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Waterway Hills in Myrtle Beach is a wild ride - before you tee off

Tim McDonaldBy Tim McDonald,
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Waterway Hills was designed by Robert Trent Jones. (Tim McDonald/GolfPublisher.com)

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. - If you want a great view of Myrtle Beach, forget the beachside hotels and high-rises: Play Waterway Hills Golf Club.

No simple stroll from the parking lot to the pro shop. You take a gondola from the parking lot over the waterway to the course, rising hundreds of feet in the air, with the lowcountry spread out well beneath you.

It's a little spooky at first, swaying slightly so high over the land, but it is also exhilarating.

It may be a little gimmicky, but it's fun and it's one of two distinctions of which Waterway Hills can boast. The other one is the fact the golf course was designed by Robert Trent Jones, one of only two courses on the Grand Strand that can claim that lofty an author.

Jones couldn't have envisioned what Myrtle Beach would become back in 1975, which is when the public course opened, but since it sits right off busy Highway 17, it gets a lot of play, especially with its moderate green fees, in the $55 range.

In early September, after a long, hot and dry summer, it was showing some signs of wear and tear.

"I just played Aberdeen," said Bob Capron of Stratford, Connecticut. "Aberdeen is in much better shape, and it's about the same price. This one here, a little burned out. This is mostly a course for the tourists."

That it may be, but it does have some of the classic features Jones is known for: The strategic landing areas, slightly crowned greens and classic bunkering.

In truth, the 27-hole course is not that difficult. It is short - the longest 18-hole configuration is 6,363 yards from the back tees, and the slope rating is a genial 123.

But, it does have some challenges and interesting holes. With a few exceptions, most of the holes are straight and tree-lined, requiring a degree of accuracy off the tee, and it isn't until you arrive at the greens that Jones energetically puts his imaginative powers to use in the form of water, bunkers and tricky angles.

The greens themselves are in pretty good shape at this difficult time of year, contrasting with the fairways, some of which have patchy areas.

They are mostly flat, though as mentioned, some are crowned, falling off to low, chipping areas, and some have subtle breaks.

One of the more challenging holes is No. 9 on the Lakes nine, one of the few doglegs on the layout. It's a sharp dogleg left that demands a long iron over the bunker at the corner, unless you have a powerful draw. Even then, you have to be far enough right in the fairway to avoid more trees guarding the left side of the green.

The ninth green on the Oaks course is one of the trickier ones, with a good deal of slope back to front. This is one of the holes you need to stay below the hole or you could be looking at a three-putt.

The par-5 sixth hole on the Oaks course is also a good one, a short three-shotter with two ponds that come into play. One is about 70 yards short of the green, forcing you to consider a layup, and the other is right of the green.

Waterway Hills Golf Club: The Verdict

The course advertises itself as "tranquil and serene," and oddly enough, it is, despite the fact it is pretty much in the busy, Myrtle Beach hubbub. There are no homes on or around the course and it has a nice, relaxed feel.

"It does make a difference," said Capron.

It's nicely treed with mostly pines, and little rough to speak of, though you can easily lose balls here if you're wild off the tee. There are also numerous little ponds that Jones uses adeptly as hazards.

The club has a nice driving range and attentive cart girls, but not much in the way of a restaurant, serving only hot dogs and packaged sandwiches.

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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.

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