When one considers major earthmoving transformations in modern golf, the mind most naturally wanders to the likes of Shadow Creek, where hills and mature plantings created a manmade oasis in the Nevada desert, or to water dominant resort courses like TPC Sawgrass, which are overtly artificial and unrecognizable from their swampy origins. Equally dramatic, was the manufacturing of a flat tomato farm outside Charleston, South Carolina into the Bulls Bay golf course, by the late Mike Strantz.
Conceived as a golf-only private facility, the design here was apparently inspired by Shinnecock Hills, and the manner in which its sentinel clubhouse famously looks down upon the playing field. Devoid of any natural elevation, at Bulls Bay Strantz and club founder Joe Rice decided to create their own. During construction they dug several lakes, and used more than two million cubic yards of material to build a 75-foot hill, as well as internal ground contours that could provide the golf with a linksy flavor.
Along with the lakes and the early holes that abut the Carolina coastline, the Strantz/Rice hill is clearly the dominant feature here, and a central part of the routing puzzle. Three holes dive off the structure while the short 14th and strong par four 9th and 18th holes climb back up its slopes. The freefalling 10th and 15th are particular standouts, the 10th an exciting par five that zigzags through waste and formal sand and the 15th a generously proportioned par four with a strategically positioned oak tree that blocks your view of the green unless driving dangerously close to the water or long into an awkward approach area. Other highlights include the beautifully sculptured island green 12th and the cleverly conceived par five 6th, which is arranged so that bailing too far from a wasteland down the left side leaves an approach obscured by a bunkered mound further on the right.
Every new Mike Strantz discovery helps you appreciate his creativity and just what a loss his early death was to golf in America. The designer built a home at Bulls Bay, and clearly poured his heart and soul into this project. Although there are plenty of luxurious facilities in the lowcountry corridor between Savannah and Myrtle Beach, there are few that would be more fun to play on a regular basis.