Part 6 - The Golf Shop Radio Show Spotlight: River Club

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In January 2019, the Golf Shop Radio Show aired its interview with Tom Van Hoogen of River Club, one of 12 award-winning courses that are part of the Hammock Coast Golf Trail. Below is a transcript of that interview.

Interviewer 1: Joining us now, he is the GM and head golf professional at the River Club at Litchfield on the Hammock Coast Golf Trail, Tom Van Hoogen. Tom, welcome into the Golf Shop.

Tom Van Hoogen: Hey, thanks for having me.

Interviewer 1: Alright, my man. So, the River Club at Litchfield, for those of our listeners that may not have played this course, give us your 60-second commercial.

Tom Van Hoogen:  Dan, River Club is located in Pawleys Island, South Carolina, the southern end of what you would call Myrtle Beach, just really like a hidden gem. Anyone who has played there, we get a lot of repeat business. It’s a Tom Jackson design, very well laid out, just a little bit of water (only on 15 of the holes it comes into play!) but just a lot of signature holes. It is a good golf course, all skill levels. If you are a great golfer, good golfer you come out, you’re going to be challenged, but if you are a higher handicapper out there, you can still go out there. If you can hit decent shots, good shots you’re still going to be able to score and have a great day.

Interviewer 1: Yeah, one of the things that we talk about is all the different courses on the Hammock Coast Golf Trail. They all kind of bring their own character, their own type of play. This looks like kind of a … in most holes it’s fairly straightforward as I’m looking through the pictures, but then you know you get out onto the back nine, and I’m starting to see some water on like 11, and 14 looks like it’s got mostly an island green. Fifteen’s got some water, and 18’s got some water. So, it’s a little bit interesting that as we go, does the golf course get a little more difficult as we head down the final stretch?

Tom Van Hoogen: Yeah, yeah, that’s definitely true. I think the back side, it looks like there’s actually more water. The front side’s water comes into play in the greens, the undulation, and where they can kind of tuck the pins at is what the challenge is. Then, the back side you can definitely see a lot more of the water. The 14th is an island hole. It’s a generous island hole, but it is an island hole. Fifteen is a dogleg right with water covering the left and really guards the front. Then, 18 is our signature hole, water all up the left-hand side. Really one of the best risk-reward holes, I think, in Myrtle Beach. You can really … there’s a peninsula out there that shoots off the fairway if you drive for it. If you hit it, you’ve only got about 180 yards into the green, 200 yards into the green. It actually makes a great risk-reward (opportunity).

Interviewer 1: Nice. What’s your favorite hole on the golf course, and then what’s that one shot that you dread having to hit as you go through your round during the day?

Tom Van Hoogen: Well, 18 is my favorite hole. I just talked about it. There’s a lot of golf courses and a lot of holes where it’s kind of a risk-reward, but then you hit the drive and you go, “Well, I still can’t hit the green. So, that’s really not a reward to me.” Where the River Club really is. Like, you can play it safe. You can play it off to the right and make a three-shot par five or if you really want to hit it and get aggressive and go for it. If you hit a good drive, you will have a great shot at trying to hit a par five in two. That’s for all distances of golfers. This isn’t just for the guys who can get it out to 280 yards, 290 yards. If you’re playing the right tees for yourself, even if you’re a 200-yard driver, you have a chance to hit a drive and actually go for the green in two. But, ultimately the shot that I dread is the 15th hole. It’s a dogleg right. You have to play a cut. There are trees and water guarding the green. So, if they tuck that pin in the back right, you have to hit a great drive and a precision iron shot into that just to give yourself a decent putt. So, I draw the ball/hook the ball, so that one is a challenge for me.

Interviewer 2: Tom, looking at the yardage, I think it might fool people, because from the back tees it’s 6,607 yards; however, it’s got a slope rating of 134, which means there are some forced carries out there that you’re going to have to hit really good golf shots. So, sometimes you see yardage and you think, “Oh, I’ll eat that up,” and then all of a sudden you get out there and you’re thinking, “Man, this thing is eating my lunch.” It looks to me like the River Club is just that.

Tom Van Hoogen: Yeah. I think people … that’s why all skill levels enjoy it. If you get a lower handicapper who does have a good distance, because I think everybody now think that’s not long even though when that course was built, that was like a long distance. If you get to 6,600, 6,700, 6,800, that’s a long course. Now everybody’s used to the 7,000 or 7,100 yards, but it’s just well-placed. That’s what makes it a challenge for all skill levels and the really good handicappers. If you are good and you go out there and you hit good shots, you are going to be rewarded. You will make a lot of birdies. You might make a couple big holes if you miss shots and get into some water trouble. I think that’s why we definitely enjoy it when we get some guys to come out there and they’re good golfers and they shoot low and they really enjoy it.

