Choosing courses to play in Myrtle Beach is a bit like singling out a charlatan at a political convention: there are just way too many possibilities.
\nSome folks opt for only Top 100 layouts or brand-name architects; others are drawn to bargain-basement green fees. But some hardy souls relish the epic tests: man versus nature, scorecard versus par, thirst versus beverage cart. Here you'll find in order or orneriness the toughest courses in town. Let the battle be joined.
\nThe meanest track on the Grand Strand comes from the Marquis de Sod himself, Pete Dye. It's reasonably playable if you rein in your ego and choose the right tees, but who does that anymore?
\n From the tips or the wrong tees it's a brute, with an Everestlike slope of 149. If the scattering of pot bunkers doesn't get you, then expect to be roughed up by the rugged quartet of par-3s, including two of the toughest holes on the course: the 195-yard 6th and 227-yard 15th.
\nOh yeah, the club-twisting rough and the slick greens don't make life any easier.
\nIt's no surprise that the King's gambling style of play translates into multiple risk/reward holes at this punishing layout.
\nThe risks are terrifying and they are everywhere as evidenced by the 74.7 rating and 149 slope for a course that barely stretches 6,900 yards.
\nEven the safe play is fraught with peril on most holes, thanks to targets jabbed into tidal marshes along the Shallotte River. The thrill-packed 570- yard, par-5 9th is one of Myrtle Beach's hardest 3-shotters.
\nFortunately, liquid medication for your pain is just steps away in the clubhouse.
\nBuilt 20 years ago when the Golden Bear would routinely put a serious growl factor into his designs, Pawleys won't scare anyone these days with its length.
\nBut the vast waste bunkers and the acres of marshland still have bite. High, soft-landing, accurate approaches are in order otherwise, you're looking at a pit stop in Reload City.
\nTypical of the test are the 145-yard, par-3 13th and the 444-yard, par-4 16th, which share a narrow double green isolated by salt marsh.
\nThis 60-year-old layout offers a valuable lesson in knowing your limitations.
\nSure, Gary McCord once won a Champions Tour event here at 12-under-par, but the only numbers you need to pay attention to are the slope (144) and formidable course rating (75.7).
\nIn other words, for middle handicappers this is the golf equivalent of a mugging, thanks to its collection of elevated, fiercely trapped greens and card-wreckers like the lagoon-laced, 430-yard, par-4 11th and the spirit-crushing 590-yard, par-5 13th, which doglegs 110 degrees around alligator-filled Singleton Lake.
\nThe huge fairways and gigantic greens all guarded by colossal bunkers suggest the scale of the challenge at this course, the longest one in Myrtle Beach.
\nThe real difficulty comes in the profusion of water hazards that drown nearly every hole, most alarmingly at the 8th and 14th, a pair of all-carry par-3s that clock in at more than 240 yards from the back tees.
\n Ball retrievers were invented for holes like the par-5 13th, which features two forced carries, and the par-5 17th, where water lurks for any shot tugged even slightly left. On the bright side, six sets of tees allow you to limit the pain.
\nIf you're still not down for the count, here are another fistful of courses that pack a mean punch.
\nPanther's Run at Ocean Ridge Plantation
7,089 yards, par 72;
Green fees: $54-$93
\nSt. James Plantation (Players Club)
6,947 yards, par 72;
Green fees: $80-$100; 800-281-6626,