Travelin' Joe's Guide to Myrtle Beach Golf Courses
I call Myrtle Beach the supermarket of golf, simply because there's something for everybody. True, there's not much snob appeal, but that may be the only thing missing among the 90 or so courses that dot the Grand Strand. Don't get me wrong — there's plenty of "upscale" to be found along the 60-mile stretch of coastline that runs from Southport, N.C. to Georgetown, S.C. — but the pampering here is more laid-back and down-home. What you'll also find in abundance is a fistful of unambitious-yet-handsome, playable and fun layouts where you'll get change back from your Franklin even in high season. That's the real beauty of Myrtle Beach golf: It's all about unparalleled variety for every budget.
What's New in Town
Myrtle Beach is in lock-step with the rest of the nation, where one can only daydream about new course construction. And in a reflection of the times, no fewer than 20 area courses have been shuttered within the past five years. That said, what's new is old — at least in the case of two venerable venues that are sporting dramatic changes.
Highly anticipated is the March 14, 2009, reopening of Pine Lakes Country Club in Myrtle Beach. A.K.A. "the Granddaddy," Pine Lakes was the very first course in Myrtle Beach, dating to 1927, when it debuted under the name Ocean Forest. Robert White, a Scotsman who was also the first president of the PGA, first crafted nine holes, and it's that original nine that architect Craig Schreiner elected to preserve as the back nine for the revised layout.
The result is a throwback design that conjures up classic strategic shot values thanks to enhanced contouring and thoughtful hazard placement. Yardage from the tips will top out at 6,700 yards, and par has been shaved from 71 to 70. Returnees will immediately notice the lush, vibrant green Seashore Paspalum grass that now covers the entire course. "It's like taking the varnish off an old piece of furniture," says Schreiner. "If you paint something seven or eight times, all the detail gets lost. All you had to do was drop the low points of the property and raise the highs, and the golf course just jumps out at you." Check out the renovated clubhouse as well. We're certainly partial to the Snug Pub, where legend has it that the idea for a magazine called Sports Illustrated was born.
A more extreme makeover took place in low-key Pawleys Island at the south end of the Strand when the Founders Club opened in February 2008. Formerly a pleasant (if non-descript) 1966 Gene Hamm track, the layout was turned upside down by architect Thomas Walker, who utilized the existing corridors, routing and mature trees but reworked everything else. Vast, sandy waste areas, bunker-etched mounds and tremendous variety in the green shaping are among the highlights of the new spread.
Things are still percolating at Ocean Ridge Plantation, just across the state line in Ocean Isle Beach, N.C. Its new Leopard's Chase course debuted in 2007 and stalks you with a brutal but beautiful back nine and a set of gigantic greens that will test your flatstick from start to finish. The par-3, island-green 4th might be the showcase hole on this Tim Cate design, but the 439-yard, par-4 closer, complete with flanking ponds, a waste bunker and a waterfall, earns its stripes as the best. If the economy cooperates, a fifth Big Cat course, Jaguar's Lair, will come on board in 2010.
The Trophy Collection
A consensus for Best of the Beach is tenuous for sure, but I think we can all agree on a few "must-plays." Since it's my two cents, based on many trips there since the early 1990s, I'll stick to my guns. To me, there are two quintessential Myrtle Beach golf experiences — one ancient and one modern.
On the classic front, you've got to sample the Dunes Golf & Beach Club. The ambiance is definitely private club, but cooperative arrangements with several area hotels allow for unaccompanied guest play. It's worth the effort. An early (1948) Robert Trent Jones Sr. design, the Dunes features all of the master's hallmarks, from its fiercely trapped, elevated greens to its collection of scorecard-wrecking water holes, spearheaded by "Waterloo," the 590-yard, par-5 13th that doglegs 110 degrees to the right around Singleton Lake. Back in the 1960s, Dan Jenkins wrote in Sports Illustrated: "It has long been agreed among knowledgeable golfers along the Atlantic Coast that if a man plays the 13th hole at the Dunes Golf & Beach Club often enough he will eventually lose every ball he owns and perhaps perish by alligator bite." More than 40 years later, Jenkins remains right on target.
Situated on a former rice plantation and drenched in Lowcountry charm, Caledonia is a 15-year-old Mike Strantz design that looks like it's decades older. Strantz was an artist with a bulldozer, and here he created a layout worthy of a museum exhibit. Gnarled live oaks festooned with Spanish moss line the fairways, and the course winds along the Waccamaw River for much of its journey. Caledonia's 6,526 yards are crammed into 125 acres, which may explain the par of 70, but waste bunkers, wetlands and undulating greens keep big hitters honest. Sitting in a rocking chair on the clubhouse porch, watching play on the 383-yard, par-4 18th unfold, is one of the true treats on the Grand Strand.
Best of the Rest
Tidewater Golf Club dishes out low-profile fairways that ease past forested bluffs and along marsh-edged flatlands, with photo-ops galore.
Rivers Edge Golf Club is too tough for me — but there's nary a weak hole on this Arnold Palmer-designed risk/reward thrill ride on the North Carolina side. It features skinny targets hemmed in by bunkers, tidal marshes and the Shallotte River.
You could three-putt every one of the wildly undulating greens at The Heritage Club, but you'll wear an ear-to-ear grin from the moment you drive down the avenue of oaks entryway to your post-round cocktail in the Southern Colonial clubhouse.
Barefoot Resort's all-star constellation of architects includes Tom Fazio, Pete Dye and Greg Norman, but it's the layout designed by Davis Love that might be the most fun of all. Love's Donald Ross-flavored turtleback greens and chipping areas, along with re-created plantation house ruins, make for a memorable day, whether or not you're wearing shoes.
My favorite bargain at the Beach is Oyster Bay, in Sunset Beach, N.C. This 1983 Dan Maples design smacks you down early, with rugged back-to-back two-shotters at 2 and 3, then soothes with strategy and scenery, notably at the short par-4 13th that doglegs right toward the bay and features a slightly elevated green shored with a wall of oyster shells.