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Hot temps pumping new life into Fort Mill Golf Club

The heat may prove the death of us, but it's pumping new life into Fort Mill Golf Club.

The venerable old course tucked away in the hardwoods near old town Fort Mill made the switch to bermuda greens two years ago. But the winter did more than a little damage, leaving dead spots and pot marks on most of the greens, while killing outright big swaths of the shady putting surfaces on the signature 2nd and 17th holes.

CPR efforts, including resodding and aerations, brought immediate benefits. And now the hot, humid nights have added an extra restorative kick. The greens are still slower than normal, but their improvement over the last month has been striking.

In other words, Fort Mill is back to being one of the best golfing bargains in the Charlotte area.

The first nine holes, among the last designed by the legendary Donald Ross, are a testament to the simplicity of a classic parkland course. To walk this side is akin to climbing aboard a giant game board, with the green of one hole fitting like a puzzle piece into the tee box of the next. Do yourself a favor, skip the cart and appreciate Ross's genius. There is not a weak hole to be found.

The back nine, which opened 50 years ago, was designed by George Cobb and has a different feel but a slew of deceptively good holes. It, too, is imminently walkable.

Both sides benefitted greatly from Clyde Johnston's renovation in 2008. The false fronts typical of Ross courses were accentuated. So when conditions are firm, golfers have the distinct pleasure of watching approach shots to the 1st, 6th, 8th and 9th greens fall just short and roll 30 yards back at them, as if helped along by the toe of Ross's shoe.

From the back tees, Fort Mill plays 6,800 yards. But many of the holes are what bicycle riders call false flats – slight but steady uphills that demand at least one extra club.

While tee shots have plenty of room, both sides put a premium on working the ball. The front, though, is the real gem. If and when the greens get back to their 2008-09 condition, holes 1 though 9 are as classic a test of golf as you'll find around Charlotte – at a price that belies the quality of the design.

The DETAILS

101 Country Club Drive, Fort Mill, SC 29715; 803-547-2044; playfortmill.com

Walking: Yes (after 2 p.m. weekends).

THE SCORECARD

Par 72

Championship: 6,801 yards, 71.9/128

Men's: 6,364 yards, 70.0/124

Seniors: 5,604 yards, 66.7/112

Ladies: 5159 yards, 69.8/116

GREENS FEES

Memberships are available to residents of the Fort Mill Township.

Public 18 holes (with cart) $39 Mon-Fri; $49 on weekends.

Special twilight, senior and junior rates available at playfortmill.com.

THE SHOT YOU'LL TALK ABOUT

How about the first one? If your game can take it, fire away on No. 1 from the tips. It's a 430-yard par 4 from an elevated tee – and a Big Boy start to any round.

THE HOLE(s) YOU'LL TALK ABOUT

Fort Mill has a series of excellent par 4s, but my favorites are the back-to-back 6th and 7th. The first is the slightest of a dogleg right through the oaks, with an uphill second to an elevated green with a steep Rossian front. Take at least one more club. The 7th, the original starting hole when the side opened in 1948, is a dogleg left from an elevated tee by the clubhouse. The green is partially hidden by new mounds put in by Johnson, giving the approach a Scottish feel.

THE BAR, THE RANGE AND OTHER IMPORTANT THINGS

The two-leveled practice range is small, has nets, and takes a beating from the hammerheads who come here to work on their games. All that said, it's a fine place to practice.

Brent Reneau, a young teaching pro with his office just below the practice range, offers affordable lessons and helps run one of the area's best junior programs. Reach him at 803-230-2853 or brent@aga-fmgc.com

"Divots" is a casual restaurant (beer available) with plenty of tables and TVs. The clubhouse also has a small but comfortable TV viewing area with leather chairs. Best idea: Take your food and drink to the outdoor terrace, which overlooks the putting green, and watch the approaches to 9 and 18.

SOMETHING YOU'LL REMEMBER

The front nine, and what it's like to play nine really good holes in a row. Here's a hint: The two easiest are the par 5s.

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