The Intersection

Directing traffic at Palmetto Golf Club's four-hole pileup
Yardage Book Palmetto

Herbert Leeds (1892)
Dr. Alister MacKenzie (1932)

The Intersection
No. 1 (Par 4, 389 yards) | No. 14 (Par 5, 550 yards)
No. 15 (Par 4, 338 yards) | No. 18 (Par 4, 306 yards)


To reach me in fifth grade you’d have to ping PalmettoKid93, my AOL Instant Messenger screen name. I wasn’t born in ’93; that was my career low score at Palmetto Golf Club. My away message went something like this: “BRB – g2g to the range.” Every year, my family foursome would road trip from Indiana to Aiken, South Carolina, around the Easter and Thanksgiving holidays. It was no secret why: Palmetto’s greens are some of the best in the world, the routing is tight and the walk is pure. Our Thanksgiving tradition was substituting dinner at Olive Oils Italian Cuisine for turkey at home; Mom happily traded cooking that night for marinara stains on our “good” clothes and getting our golf outfits together.

I wasn’t allowed on Dad’s big-boy trips to Palmetto, but he always came back with PGC swag and custom koozies printed with their inside joke, “GFY.” (It took me a few years to figure that one out.) My first beer with him was in the men’s locker room at Palmetto. Yuengling. It tasted funny. Our family matches have always been intense. The day before I left to play college golf at Oklahoma State, we played nine holes. I carded 33, two shy of Mom’s 31. I came back several times to compete in the Palmetto Amateur with my Cowboy teammates, and, looking back now, we didn’t know how good we had it. Our host family in Aiken always kept the fridge full of snacks and cold beers for post-round breakdowns.

I still mark my golf ball with a line through the number because when I was a kid, a local stick tossed me his ball on the Palmetto putting green and it was marked just like that—the coolest thing ever. My grip is essentially unchanged from childhood, when Tom Moore, Palmetto’s pro emeritus, gave me a copy of Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons and showed me how the Hawk did it. Interlock, right-hand index finger and thumb off the club—feel the connection with the middle two fingers and stability in the palm.

Life and the pursuit of professional golf took me away from Palmetto for almost a decade. But a career change and a golf trip with friends brought me home. The charred wood in the locker room smelled the same, and the beer tasted better. Before my round, I saw Mr. Moore, still stalking the range. We got right back to work as if I was 10 years old again. His advice remains timeless. 

As I made my way up the hill to the first tee, an old, familiar sound rang out from the 18th tee box: “Fore!” I ducked and heard a ball whizzing past me into the slope just shy of the practice green. I shook my head and smiled; there’s no other experience like it. But this time it came with a new appreciation for this hole that takes players into an intersection of oncoming golf balls and rarely seen architecture history.

The first tee at Palmetto (left) offers a view unlike almost any other American course, where players can see the tight grouping of the 14th green and the 15th tee (right).

—Good Company

Thomas Hitchcock, a well-to-do sportsman from Long Island, New York, arrived in Aiken in the late 19th century and found land perfect for one of America’s fast-rising new sports. He laid out four holes and founded Palmetto Golf Club in 1892. Today, the club is considered by many to be America’s second-longest-operating club on its original site, behind only Chicago Golf Club. A parade of golf’s highest-profile architects have since made their marks.

Herbert Leeds, known for his design of Myopia Hunt Club in Massachusetts, took Palmetto to a full 18 holes in 1895. After his work at Augusta National Golf Club in 1932, Dr. Alister MacKenzie was invited to Palmetto to take the course from sand greens to grass and to lengthen the holes. Not surprisingly, his work was immediately recognized. “The alterations at Palmetto have been such a success that the Chairman of Bobby Jones’ executive committee at the Augusta National writes me saying, ‘We have only one serious complaint to make against you regarding the Augusta National,’” MacKenzie said in a 1933 issue of The American Golfer magazine. “‘The layout you designed at Aiken is liked so well that the Aiken colony does not seem to be the least bit interested in coming over to the Augusta National.’”

Rees Jones took the club through a bunker renovation in the 1990s. In 2005, Tom Doak completed a series of changes to bring the course’s original MacKenzie character back around the greens. Gil Hanse is now listed as the club’s resident architect, and Kye Goalby led a regrassing project in 2022.

My career change has landed me in the golf course architecture field, and while I couldn’t wait to get back to Palmetto and revive my childhood memories, I was also curious to look at the course—especially the intimate cluster of holes around the first tee—through a lens much more attuned to high-quality design.

Palmetto yardage Book
For those on Crazy Creek’s green (above, center), “Fore!” is a well-worn refrain. A standard procedure is to judge your 6-footer, duck, putt out, then hustle to the 15th tee. This is no safe harbor; the 15th is only six paces off the back-left corner of the green.

—On Point

In 1871, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began work on Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C. Planned by French-born civil engineer Pierre Charles L’Enfant, the roundabout was designed to look beautiful, ease congestion and reduce accidents. Research has shown that traffic circles are a far safer and more economical alternative to classic intersections. The reason? Conflict points.

