National exposure, love of game driving golf popularity in Lowcountry

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- Michael Atkin walked off the practice tee on way to the first hole at Rice Plantation Golf Club. His tee time was delayed 20 minutes, but the wait on a Thursday morning was not a problem.

"This is nothing. You have to expect this in May anywhere around Charleston," said Atkin. "I'm just happy we're here playing."

Like thousands across the Lowcountry, Atkin is ready to welcome the return of golf season. He played a few rounds over the course of the winter, but this time of year you can count on the pace of play ramping up.

"The game is alive and well, the Charleston area has the best courses in South Carolina," he said.{}

Fans of Myrtle Beach golf may dispute that, but they can't protest the surge in popularity of Lowcountry golf courses.

"Right now, every weekend we are usually booked solid by the previous Wednesday," said Arthur Rice, general manager at Rice Plantation. "Some players have a tough time reserving a tee time, but it's great for us and the sport."

Players young and old are coming out.{} They're facing the same challenges, the desire to score low and keep their game in tip top shape. It all means high scores for a Lowcountry business on the upswing.

"We see some familiar faces and we get the new people too. That's the thing about golf, it keeps you coming back. That part of it is good for everyone, and you can play the game for a long time," said Rice.

Lowcountry golf stole the national spotlight last August when the PGA Championship returned to Kiawah Island's Ocean Course. The annual Heritage Classic played in Hilton Head drives the attention -- and golf fans -- back to South Carolina.

"I went to the PGA. It was memorable," said Atkin. "Golf fans around here are extremely fortunate to have that caliber of play right in our backyard."

And it's a big back yard. Courses stretch across Summerville and Goose Creek, to North Charleston, Charleston and Mount Pleasant. There are dozens of choices for avid players and tourists who make sure they can squeeze in a round during a visit.

"That's a whole other side of it; out-of-towners make up a big chunk of our players on any given weekend," Rice said.

"Why wouldn't they come? The courses are in great shape, the weather is usually great. It's really unique out here. It's a great game," said Atkin.

It's a game that's in good shape in Charleston.