When it comes to golf destinations, places like Pebble Beach and Pinehurst are considered fine dining while Myrtle Beach is Mickey D's: affordable, filling and no-frills. That's all true you'll find more great bargains here than anywhere else but it obscures the fact that Myrtle Beach is also home to some of the best tracks in the country. Myrtle in autumn also means lower greens fees, less crowded courses, and shorter lines at the Piggly Wiggly. Here's where you'll find the grandest golf on the Grand Stand.
\nExtra, extra! This Pete Dye course is really tough. (In other news, the Pope is Catholic and John Daly likes to play the slots.) All of Dye's favorite playthings are here: mounding, railroad ties, bunkers aplenty and fairways pinched so tight they scream. Still, this bruiser is a fair test, and a few holes can be had, like the double-dogleg par-5 eighth, which is a downright cupcake from the 486-yard championship tees. Need to regroup at the turn? Grab a quick chair massage outside the clubhouse entrance for a buck a minute. There's the rub!
\nDavis Love III may be the least prestigious designer among Barefoot's Fab Four the others are Pete Dye, Tom Fazio and Greg Norman but he's no Ringo. His Pinehurst-inspired track is the most fun of the bunch, a wide-open course that demands driver all day. If you draw your tee shot just so on the doglegleft, par-4 12th, a cluster of fairway mounds slings your ball an extra 20 yards or so. That extra distance helps when attacking the turtleback greens, which should be approached with caution. Less club is more, Love tells us. "The greens are very much in the Donald Ross style," he says. "And, as with most of his courses, short is definitely better than long."
\nTidewater has serious wildlife teeming about its saltwater marshes, including falcons, red-tail hawks and enough water moccasins to scare a creature from his black lagoon. It's a seamless marriage of golf and nature. Ken Tomlinson's design is neither penal nor a pushover. On the 426-yard par-4 sixth, a sparkle of water on the left makes an apparently simple drive swing-thought provoking ("Don't hook it into the lake!"). The 371-yard seventh is yawn-worthy until you reach the elevated green surrounded by a cluster of sandy craters. Take an extra club or three on the par-3 12th, which faces the marsh the trouser-whipping winds off the Atlantic Ocean would make Quasimodo stand up straight.
\nThe third hole on True Blue is true genius. Like a Monet painting, the 171-yarder changes with your perspective. When first seen from the cart path, the green appears wide and welcoming, shielded by a lake in front and left. But from the tee box it looks like a slender island green. It's the most memorable of 18 superb holes by the late Mike Strantz on this former indigo and rice plantation. A close second? The 18th, where the green pokes into a creek that hugs the fairway. Hit it short and you're wet. Hit it long and you're pitching back toward the water on a severely sloping downhill green.
\nLocated on a former rice plantation along the Waccamaw River, Caledonia is bursting with Lowcountry charm from the free cups of catfish chowder ladled near the first tee, to the aweinspiring clubhouse (a replica of an 18th-century plantation house), to the hulking 150-year-old oaks dripping with Spanish moss. This Mike Strantz canvas (his first solo effort) calls for creativity. The sixth hole alone can be anything from a wedge to 6-iron, depending on wind and pin placement (the green is 60 yards deep). You'll notice lots of bunkers on the left side of holes Strantz liked to punish better players who draw the ball. Serves 'em right.
\nThe Card Wrecker
\nLove Course at Barefood Resort
No. 5, 463 yards
\nPerhaps Love got an assist from Dr. Evil when sketching this house of horrors and No. 1 handicap hole. The devilish dogleg right requires a fade off the tee, but over-cut your drive and a lake awaits. Here Davis tells you how to avoid a hate-Love relationship.
\nDavis Love III on how to play it: "No. 5 challenges you on every shot. It's not that it's overly penal-there's room out there-but it requires well-struck shots. Right is wrong off the tee-water and fairway bunkers make reaching the green with your next shot difficult. My keys for the hole: Remember that the fairway is wider than it looks, and play your approach to the front half of the green for the best chance to get down in two."
\n \nLocal Knowledge
\nWhat to do
\nSpend time with the kids at NASCAR Speedpark where motorheads of all ages can try hairpin turns.
\nVisit the new Cal Ripken Experience, which hosts tournaments and clinics for kids. (The Barry Bonds Experience is pending FDA approval.)
\nWhere to Eat
\nLouis's at Pawleys may ruin you for other Myrtle dining once you sample chef/co-owner Louis Osteen's dishes. The James Beard Foundation named him the best chef in the Southeast.
\nWhere to Stay
\nThe Myrtle Beach Marriott Resort at Grande Dunes is a quick drive from all courses. Guests get preferred tee times at the Grande Dunes Golf Course. Rooms from $179.