LITTLE RIVER, SC -  In 1989 Golf Digest magazine awarded River Hills Golf & Country Club a Best New Course distinction. Twenty-one years later it's still deserves a best recognition. Before taking a closer look at this Tom Jackson masterpiece, a story needs to be shared.

Upon arriving at River Hills I was paired with Dick and Glenda Hughes, visitors from southwestern Pennsylvania. All of us have experienced meeting some really nice people on the golf course. In fact most agree that golfers in general are pretty decent folks. The Hughes family certainly portrays the true meaning of nice people. It was a pleasure spending the afternoon on the golf course with them. And if it's true that good things happen to good people, than look no further than Dick Hughes. On the 6th Hole, a Par 3 162-yards over water into a sand trap protected green, Dick had a hole-in-one. It tracked all the way from club head to hole. Congratulations Dick and thanks for the thrill!

River Hills really combines both the traditional and modern qualities of a great golf course, stated David Spoone, Head Golf Professional. Fairways allowing for roll with the terrain are lined with trees. The path of the course takes you through some very nice neighborhoods, but with just a few exceptions houses are located well off the fairways, Spoone continued.

At the risk of oversimplification the course has great style. Even with thirteen holes having water, it is very playable. One of the first things you'll find attractive about River Hills is the starting hole on each the front and back. Neither #1, nor #10 is going to beat you up. Regardless of which nine starts your day, you are greeted by moderate length, water that's more visual than intimidating and fairway traps that catch only a wayward drive. However, do not allow these two Par 4s to create a sense of false security.

It's the Par 4s at River Hills that give this course so much of its character. On the front nine No. 4 and No. 5 present a wonderful back-to-back challenge. A drive that catches the fairway is absolutely necessary on No, 4. Your second shot is downhill over wide water with a sand bunker protecting the left side of a wide, but slightly narrow green.

No. 5 is just all you'll want in a golf hole. At 401 yards from the whites grab all you have off the tee to the uphill fairway and dogleg left. Trees on the right with out of bounds and a small green challenge your second shot.

On the back nine No. 13 and No. 14, both Par 4s, offer a challenging stretch. At 366 yards No. 13 will not challenge you with length, but do make sure you're on the fairway. Your second shot carries water, but a landing area for shots that come up short is provided.

No. 14 is a great test of golf. The tee shot is a little intimidating into a dogleg left over water up the left side. Take as much of the lake as you dare, but playing it safe is risky with a well-positioned bunker at the top of the turn. The second shot requires just as much risk with trees on the right and water on the left to a smallish green. At 404 yards it takes two outstanding shots to get home.

The Par 5s each present an individual challenge. No. 2 is an extreme dogleg right, up hill to a well sand bunkered green. No. 7 is reachable in two by the big hitter, but three good shots and your putting for birdie. No. 11 is the longest of the Par 5s and pretty straightforward. No. 17 is the signature hole with two carries over water into one of the tougher putting surfaces depending on pin position.

The Par 3s provide both challenge and relief. Nos. 6 and 12 require carries over water to greens well protected by sand bunkers. Nos. 3 and 15 are fairly straightforward, but require exacting club selection.

Although this late January day was in the 60s, area golf courses have been challenged over the past two months. December was very wet, while the first two weeks of January were unseasonably cold. B&C Golf Management deserves recognition for doing a great job maintaining the course. The greens were in very good condition and putted true. The fairways were excellent, while the rough was playable. This course will be fabulous for spring, summer and fall golf.

Originally built as a private country club, River Hills reflects that in both the challenging nature of the course and its amenities. The two-story clubhouse welcomes golfers to a large pro shop with a deep selection of logo merchandise. The snack bar has a nice menu and is non-smoking. A large patio area offers additional seating.

The practice facilities are outstanding. Arrive early enough to take full advantage. The large driving range is well marked with yardages. A very generous sand bunker is situated to allow both blasts and fairway shots onto the driving range. Separate greens are available for chipping and putting. See the starter for practice balls.

This golf course really does have some qualities that deserve a best designation. If you've already had the pleasure of a round at River Hills Golf & Country Club, you'll probably want to return. If you haven't had the privilege of teeing-up on this 18, definitely add it to your must play list.