I first played the King and Prince Golf Course on St. Simons Island, Ga., more than 25 years ago when it was known as the Hampton Club. Built in and around the thick oak forests and salt marsh lands on the tip of the historic barrier island, the Joe Lee design immediately became one of my favorite courses in the Southeast U.S.
A quarter century later, the King and Prince Golf Course remains one of my favorite layouts. It was one of Lee’s favorites, too. It wasn’t unusual for “Gentleman Joe’’ to visit the property from to time before his death in 2002 just to check up on things.
“He’d come back and spend a day,’’ said King and Price GC General Manager and Head Golf Professional Rick Mattox. “You could ask him any question. He was the finest man I ever met in my life.’’
And the King and Prince GC (6,462 yards, par 72) is one of Lee’s finest creations. Located 12 miles from the King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort, the course plays as congenially as its designer. In other words, the King and Prince GC is as great example of a resort course – it’s a fair test for players and all skill levels and one that offers a different look from hole to hole. It’s also a good example that a course doesn’t have to play 7,000-plus yards long to be challenging.
“It’s such a unique set up,’’ Mattox said. “Joe was able to use the hammock dirt because the wetlands laws didn’t come into until afterwards. He came up with the use of the hammock dirt to shape four holes and move them into the marsh connected by 800 fee of bridge work.’’
The course, which has five sets of tee box options, opens with a pair par fours (363 yards, 375 yards respectively from the tips) and then really begins to unfold on the par-five, 561-yard yard third hole, a strong dogleg left protected on each side by trees and native vegetation. It’s followed by a 193-yard, par-three that doesn’t leave much bail out room to the right because of water. The left side of the green is protected by a large bunker. Getting through these two holes with par or better is quality playing.
The par-four ninth hole is another strong dogleg left that from the back sets of tees requires a drive over water. The ninth isn’t a long hole – only 386 yards from the tips – but you need to be accurate with a drive in order to have a good shot into the green.
The salt marsh begins to come into play distinctively on the par-four 11th hole. Again, it’s not a long hole – 374 yards from the tips – No. 11 is a dogleg right that requires an accurate drive down the middle (maybe with a 3-wood) or a big sweeping hook (for right-handed players) over water and trees to a tight landing area.
Thanks to some renovation work in 2009 by architect Billy Fuller, the green on the 11th hole is two feet lower than the original design and appears to be sitting in the marsh.
The 12th and 13th holes are considered the King and Prince GC’s signature holes – largely because of the salt marsh lands they play through. The 12th is a 120-yard (from the tips) par-three that features two sets back tee boxes elevated in the marsh. Those tees actually try to force a player to go left – away from the green and toward a bunker on the green’s left side. From those back tees, No. 12 almost is a dogleg right.
The par-four 13th is my favorite hole, as it brings the marsh and forests into play. Only 391 yards from the tips off an elevated tee that sits in the marsh, the 13th requires a drive over the marsh – preferably to the left side of the fairway to set up the best angle to the green. The tee box almost teases players to drive it down the right side where, if they miss even slightly on that side, are blocked by trees with little chance of getting home into two shots.
None of the greens at the King and Prince GC, by the way, is a pushover. Each have subtle contouring and spines and shoulders that make attention to putting detail a must.
“No flatness to these greens,’’ Mattox said.
Although the course has members, it’s open to guests of the King and Prince Golf Beach & Golf Resort as well as the general public.
“We try to make it a quality experience every day,’’ Mattox said. “We try to have everything prepared when you get here. That’s our mission statement.’’
Mission accomplished. Gentleman Joe is smiling from above.