On the shores of Lake Hartwell in Oconee County, South Carolina, Clemson University members together with public golfers enjoy a scenic and challenging round on the Walker Course. Our challenge was getting out on the course due to lightning but wow, just a broad view of 18 on the water’s edge and several other picturesque holes made us want to rebound for a rain check round. It’s all about the orange paw on the logoed gear in the shop from socks to AHEAD bucket hats. Even 17’s peninsula green is shaped like the mascot tiger’s paw.
Hampton Inn & Suites in nearby Seneca provides not only comfy lodging but a social club for travelers where breakfast is on the house and people from all parts share their experiences over a cup of Joe and buffet fare. Seneca turns out to be a sports capital as in the house were athletes, family and fans of collegiate gals’ rowing teams that were competing on Lake Hartwell. The men’s collegiate golf tournament was playing out at The Cliffs private course and Clemson’s orange and white spring game brought many alumni to town.
Sole on the Green at the Walker Course or Sole Grill and Sushi in downtown Seneca deliver a marathon of menu items while Vangeli’s offers a fine dining setting with exquisite gourmet specials. A rare farm to table treat awaits at Chattooga Belle Farms, formerly an apple orchard owned by Groucho Marx at one time. The Bistro Belle now anchors the property with a knockout view of the Blue Ridge Mountains beyond the orchards of fruit and vineyards of muscadine grapes. Angus for the burgers are raised down the road.
This is a perfect wedding venue where 78 couples tied the knot last year and seven years ago they held a 40th anniversary festival of the movie Deliverance which was filmed on the Chatooga River. Billy Redden, the famous banjo player on the dock in the movie still works at Walmart on Saturdays. Three stages of bands entertained while Billy made $3000 signing T-shirts and banjos. The crazy thing is Billy never even played the banjo though he wishes he could. His arms were behind his back while somebody else reached around and picked the “der-der-doo” tune. Local bluegrass pickers in the mountains come down regularly for concerts at Chatooga Belle. They opened a new distillery last year to add to the down-home fun. Mike’s tour explains how corn and barley mash for eight days then transfer into the still which is an army cook pot from 1946. Any fruits can make the brandy while whiskey is made from grains, but you can make vodka from anything, he says.
Tastings began with Apple Muscadine with Madagascar Vanilla Beans. The Carolina Spiced Whiskey is great with holiday eggnog and cider. Mike shared, “The Block and Tackle is so named because you walk a block and tackle the first thing you see when you drink that.” The Dark Sky bottle has a sun that eclipses as you shift the vessel of elixir. Over a thousand people came for the eclipse festival last summer as this was the perfect latitude and the moonshine provided attitude.
Mike’s advice besides drink up is to slow down and enjoy. That might mean cruising on Lake Hartwell, Jocassee or Keowee. Tube down the river or experience that stretch of Deliverance filming on the Chatooga with a Wildwater rafting trip. Wildwater has operated since 1915 in different fashions. Now 4 generations of Griners manage a ropes course with zip lines and wild and scenic tours down the Chatooga River. Section 3 has class 2 and 3 rapids with an optional 4. Check that turn out from above and decide if you want to ride down it or walk around it. (We walked down a trail to observe the flow and could have sat on the shore for a week.) A more daring section option has class 3 and 4, with a couple of 5 rapids. Summer time brings 50-60 guides to the grounds.
Oconee is Cherokee for “land beside the water.” Besides the many waterways, The Palmetto Trail starts at the coast of SC and leads up across Sassafras, the largest peak for hiking and biking. It takes 5 months to walk and it will end in Walhalla, Oconee County. The terminus will bring new commerce including 2 new hotels. Oconee County has great climate with great lakes and over 300 waterfalls, only 45 minutes from Greenville, two hours from Atlanta and two hours from Charlotte.