In civil engineering, conflict points are best described as the places in which vehicle-to-vehicle or vehicle-to-pedestrian accidents can occur. Roundabouts effectively eliminate the two deadliest forms of crashes: the T-bone and the head-on collision. Conflict points also exist in golf course architecture. We define them as locations where a player may be struck by another player’s ball—basically within the average amateur’s natural shot dispersion of approximately 15 degrees in either direction. Architects from golf’s original days to now are always faced with the same puzzle: available land, creating the best holes possible and minding player safety. This is why the overwhelming majority of courses run holes parallel to each other.

In his 1928 book Scotland’s Gift: Golf, pioneering architect Charles Blair Macdonald provided some history on this from the bustling grounds of St. Andrews: “Furthermore, there was no special teeing-ground; it was merely ruled that players should tee up not less than four nor more than eight club-lengths from the hole. You can imagine the confusion and inconvenience that this arrangement would occasion on a crowded day. There must have been a mutual ‘giving and forgiving’ for golf to exist at all. With the advent of the gutta ball in 1850, the number of golfers increased enormously, and the situation became intolerable. From what I can gather, it was about 1857 that two holes as widely separated as the space permitted, were cut in each putting green. The course has been much widened since then, but this early method of play in and out to the same holes accounts for the putting greens and fairways lying parallel to-day at St. Andrews.”

Nos. 7 and 11 at St. Andrews still cross over to create a conflict-point intersection, and other examples remain prevalent in the U.K.’s older courses. Players might consider helmets if they ever get the chance to play Prestwick when the course rolls out its original 12-hole routing. These intersections are much less common in the U.S., and Nos. 1, 14, 15 and 18 at Palmetto might be the best remaining examples.


The first hole is perfectly named. Lookout is a mid-length two-shotter and a lovely introduction to the walk ahead. The members’ tee box, 40 feet above the fairway, provides a gorgeous panorama. One can take in this view and immediately grasp the hole’s name. But Mr. Moore is quick to remind newcomers of its true meaning: You’d better look out for what is heading in your direction from below.

Upon closer inspection from the first tee, the 14th green is very much in play. Dubbed Crazy Creek, the back edge is a mere 24 yards from Lookout’s center line. Situated roughly 230 yards (without adjusted elevation) from the first tee, it is a clear tee-to-green conflict point.

For those on Crazy Creek’s green, “Fore!” is a well-worn refrain. A standard procedure is to judge your 6-footer, duck, putt out, then hustle to the 15th tee. This is no safe harbor; the 15th is only six paces off the back-left corner of the green. The conflict points pile up here: tee to tee from Lookout’s box, tee to green from the 15th tee to its blind green site, and from the 15th tee to the 18th green.

The contact points are abundant in this unique corner of Palmetto. The elevated first tee provides the best view of all the action, where players must be mindful of others on the 14th green and 15th tee box. Once past that point, it’s a clear shot to the first green. Players are then pushed out into the much more open side of the property. They return when coming into the 14th green, where they must keep one eye on their read and the other on incoming tee balls from the first. It’s more of the same on the 15th tee, as players weigh how to attack this short par 4. Now players on the first tee must also be wary, as wayward tee shots from No. 15 can certainly reach them. “Fore!” is a common refrain throughout because players coming into the 18th green can also find the first tee area. One thing is for certain: You will get to know your fellow players.

But these points also provide opportunities unique to Palmetto; the conversations players have on their way down to the first fairway with those on Nos. 14 and 15 rarely happen on other American courses. The immediate play-by-play banter—“You going for the green?!” “What’s the match at?” “The greens are lightning today!”—creates a wonderful intimacy among players.

My return game only reinforced that. No tee shots came our way as we finished on No. 14, but an audience began to form on the first when we arrived on 15 tee. Known as High, the 15th is a tempting little uphill par 4, sometimes as few as 275 yards to the front edge. It’s also a high-pressure stage. Standing on the tee, our match was all square. Driver or 3-wood? Left is brush, and to the right the afternoon members’ game—known as the Dogfight—emerged above us on Lookout’s tee. A slight breeze rolled in off our right shoulders—bravery’s gesture from the golfing gods. I pulled the chief. It was a firm swing, pushing for the extra effort needed to clear the steep climb. But to my despair the ball found the high heel on the club face, spiraling it wildly toward the dogs on the first tee. I was forced to yell my own “Fore!” but it didn’t even reach them. The ball landed with a whimper 10 yards short. 

“Three and a half!” someone barked. The pack on the first tee fell to their knees in laughter, and I began my ascent of shame. “No pictures on the scorecard,” I mumbled, knowing I was still greenside and could get up-and-down for a 3 from the rough. As I approached my ball, I remembered one of the finest golf shots I’ve ever witnessed, when someone managed to go from a green-side bunker on 18 to inches on a front-right pin on 15. It’s a shot that would have made Seve wink from above; only at a place like Palmetto does the architecture allow for such heroism.

The modern golf architect will generally take safety over intimacy, yet the more I see of our evolving game, the more I believe compromises will have to be made. Like it or not, the ball is flying farther. Like it or not, more people than ever are taking up the game. If you’ve got a problem with it, GFY. Are we to build more roundabouts or more intersections? We may not have much of a choice. But, as Palmetto shows, that may not be such a bad thing.

Yardage Book Palmetto