Wine & Nine a Winner at Charleston National July 27, 2016 | Mount Pleasant, S.C. By Tom Cunneff

Together, participants in the "Wine & Nine" program at Charleston National Golf Club are able to enjoy the game, the beverages, and friendship. (Tom Cunneff)

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Now in its third year, the USGA’s PLAY9 initiative is helping more and more golfers discover that you don’t need to play 18 holes to enjoy a round of golf. Nine holes can feel just right, especially if there’s another activity incorporated into it.

One group of women who know this well is the “Wine & 9” contingent at Charleston National Golf Club in Mount Pleasant, S.C. Every Wednesday at 4:30 (earlier in winter, weather permitting), about 25 women play the front nine at the club, a scenic, challenging tour through a Lowcountry setting of marsh and moss-draped oaks. They are then treated to a glass of vino and an explanation of a Rules of Golf scenario. The program started in June 2015, and its success has been a pleasant surprise to Jennifer Kearney, the club’s assistant general manager.

“It’s been fun to watch this program grow,” she said. “At first some of the ladies were a little bit timid. They probably all felt like they were pretty bad, but once they got around the other women, they realized that everybody is in that same sort of skill level. It’s really given them a lot of confidence. Many of them were driving-range ladies who never actually played, and to see them make tee times on their own outside of Wine & 9 is just incredible.”

While the weekly get-togethers are a hit, the quarterly events that include wine tastings have drawn even more interest, with the turnout for those usually double what is seen for a regular week. With a shotgun start, the format is typically a two-person scramble, but they might play a four-person scramble if the numbers allow it. A late-afternoon thunderstorm led to about a dozen cancellations, but 37 women still turned out for the summer golf/wine tasting on July 13. In a nod to the Fourth of July, there was a red, white, and blue theme, with sips of wine on the tee of the odd holes and snacks on the even ones.

“It’s like happy hour and golf all at once,” says Stacy Passailague, who works at a nonprofit and has a 36 handicap. “Nine holes after work is great. I played before I had kids and this is a nice way to get back into it.”

Charleston National is a Rees Jones design that was intended to be a high-end “national” club complete with an airport, but it had the unfortunate timing of opening in September 1989, right before Hurricane Hugo hit – and did considerable damage to the property. The course reopened two years later as a semi-private club and is a valuable part of public-access golf in the Charleston area.

Though the women played from the red tees, the round started with a couple of whites: A 2015 Edna Valley Pinot Grigio accompanied the 328-yard first hole, a dogleg left with the green hard by the marsh, while a 2014 Calina Chardonnay from Chile awaited the players on the 325-yard third hole, which doglegs sharply right around a lake. No. 5, a 422-yard par 5, featured the only red of the day, a 2014 Federalist Lodi Cabernet Sauvignon, which turned out to be a favorite of many of the participants, with its notes of blue and black fruits and hint of cinnamon. After playing her second shot out of a left fairway bunker with rock ‘n’ roll blaring from her cart, Sue Truesdale, a 16 handicap who plays about three times a month, was asked if she was having a good time.

“Music, wine, and golf,” she said with a huge smile as she put her club back. “Doesn’t get much better than that!”

The second-favorite wine of the group was the Benvolio Prosecco, available on the par-5 ninth, where each glass was infused with a combination of blueberries, blackberries and raspberries.

“Nine holes is a great way to get men and women out on the course after work, as well as kids after school,” said Chase Wells, the club’s head professional, who watched the players on No. 9 tee. “With the Wine & 9 program, we’re seeing a lot more ladies come out. It’s been more successful than I ever thought. It’s great to see them out here.”

Afterward, the women gathered in the clubhouse for a buffet reception that included a free glass of their favorite wine from the course. One woman with a lot of gratitude for the nine-hole league is Janet Gallagher, who started playing in January 2014, after her husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

“I had been staying home to care for him and my daughter thought this would be a good way to get out of the house and meet people,” she says. “They pair me up with other players, so it’s great. I don’t care about how I play. I’m here for the camaraderie and just to be outdoors. Nine holes is perfect for me.”

The winners, Amy Moyer and Ginger McDonald, shot a 39 and earned a free round and a bottle of their favorite wine for their efforts, but everyone came away with a smile. “Nobody’s ever in a bad mood at these events,” says Jennifer O’Brien, the executive director of the Women’s South Carolina Golf Association. “This really fits in with the time constraints in people’s lives these days and it really gives women, especially beginners, the opportunity to get out on the course. It’s an atmosphere of inclusion.”

As Sue Truesdale might say, it doesn’t get much better than that.

Tom Cunneff is a South Carolina-based freelance writer.