Interviewer 1: Yeah. When you start talking about it. We know that this is a little bit of the off-season right now, but last weekend I’m sure you guys had some pretty decent play. It’s going to be a little cooler this weekend. Again, looking towards next weekend, the temperatures are going back up through the week. When you talk about this time of year, I mean, there are some great deals to be had. There’s some availability, but you can’t wait until the last second if it’s going to be warm, can you?

Tom Van Hoogen: No, no. You really can’t. Of course, where your market is and stuff like that, you can almost kind of look at the weather. They are like, “Hey look. Come Friday it looks nice. Let’s get in the car and come on down and do a two-day trip down here and play some golf.” The weather, I think most people felt it this year, it has been kind of up and down with the temperature, but we did get a lot of rain. River Club is one of the best draining golf courses down here. We generally get a lot of locals and a lot of repeat customers knowing if it’s going to be wet, we’re going to go to River Club, because we’re probably going to be riding the fairways over there. Where there are a lot of courses that just stay saturated and they don’t get off the cart path.

Interviewer 1: Yeah. One of the things that is interesting down there is because a lot of the courses are built in the marsh areas, there’s not a lot of extra land down there. You guys don’t have a driving range, but there’s plenty of opportunity to be able to warm up, isn’t there?

Tom Van Hoogen: It is. We do not have a driving range. We have a driving net, where if you just want to hit a few shots into the net, you can hit a few balls. Our short-game facility is unbelievable. We have a huge putting green down there. It’s always in great shape. It’s a great, great short-game facility to loosen up. Of course, we have sister courses in the area where … you can always stop by their driving range to get a few shots to loosen up before you get over there. Ultimately, when people come out they really don’t have too much of a problem. I always tell them they can have a breakfast ball. Most people take that anyway, but you know, if they need to hit two off the first, that definitely won’t be a problem.

Interviewer 1: Yeah, when you guys start talking about availability coming up, what are the rates right now? How do people get out to the course and get themselves a time?

Tom Van Hoogen: Well, right now our rates are hovering, obviously. If you go online you can find some good rates, but if you just call us right now, we’re right around like the $50 range, $55 range for your daily greens fees. After 1 p.m. the rate goes down a little bit. You can still get 18 holes in at that time. You can always just give us a call at the pro shop. The phone number down there is 843-237-8755. We will be more than happy to help you book a tee time, give you updates on the golf course, tell you our conditions for the day, and just generally help you out with any questions you have.

Interviewer 1: Well, it’s a good thing that you have a good short-game area down there, because I was just looking at the fact that there’s over 100 bunkers on the golf course. When you start talking about people hitting out of bunkers, it’s probably one of the things interestingly enough that the average golfer tends to fear bunkers, whereas we always see the PGA Tour players when they get in trouble, they aim for the bunkers, man. Why is that? Why is the average golfer so afraid of a bunker shot?

Tom Van Hoogen: It’s probably just a little bit of lack of practicing in it and just feeling comfortable. It is a different swing. I think most people are used to like going in there with my chipper and try to pick it clean out and try to hit it with a pitching wedge or something. They just don’t feel comfortable with it.  Or if you went out to the range, maybe got a quick lesson form somebody and you find out, hey, this shot is actually way easier than hitting out of the rough and just being able to get out. You can control the ball a lot more coming out of it. It’s just a familiarity with that swing and it’s a comfortability. But the pros know exactly how when they come out of that bunker how that ball is going to react.

Interviewer 1: Yeah.

Tom Van Hoogen: That’s when where they come out of the rough, they’re probably a little not as sure.

Interviewer 1: Yeah, if you become a really good bunker player, that’s one of the things that you realize is that, yes, you can hit the chunk and run. You can hit something that has a little bit of spin on it. You can play a whole lot more shots and control those shots a lot better than you can out of three-, four- or five-inch rough, especially to a close pin. You have the opportunity to try and clip one a little bit, put a little bit of spin on it, get it to stop, and get it closer. So, again, back to your short-game area is I really encourage people to stop worrying about hitting the driver, hitting the seven iron, go right to that short area. You can warm up hitting bunker shots and pitch shots just as easily as you can ripping drivers.

Tom Van Hoogen: Exactly, and I think honestly before you go play, I found myself actually it’s better for me to go practice my short game and feel comfortable with that throughout the day. Because everybody thinks about their full swing and they would be like, “Oh, I didn’t have my full swing today.” Well, I’ve got out there and been like, “You know what, my chipping was not good today,” and that cost me more strokes than my full swing did. Maybe if I went out and practiced a little bit and felt comfortable before the round, then I would have saved those two or three strokes on the golf course.

Interviewer 1: Yeah, exactly. Well, Tom, man, we appreciate you coming on with us, and we look forward to getting down there and playing some golf.

Tom Van Hoogen: Alright, well, come see us anytime, and thanks for having me on today.

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