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Story by Ian Guerin
Christa Bodensteiner doesn’t care to be the focal point of the many stories that will be written or told about Litchfield Country Club this year.
Yes, Bodensteiner is the lone female head golf professional of the 90 or so tracks along South Carolina’s Grand Strand. And, yes, she has continued to help Litchfield thrive in numerous additional roles since she returned in the early 2000s.
But as the course approaches its 50th anniversary in November, establishing and then holding on to all the reasons Litchfield is about to hit that golden celebration is the prioritized topic these days. One of the original courses in the Myrtle Beach area and the first to open in Pawleys Island looks almost exactly the way it did when it opened in 1966.
“It’s a huge plus to be able to maintain the integrity of the design. The design is enjoyable enough at Litchfield Country Club to not need to change it,” Bodensteiner said of Willard Byrd’s layout. “I think it fits. I don’t see too many designs like this right now. A lot of people appreciate that. Not too many people can say that.”
Surely, even the original six owners - which included two locals and four others from around the Carolinas - probably didn’t envision this type of staying power, either. After all, the course was only added as a way to attract people to the seaside inn during the non-summer months.
It fueled a push toward not only more courses - the well-known Waccamaw Golf Trail can trace its roots to Litchfield - but also Pawleys Island’s popularity as a whole. The town did not full incorporate until 1985, when its tourism-first identity had grabbed hold of a smaller population that had once admonished the heavy traffic Myrtle Beach a few miles to the north was drawing each year.
"The key players in Pawleys Island were the ones who started Litchfield Country Club,” Bodensteiner said. “Because of the people who started Litchfield, they were the ones who brought golfers to the beach. I don’t know how long it would have taken otherwise, but we had the key players.”
For Bodensteiner, the countdown toward November 19 - Litchfield’s official anniversary - has been a reward in itself. She’s tracked down old photo albums and historical tidbits while getting ready for a party only three other courses on the Grand Strand have ever been able to throw.
Dug up along the way have been references to George Washington, the old Kings Highway he travelled in 1791 now serving as portions of three holes and the clubhouse. There was also mention of Litchfield’s first hole-in-one, achieved by Mrs. Lewis B. Thompson on the opening day.
The course was well-armed in the pursuit of a half century more of golf.
First, a scenic backdrop including centuries-old live oaks, Spanish moss and popping azaleas lining most of the holes was complimented by an oversized, plantation-style clubhouse. Coupled with the sea breeze blowing in from the nearby Atlantic Ocean, the ambiance was prevalent.
And then there was the playability factor. Measuring no longer than 6,700 yards from the championship tees, members and then single-round players (the course was originally private) discovered Litchfield wasn’t going to mow through high-handicappers. Instead, Byrd laid out a track capable of allowing for use of every club while sticking with the player-friendly mantra he used so often during his career. Roughly half of the 18 holes include some type of dogleg, with a decent amount of water and sand sprinkled in throughout.
All these years later, Litchfield has stayed its own course.
Be it reactions to a downturn in the economy or growing concerns involving bottom lines, other courses elected to scrap holes or even re-design entire sections. This one has needed only minor touch-ups, putting its efforts into keeping the grounds in tip-top shape.
“A lot of people love that it’s an old-school course,” said Susan Gibbons, a member since 1990. “Yeah, they could have done some things to make it more exciting. But part of its charm is that it is it has stayed the same. It was a true Southern, charming golf club.
“I have no desire to go anywhere else. I’m one of these people, I figure I picked well. I love that it sort of sustains itself.”
Fifty years is all the evidence needed to back up her remarks.