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Myrtle Beach's Pawleys Plantation Golf and Country Club comes close to perfection

Tim McDonaldBy Tim McDonald,
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The back nine at Pawleys Plantation golf course has great marsh views. (Tim McDonald/GolfPublisher.com)

Pawleys Plantation makes most lists of the top-10 golf courses in Myrtle Beach for a reason. This Jack Nicklaus design is one of the finest golf courses on the Grand Strand, combining classic, lowcountry views with excellent golf.

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. - When you ask the people at Pawleys Plantation Golf and Country Club what changes they've made lately, their answer is simple.

Not much.

Oh, they've made a few tweaks here and there, rebuilt some tee boxes, re-worked some bunkers, but they've largely left this excellent Jack Nicklaus-designed track alone and untouched, other than working constantly and subtly to reach their idea of perfection.

Which is fine with most of the people who play it, and then come back and play it again and again.

The golf course, which is close to achieving "venerable" status since it opened in 1988, is a classic example of how great architects can carve great golf courses out of the lowcountry, at least the back nine, which incorporates marsh and wetlands into both hazard and aesthetic almost like art, while the front nine is a more traditional layout.

It's also a good example of how to build a course that both low handicappers and hackers alike can enjoy without getting whupped up on.

"It's a demanding and dual-personality course," said Mel Sole, director of instruction at the on site Phil Ritson-Mel Sole Golf School. "It's a combination of parkland and lowcountry."

The low handicappers can get their kicks from the back tees at a little more than 7,000 yards with its knee-knocking slope rating of 146, one of the highest along the entire Grand Strand.

Oddly enough though, those low handicappers, for the most part, must scale back their game to score well here.

"All my low scores here came when I played conservative golf," Sole said. "I hit a lot of 2- and 3-irons off the tee. In fact, I really only use driver on numbers one and four. You need to sacrifice distance for accuracy."

As for the hacker, take comfort in the fact this is a Nicklaus course, and from the blue or white tees, very playable. Nicklaus is a big fan of giving golfers optional routes to the green, which in a practical sense means wide fairways and generous landing areas.

The fairways at Pawleys aren't as wide and forgiving as many of Nicklaus' later courses, but there is room for the most part if you don't get greedy with the big stick. Being long here, as Sole said, isn't a major priority, particularly from either of the middle tees.

Also, Nicklaus - who was criticized early in his career for designing courses for himself - installed as many doglegs left as right, so you slicers will get your shot. That being said, most of the holes manage to maintain personality while being pretty straightforward. There isn't a dud among the 18, only some that are better than others.

Pawleys remains one of the more difficult courses along the Grand Strand, particularly the par-3s, which are probably the most scenic and fun golf holes in the Myrtle Beach area. If your knees buckle at the idea of hitting over water, bring your knee braces to this laid-back island.

You may have already heard about No. 17, the near-island green with the long, skinny tee box stuck way out there in the marsh. It's the classic love it or hate it hole, split about evenly. Mostly, it depends on whom you ask and if they're pulling out their putter or searching for the drop zone.

The trouble on the rest of the course comes in the form of water hazards, including a few carries off the tee, trees in fairways, long bunkers with sand so white it looks bleached and greens that have as much slope and undulation as you want to deal with.

Then there is the rough. It's only about an inch and a half or two inches, but it's Bermuda and it clutches at your golf ball like a hooker at a Shriner convention.

According to Director of Golf Jason Epstein, they've worked hard at fine-tuning the rough, striking a balance between being penal yet playable. You won't lose your golf ball in this stuff, but you don't want to be in it, trust me. Remember what Sole said about stowing the driver?

"We've really worked hard at finding that fine line," Epstein said.

Pawleys Plantation: The Verdict

Pawleys Plantation makes most people's list whenever the top-10 Grand Strand rankings come out.

It's in excellent shape at a time when many other courses are suffering from the effects of a hard summer. Both Sole and Epstein single out Superintendent David Eure, who worked at the Myrtle Beach TPC before arriving at the plantation about a year ago.

The fairways, greens and tee boxes are all in top shape, and the greens roll relatively fast and very true. More importantly, they are consistent.

The course combines scenery and challenge as much and/or better than any course in the area.

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Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

 
Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Pawley's Plantation

    Elliot wrote on: Nov 5, 2008

    Nice review. I agree, the 17th is a beauty and one of the more satifying pars I made during my trips to Myrtle Beach. The entire back nine is terrific in terms of layout and is extremely scenic looking over the marsh lands.
    Overall the entire place is nice. My only beef, if you can call it a beef, is that too many fairways on the front nine are bordered by condos. If this was a secluded track with no housing on it, Pawley's would be a top 5.

    Reply