WANT TO RING in the new year with a new foursome? Head for Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, which all but shed its pervasive reputation as a bargain-basement getaway with the simultaneous debut last spring of four outstanding courses at one location. An ambitious, 2,377-acre, mixed-use development in North Myrtle Beach, Barefoot Resort is reached from Highway 17 via a restored swing-bridge that was relocated from the Outer Banks of North Carolina and now spans the Intracoastal Waterway.
Far removed from the beachwear emporiums, the four completely different courses reflect the personalities and architectural leanings of their designers. Barefoot Resort enlisted two household-name designers, Pete Dye and Tom Fazio, and two well-known Tour pros who've turned their hand to course design, Greg Norman and Davis Love III.
The Dye Course, the resort's only semi-private layout, is the toughest of the four venues. Dye, authoring his first course in Myrtle Beach, excavated his toothy man-eater from a gently rolling site. Centipede and zoysia grasses provide texture and contrast on this visually striking, and in some places deliberately unkempt, course. Railroad ties and waste bunkers inset with mesa-like platforms are in evidence, as are high mounds pockmarked with saucers of sand placed at varying heights. It's possible to careen into a high-lipped bunker 20 feet above the fairway and be faced with an approach to a sharply contoured green defended by water, sand, and/or grassy swales. The course rating (75.3) and slope (149) tell the story on this 7,343-yard, par-72 bruiser. From an inappropriate set of tees, the Dye Course is 18 holes of crash-and-burn. Of the ominous 15th, a 227-yard one-shotter, Dye says, "It's not only the hardest par three I've ever built, it's the hardest par three I've ever seen." The Dye Course has no Achilles' heel, but it is the most walker-friendly of the Barefoot quartet.
Far friendlier is the Fazio Course, a finely detailed low-country spread marked by long, flowing slopes and artfully sculpted bunkers. Native coquina sand pits pinch several fairways, and water features are visible on 15 holes, but overall this 6,834-yard, par-71 layout, the prettiest of the four, is a pleasurable spread from the regular tees. A superb site with a 30-foot elevation change, the Fazio Course offers wide corridors and, on the back nine, long views over a salt marsh dotted with cypress, gum, and bay trees. A giant tree spade was used to relocate more than 300 mature live oaks on the property, while additional trees and flowering shrubs were planted to frame the holes. The layout's standout hole is the 13th, a mid-length par four with two greens, one of which is fronted by a pond and nestled in a hollow beside an exposed vein of sugar-white sand that looks like new-fallen snow.
While relatively new to the design racket, Davis Love III has made a favorable impression with the Love Course, a traditional test with greens clearly inspired by the turtleback surfaces at Pinehurst No. 2. The greens here are not as prominently crowned as those at Pinehurst, though a few have false fronts and most are embraced by close-cropped swales and spilloffs that demand creative recovery shots. Behind the hilltop green at the short par-four fourth are crumbled brick "ruins" inspired by remnants of old edifices often found beside British courses. As befits a big hitter, Love finishes his course with a mammoth 596-yard par five that sweeps to the left and drops down to a slippery green sited above a pond. Barefoot's best par five? This may be it.
And now for something completely different: the Norman Course. The Shark, a friend of Barefoot developer Sammy Puglia, commandeered a choice parcel for his 7,035-yard, par-72 test. A low-profile, lay-of-the-land course marked by giant sod-faced bunkers filled with gleaming feldspar sand, this is a golf course pared down to the barest essentials. With well under 80 acres of irrigated turf grass, the Norman Course is a target-style test akin to the desert courses of the Southwest, minus the cactus. Coquina waste areas and beds of pine straw frame many of the holes on the front nine. The back nine skirts the Intracoastal Waterway, with a few greens, notably the 10th and 14th, perched on bluffs 40 feet above the active canal. The par-five 18th, its back tee sited high above the waterway, is the kind of risk-reward hole that Norman can play with impunity. For everyone else, it's a dangerous three-shotter.
Green fees on the Dye Course range from $87 to $155, depending on season. Green fees on the Fazio, Love, and Norman courses are $75 to $135. Rates include cart. Accommodations are slated to open in 2001. Tee times: (877) 237-3767. Web site: www.barefootgolf.com.