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|Nineteen of Sandpiper Bay Golf Club's 27 holes have water at least present, if not always in play. (Courtesy of sandpiperbaygolf.com)|
Sandpiper Bay Golf Club is not a destination Myrtle Beach golf course, but you can combine any of its three nine-hole tracks for an enjoyable "off-day" in between your more anticipated Myrtle Beach rounds.
SUNSET BEACH, N.C. - Let's agree on one thing at the start: Most 27-hole have their work cut out for them: They just can't stack up against a true 18-holer for continuity.
As an example, consider Sandpiper Bay Golf Club, a 27-holer here just over the line from North Myrtle Beach.
Too often 27-hole courses refuse to sacrifice the weakest of the nines for the greater cause of the well-rounded, complete 18. Instead, the golfer at these tracks must choose a round - or, in the case of Sandpiper Bay, not: The starter says bluntly, "You're playing the Bay and Sand today."
The Bay and Sand?
The Bay and Sand turn out to be okay, but ah, what about stacking up the Bay with the third nine, the Piper? Or maybe a Piper/Sand combination? Or starting off on the Piper and ...
It's like mix and match, and just because it can be different the next time the golfer shows up, that doesn't make it more satisfying.
An 18-hole golf course allows the true vision of the architect to flow from the first tee to the last. However it goes during the round, the golfer at least feels like the course is moving toward an intended direction, and the golf course's vagrancies, whatever they are, obey an overall plan: Maybe start easy, build up in the middle, lull three-quarters through, finish strong.
Myrtle Beach has its fair share of 27-hole golf courses, and some suffer from this handicap (it's hard to name one of these course that has opted to designate one of its nines an "executive course" in favor of a marquee 18).
Is this a big deal for those on a Myrtle Beach golf vacation? It depends. The prices are high enough around here that the golfer can at least be justified in expecting a more complete round instead of one thrown together by a starter.
Sandpiper Bay is, at its longest, 6,849 yards from the tips, a decent length for most mid-handicappers. But that's playing a combination of the Piper/Bay nines. Piper/Sand barely reaches over 6,500. A Bay/Sand combo comes in around 6,600 yards.
The differences between these 18-hole combinations is a shame because, overall, Sandpiper Bay has some very good holes.
Take No. 8 on the Bay nine: A 397-yard par-4 (from the middle backs) that demands a nearly 250-yard carry over a vast expanse of low shrub just to reach a narrow landing area, where a 150-yard approach to a narrow green guarded on the right by water awaits.
Or No. 3 on the Sand nine, a 354-yard par 4 that, while not long, commands a tee shot carry over water to a narrow landing area where, if hit right, the golfer will find only 60-yards to the green.
Overall, Sandpiper will not punish golfers off the tee. There are a lot of holes where the golfer can feel confident taking driver, and the tall stands of pine that line many holes means that errant tee shots are never hard to recover from.
Greens do not have much undulation to them, and fairways, while not totally lacking movement, are mostly flat (though a favorite design feature of architect Dan Maples is the well-positioned, shallow fairway bunker).
But there is plenty of water at Sandpiper. Nineteen of its 27 holes have water at least present, if not always in play. There are at least seven forced carries over water across the whole course.
Conditioning was a factor on a recent visit. The steady, and at times heavy, rain that fell throughout the round did not hide the fact that the course was seriously beaten up in places, notably its fairways. Not a few wore brown swaths, and several greens - Piper's No. 8 the best example - looked overcome with splotchy, dead patches.
That rain, though, was the first the area had had in months.
Sandpiper Bay is one of the most-played golf courses in the Myrtle Beach area, Head Professional Richard Kascsak says. Sandpiper sees nearly 75,000 rounds a year and the Grand Strand's average is around 45,000, according to Kascsak.
That can be seen as an explanation for the parts of the course in poor condition (along with drought). But a course demanding more than $100 for greens fees (in this case $103) should be able to work through these realities and provide golfers with a well-conditioned product from start to finish, not matter what.
That's where Sandpiper fails.
Still, there is much to admire on this track, and the nine holes on the Bay course are particularly enjoyable, with every hole bringing water, to some degree, into play. The par 3s throughout the 27 holes do not give any freebies, even from the middle back tees: There's nothing under 150-yards.
Sandpiper is not a destination golf course on Myrtle Beach, but it's not a bad off-day play, especially if you can link a Bay/Piper combo for 18 - the Sand nine is unremarkable.
October 30, 2007
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
Referred to by its hosts as a "hidden gem," the greens alone at Sterling Hills Golf Club in Camarillo, Calif. make this a stone worth turning over. Located an hour northwest of L.A., it's a pleasing, quiet and generally engaging round that will appease players of all levels.
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