- By T. Wayne Waters For the AJC
The Palmetto State has plenty to offer visitors seeking sports and recreation. From the Upstate’s mountains, to the lakes and rivers of the Midlands and the beaches and waterways of the Lowcountry, there’s plenty to do. There are at least a half-dozen minor league sports teams in the state, which also happens to be covered with golf courses. You’ll find South Carolina is full of surprises.
Aiken horse country
There is an equestrian culture par excellence in modestly sized Aiken. Situated just 20 miles northeast of Augusta, Georgia, folks in these parts have been training thoroughbred horses for generations, getting the steeds prepared for races, polo matches or other equestrian events. Visitors can watch at the Aiken Training Track in the Aiken Horse District, or perhaps have a Backstretch Experience that takes them behind the scenes at the track. Depending upon your time of visit, you could catch a steeplechase, hunter-jumper competition, or dressage event at one of the several horse tracks in town, see a polo match at the Whitney Polo Field, and then rent a horse to ride yourself.
Late November is the time for the annual Blessing of the Hounds ceremony that kicks off Aiken’s storied fox hunting season and pays homage to its hunt culture. Aiken Hounds hunt club has the oldest drag hunt in the nation, wherein a cloth doused with the scent of a fox is dragged across the landscape to keep the hounds engaged. Finally, visit the Aiken Thoroughbred Hall of Fame and Museum before settling in for a spell at The Stables Restaurant at Rose Hill Estate, an elegant eatery in a repurposed stable with a menu that includes among other things some tasty shrimp and grits, filet mignon and seafood.
BMW Performance Center
You know the feeling. Watching a brand-new BMW glide by you effortlessly on the roadway. Wondering what it would be like to drive one. You can do just that at the BMW Performance Center, choosing from among one-hour, two-hour, one-day or two-day instruction and driving options at the Greer track. And yes, you can drive these various BMW models fast. You can do the same with BMW’s motorcycle riding options, as well as indulging in some off-road action with the BMW U.S. Rider Academy. The one-day BMW Adventure tours take you and your motorcycle off of the BMW campus and up into the mountains.
The BMW Performance Center, 1155 SC Highway 101, Greer, halfway between Greenville and Spartanburg, 888-345-4269, bmwperformancecenter.com
Greenville Swamp Rabbit Hockey
Greenville’s NHL New York Ranger-affiliated Greenville Swamp Rabbits play exciting ECHL (formerly East Coast Hockey League) hockey at Bon Secours Wellness Arena. The intriguing name is an homage to Greenville’s popular 20-mile Swamp Rabbit Trail, which runs along the Reedy River on a historic rail bed. The hot-skating Swamp Rabbits made the playoffs last year and no doubt plan to repeat that feat this year. The season extends into early April and yes, there is a mascot on skates, Stomper the Swamp Rabbit. And while you’re in Greenville, you can walk the Swamp Rabbit Trail, too.
Beaufort river and kayak tours
The nice thing about being in the Lowcountry of South Carolina is that it’s possible to get out on the coastal waters even in the winter. You have a couple of good options in Beaufort — boat or kayak. Capt. Dick of Beaufort River Tours offers outings on his 24-passenger Prince of Tides from Beaufort’s Downtown Marina. Capt. Dick and First Mate Linda give their passengers a good overview of the salt marsh ecology, a little history of the area, and usually find a dolphin out and about.
Beaufort Kayak Tours provides several tours, too, including a dolphin ecology tour, salt marsh ecology tour, Beaufort history tour, and, particularly special during winter, the Ace Basin tour. Ace Basin is a tidal freshwater marsh that’s a great place to spot migratory waterfowl. More than 20 species winter here. Beaufort Kayak Tours also offers two lodgings for visitors. There is the one-bedroom, one-bath waterfront condominium, rental of which actually comes with a free kayak tour. It has a full kitchen and a private deck. If something more compact would suit, BKT can provide you with a small camper with hot and cold running water, a microwave, coffee maker, gas stove and refrigerator, and a dinette that folds out into a king-sized bed.
Beaufort River Tours, 1006 Bay St., Downtown Marina, Beaufort, 843-524-4422, www.beaufortrivertours.com
Beaufort Kayak Tours, 600 Linton Lane, Beaufort, 843-525-0810, www.beaufortkayaktours.com
There is an alternative activity at the Port Royal Golf & Racquet Club on Hilton Head Island for those not quite so skilled on the greens. The celebrated Heritage Golf Collection course is the first to offer FootGolf on the island. It’s a great way for those not much into swinging the clubs to fully enjoy a visit to the golf course. Don’t know about FootGolf? It’s a form of golf that uses said foot and a soccer ball to “drain the cup,” as they say in golf parlance — in this case, a 21-inch-diameter cup. It’s become a bona fide craze of late and a great way to enjoy a day on the greens.
Port Royal Golf & Racquet Club, 10 Clubhouse Drive, Hilton Head Island, 843-681-1700, www.hiltonheadgolf.net
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