In a 20,000-acre, ever-growing coastal community like Palmetto Bluff, it is not unreasonable to consider the architecture of the custom residences first when envisioning the lasting aesthetic of this Lowcountry haven. However, the detail that goes into planning the amenities and layout of the land is just as crucial (and just as well thought out and designed) as the private homes themselves. Take, for example, the community’s 18-hole par-72 Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course—the May River Golf Course—which opened for play in 2004.
This stunning course rests along the May River underneath a canopy of maritime forest and quintessential live oaks. It presents both avid golfers and newcomers with a myriad of fairways and bunkers that are pleasing to the eye and provide both a challenging and rewarding day on the course. Therefore, it is no secret that this award-winning course must be managed by someone who is not only a steward of the land, but also a golf enthusiast and sporting club advocate. Meet Chris Johnson.
Chris Johnson spent the large majority of his adolescent life, and all of his adult life so far, on golf courses throughout North America, both working them and playing them. Growing up in Ohio, he took his first job during his sophomore year of high school at NCR Country Club—and has never left the industry since. He even decided to study landscape architecture and turf grass management at The Ohio State University to better understand the science behind building and maintaining the ultimate golf course.
After his college graduation, Chris moved to the Southeast in early 1997 to work at The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island. By October of 1998, he was hired by Cherokee Plantation, a private sporting club about an hour west of Beaufort, South Carolina, to manage the construction of the golf course and oversee the grow-in of the turf. Here, he held the title of head golf course superintendent and stayed until 2004 when he took his new position, with the same title, at the May River Golf Course in Palmetto Bluff. With this transition, he went from managing 700 rounds of golf each year to around 18,000. He also started his family during this time—he married his wife, Stacey, and had two children, Maisie (10) and Turner (9).
“The May River Golf Course stacks up against any course in the Southeast, or the country even,” Johnson said. “There are so many new architects out there who know what they’re doing in respect to designing immaculate courses these days, but still, many golfers appreciate a more traditional approach. Jack Nicklaus is very traditional, yet this course is a stretch for him, with a more natural feel than many of his other courses . . . incorporating modern characteristics with unique design of the greens, use of the land, and shape of the bunkers.”
Oh, if you’re wondering what his favorite hole on the course is, it’s 16. It’s a classic golf hole with a great variety of trees, the perfect length, only three bunkers, multiple tees, and a fantastic greens complex, according to Johnson. And with a resume as impressive as his, we’ll take his word for it.
Q: What is your idea of perfect happiness?
A: To be respected, appreciated, and looked up to by my kids.
Q: What goes through your mind as you drive to
work each morning?
A: What are we going to do today. . . ?
Q: And on the way home?
A: What do I need to remember about my “first job”—my family.
Q: What is your greatest extravagance?
A: Music and Ohio State football.
Q: Movie that you would recommend to friends?
A: Fletch, Super Troopers, or The Big Lebowski.
Q: If there was a movie about your life, what would it be called and which actor would play you?
A: True Life: I’m a Sports Junky and Tom Selleck would play me (from the Magnum P.I. era).
Q: What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Marrying my wife, having two awesome kids, and being able to provide for them. (I’m very proud of them—got to give all the credit to my wife though.)
Q: What is your most marked characteristic?
A: That I’m so laid-back.
Q: What is the last book you read?
A: The Match: The Day the Game of Golf Changed Forever.
Q: If you could have one “super power,” what would it be? How would you use it at work?
A: To be a big wave surfer—those guys are the baddest dudes on the planet, and I would be super fit and would have more energy at work.
Q: When you’re not here, what are you doing?
A: Hanging out with my family.
Q: What word do you use most?
A: It’s actually a phrase: “Nothing to it but to do it.”
Q: What makes you laugh?
A: Curb Your Enthusiasm, America’s Funniest Home Videos, and old episodes of Saturday Night Live.
Q: Top five songs/bands on your playlist?
A: Widespread Panic, Grateful Dead, Perpetual Groove, Leftover Salmon,
Q: Favorite Spot on the Bluff?
A: The 10th green at sunrise.
Q: Best Palmetto Bluff moment?
A: When Jack Nicklaus was here right after the renovation work in May 2017.
I spent five hours touring him around the Bluff and the golf course.
Written by Amanda Baran Cutrer
Photography by Krisztian Lonyai