Quail Creek Golf Club where several subtleties can mean the difference between birdie and bogey.
Changes in the course have resulted in a slope rating of 135 from the back tees, which is surprising. GHIN lists Hackler at 130, but I checked with clubhouse staff who tell me the 135 is accurate.
From the tips, Hackler stretches beyond 6,800 yards. The front side checks in at a little more than 3,500 yards, which prorated equates to a 7,000-yard golf course.
“It [the course] definitely favors a left to right playing ability,” said Chuck Johns, the course’s director of golf and Carolina Forest resident. “You can get away with a draw here and there, but this course will teach you to hit a fade.”
Johns said the toughest holes are the par 4 ninth and 18th holes.
Both are relatively short—each less than 390 yards—but they require great strategy and concentration.
Neither hole requires a driver. The ninth fairway is guarded by a lurking pond to the left and out of bounds right.
It’s about 230 yards to the pond from the tips. The short- to mid-iron approach is uphill to a crowned green that’s awfully tough to hit.
The 18th measures a mere 340 yards from the whites, but the approach is over water to a peninsula green that slopes severely left to right. Distance control is a must and wayward chips and even putts theoretically may roll off the green and into the lake.
“I’ve seen a lot of tournaments won and lost on that hole,” Johns said.
Even the birdie holes come with some risk.
The par 4 fourth is straight away to a large green. But the preferred angle is from the right side, where a fairway bunker challenges players from the tee.
Similar scenarios greet players on the 410-yard par 4 12th and 530-yard par 5 16th holes. Fairway bunkers are placed on the side of the fairway with the best angle of approach.
There have been numerous changes to Hackler through the years, though the essence of the course remains.
On No. 1, there’s a new fairway bunker at the corner of the dogleg. Much of the left woods has been cleared out on No. 2 for an overflow university parking lot.
A large tree that used to impact layup shots on the par 5 sixth was taken down. That opens up the green, but it also brings the pond left more into play.
But the biggest changes are to the 14th and 18th holes.
On the 14th, which parallels S.C. 544, the white and black tees have been shifted right so golfers tee off through a chute over the pond.
This was done largely as a result of litigation from a wayward golfer’s tee shot that hit a passing car. But it also greatly changes how the hole plays.
Now players are restricted to 220 yards off the tee, which sets up a short iron approach. I find this set up easier since I’m no longer tempted to cut the corner.
As for the 18th, the new green is incredibly difficult to hit. It sits about 50 yards right of the old green, bringing the water into play.
The green itself has several severe undulations. Everything kicks right, severely in spots.
“It’s a short hole, but you need to hit a good wedge shot, especially since that’s the last hole,” Johns said. “We were wanting the hole to be a little more difficult. The course didn’t really have teeth.”
New senior and women’s tee boxes were in the process of being installed on No. 9 as of press time.
The Hackler Course uses a pin chart system to tell players where the cup is located.
There are six different pin position grids. A pin position chart mapping these grids can be found in every cart. Golf carts also come equipped with sand bottles, ball washers and club washers.
The course itself has restrooms behind the sixth green and 16th tee box. Both are accessed by a security keypad, the code for which comes with the cart.
Hackler is one of a select few Grand Strand courses that allow walking. To my knowledge, it is the only 18-hole championship course that permits walking year round, regardless of the day or tee time.
Looking to walk nine holes at 7:45 a.m.? No problem. Want to walk 18 holes on Sunday? Also not a problem.
Much of that has to do with the culture of the Hackler course. I’d estimate at least 70 percent of play consists of Coastal Carolina students, most of whom walk. Because Hackler is where CCU professional golf management students work and play, it’s highly recommended that you call in advance if you’re planning to play on the weekend.
Several days through the fall and spring semester, PAT testing for aspiring pros takes place, which closes the course for most of the day.
Hackler has neat practice facilities. In addition to the driving range across the street, there’s a pitching green on the spot of the old 18th green. Golfers can practice bunker shots, chipping and pitching up to 70 yards out, depending on availability.
The practice green also has three “mini-cups” great for putting drills. There is also a pitching course by the clubhouse.