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Grand first impressions: One golf trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina leaves you hungry for more

Jason Scott DeeganBy Jason Scott Deegan,
Senior Staff Writer
The Dunes Golf & Beach Club - hole 12
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The par-3 12th is part of the three-hole Alligator Alley at The Dunes Golf & Beach Club. (Jason Scott Deegan/TravelGolf)

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- It took a while -- I've been reviewing golf courses and resorts since 1999 -- but I finally made my first trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C.

I've heard and read a lot about the Grand Strand, so I tried to visit with an open mind.

Myrtle Beach reminded me of a cross between the Wisconsin Dells and Daytona Beach. Wisconsin Dells has a maddening main drag similar to Myrtle Beach, a road packed with miniature golf, tourist attractions (like Ripley's Aquarium of Myrtle Beach and Alligator Alley) and restaurants with neon signs screaming "Pick me. Pick me!" Both cities market themselves as affordable family destinations built around water (The Dells features endless indoor water parks and Myrtle Beach has the Atlantic Ocean). The obvious comparison to Daytona comes from the high-rise hotels and condo towers that tend to crowd the beach in both places.

Unfortunately, my first impression of "The Beach" was a bit skewed. The golf was as good as I expected. The dining, especially the seafood at the Aspen Grill and Mr. Fish, was even better than anticipated. Yet the trip lacked the one component that makes Myrtle Beach so great -- sharing the experience with some buddies.

Myrtle Beach is made for golf groups

The lifeblood of the Grand Strand, a stretch of more than 90 miles from Pawleys Island, S.C., to southern North Carolina, remains attracting golf groups, both big and small.

The overabundance of courses, restaurants and bars (as well as, shall we say, adult entertainment) feeds golfers endless choices after their rounds. All the variety helps recruit groups back year after year. The leaders of these invading golf armies can return to courses or restaurants they love and replace the others with new options. Camaraderie is as big a part of a Myrtle Beach golf trip as birdies and bogeys.

I flew solo this time, sampling a handful of the best courses in each section of the Grand Strand: north, central and south. I wouldn't recommend anybody doing what I did, driving everywhere to chase down certain restaurants and courses. It's best to pick a home base and add courses conveniently close to your itinerary.

Top plays: Caledonia and True Blue

I kept an aggressive golf schedule, eight courses in six days, to soak it all in. My favorite places were (like everybody else) the Caledonia Golf & Fish Club and True Blue, the two Mike Strantz courses in Pawleys Island. They're so different -- Caledonia with five par 3s on limited land and True Blue with five par 5s on a massive site -- yet so equally special. I normally fall for the more scenic place -- that would be Caledonia -- but True Blue was more fun to play. My favorite hole had to be either the marshy 18th at Caledonia or the watery par-5 13th along Lake Singleton at The Dunes Golf and Beach Club, the second-oldest course in Myrtle Beach and a former senior tour and U.S. Women's Open site.

Barefoot Resort

I crashed wearily my first four nights at the North Tower of Barefoot Resort in North Myrtle Beach. My sprawling three-bedroom unit would have been perfect for up to six people. There was a dining room for playing cards, a kitchen for a quick meal and enough bathrooms. It was conveniently located next to the pool, Docksider's Bar and Grill at the marina and just a short shuttle ride from the resort's two clubhouses and four courses. My perfect day at Barefoot began by playing the Tom Fazio Course and Greg Norman Course and eating at Greg Norman's Australian Grille at Barefoot Landing.

My final two nights were spent at the Anderson Ocean Club and Spa, a high rise on Ocean Boulevard on the beach. This place was more luxurious, with valet parking, a spa and much better mattress (a key to any good trip, if you ask me). My one- bedroom place still offered a nice-sized kitchen and living area. The balcony on the 17th floor served up great sunrises over the ocean each morning. I assume that golf couples would enjoy Anderson Ocean Club and Spa more than rowdy groups.

The consistent themes through my golf extravaganza were how tough the courses played and how great the weather was.

Sun was my daily playing partner, except for one slightly gray afternoon. Another morning produced a frost delay, but in general, the air warmed up quickly every morning. It hovered between 65 and 70 degrees all week. Considering how affordable rates are right now in the off-season, December seems like an especially ripe time to pick off tee times at pricier, high-caliber courses such as Caledonia, True Blue, The Dunes Club and those at Barefoot Resort. These tracks can cost twice as much in April.

As for my unusually high scores, True Blue, The Dunes Club and Leopard's Chase Golf Links at Ocean Ridge Plantation in Sunset Beach, N.C., rank as three of the toughest courses in the region. And with Myrtle Beach at sea level, yardages tend to require an extra club -- a bit of local knowledge I didn't get until the tail end of my stay. I lost a ton of balls in an endless array of lakes, ponds, streams, marshes, swamps and rivers.

Speaking of water, I guess my biggest disappointment was the lack of ocean views from the courses. You catch a glimpse of the Atlantic from the ninth green at The Dunes Club, but that's about it. I did enjoy the holes on the Intracoastal Waterway on the Norman Course at Barefoot, especially the par-3 10th hole. There are other courses on the waterway -- Glen Dornoch, Tidewater Golf Club and Pawleys Plantation Golf & Country Club -- that I'm told offer more of this scenery. Maybe I'll catch them next time.

Tasting a small sample of Myrtle Beach has just made me hungry for more. I'll be back, I promise.

More photos

True Blue golf course - hole 4Caledonia Golf & Fish Club - hole 10

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.

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