It’s a chilly fall day in the Lowcountry and just about perfect conditions on the Cassique Golf Course. The mood feels festive and relaxed as foursomes gather in the midmorning sun for the Friends of the Muni charity golf tournament. Bert Atkinson moves from group to group, shaking hands and chatting. As the chairman of Friends of the Muni, Atkinson is helping to marshal support for the restoration of a Lowcountry jewel, the Charleston Municipal Golf Course, affectionately known as the Muni to locals. And today’s inaugural tournament marks another important step toward the realization of a dream.
Atkinson, a former assistant professional at Kiawah Island, is more than familiar with the beloved golf course. A member of the South Carolina Golf Hall of Fame, he’s captured seven Charleston City Amateur crowns as well as four Senior City titles, and many of those victories have come at the Muni. Yet his love for the course goes far beyond the success he’s experienced there.
“The Muni is truly a melting pot of golf in Charleston, and you can meet people from A to Z over there. I just learned to love it over the years and want to give something back to golf and to the golf course,” he says.
After a few short announcements from Atkinson, the groups tee off around eleven o’clock. Kiawah Island Club members make up the majority of the golfers playing in today’s Texas scramble—although Darius Rucker and Bill Murray have also joined the mix. So it’s an easy-going atmosphere with the sole goal of having fun for a cause. “The Kiawah community is very generous,” says Atkinson. “They see their contribution as building on the future of golf, and they recognize how important the Muni is.”
The legacy of the Muni is as timeless as the Stono River snaking along its boundaries. The classic-style golf course is accessible to all who wish to play it. Golf was growing in popularity across the region in the late 1920s, though, at the time, it was a sport that could only be enjoyed by wealthier members of private clubs along the coast.
Recognizing the need for a public golf course, the Charleston City Council partnered with philanthropic members of these private clubs in a campaign to open the game up to more people. The Muni was built on James Island on 120 acres donated to the City by C. Bissell Jenkins, who had specified the property only be used as a municipal course.
Since 1929 the Muni has weathered a changing Charleston, from launching a series of youth programs after World War II focused on growing the game to navigating desegregation in the early 1960s after a group of brave African-American men successfully petitioned the Charleston City Council to establish it as the only desegregated public or private golf course in the state.
Throughout its ninety-year history, the Muni has experienced its share of wear and tear. While the average golf course hosts twenty to thirty thousand rounds a year, the Muni endures more than fifty-five thousand rounds. From the constant foot traffic to the impact of countless golf swings, this overplaying has taken its toll.
And the Lowcountry’s day-to-day shifting landscape adds to the impact. With each passing tide, the Stono River swells and spills into surrounding marshlands, creeping ever so closer to a steadily sinking course. The deluges common in the warm, damp spring and summer months inundate the course with even more water.
“The Muni is closed a lot because it’s so darn wet,” says Atkinson. “Some of those holes along the river are just unplayable for weeks on end. We want to fix the drainage problems the course is dealing with.”
That job falls to Troy Miller, head of Miller Golf Design. Miller, a Charleston native, began his career working at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course. Early on, he advocated for the renovation of the Muni, and it’s his job to restore the course to its prime playing condition. To do so, his team aims to expand the ponds that buffer the course from the river, using the excavated material to raise the fairways three to four feet in some spots.
Additionally, they will restore the greens to their original size and reconfigure the tee boxes to accommodate the high volume of play. They will rebuild and relocate the bunkers across the course to reflect the evolution of the game, equipping the Muni as a challenging test for golfers of various skill.
“It’s what we in the golf business would call pure golf because there’s no other real estate around it,” says Leonard Long, one of the original developers of Kiawah Island and a member of the Friends of the Muni. “It’s always nice to find a jewel like the Muni that can be brought back to life—where we can bring back an atmosphere that is free of distractions.”
That same philanthropic spirit that led to the founding of the Muni many years ago now drives its makeover. As the tournament wraps up, the winning foursome high-fives on the back lawn at the Clubhouse and everyone enjoys cocktails in the fading late afternoon light. Last night’s auction and today’s tournament raised more than $190,000, pushing the organization closer to its $1.5 million goal and the ultimate mission of restoring the Muni to its former glory.
Tournament Winners: Anne Long, Brook Confort, Gina Zangrillo and Katy Goodrich