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Best of Myrtle Beach golf: You can still find some hidden gems

By Randall Ingles,
Thistle Golf Club
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Designer Tim Cate molded Thistle Golf Club around the natural landscape of the coastal region. (Courtesy of Thistle G.C.)

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. - Planning your golf vacation can be as stressful as a downhill putt for birdie with a $500 Nassau on the line.

When researching Myrtle Beach golf trips, golfers typically turn to magazines, travel guides and Web sites for guidance on which of the 100 Myrtle Beach golf courses to play.

Instead of getting second-hand opinions of what Grand Strand courses to book, do yourself a favor and make friends with a Myrtle Beach resident during your next visit. Local golfers can be your best source for finding the courses off the beaten path that have super fast greens, choice tee times and won't make your foursome crawl through painful six-hour rounds.

Ask a local where he's teeing it up next Saturday, and chances are you'll hear one of the following three hidden Myrtle Beach golf gems: Thistle Golf Club, Shaftesbury Glen Golf and Fish Club or The International Club.

Playing a round at the Thistle Golf Club is a trip back in time to where the game of golf began with natural elevation changes, wetlands area, carefully carved bunkers, wind-swept fairways and large bentgrass greens that the members of the 1815 Thistle Golf Club might have battled.

Designer Tim Cate molded Thistle around the natural landscape of the coastal region. Located just over the South Carolina-North Carolina border in Calabash, the 27-hole facility features Bermuda fairways and bentgrass greens.

"One of the reasons that Thistle is a local favorite is our commitment to service," said Gene Weldon, the Thistle captain. "We schedule 12 minutes between tee times instead of the more common eight minutes to ensure that golfers are not hurried or pushed by the foursome behind them. Thistle is also known on the beach for being in the great shape and we'd stack our course conditions up against any other course on the Grand Strand."

The next hidden gem, Shaftesbury Glen Golf and Fish Club can be found just west of Myrtle Beach in Conway, S.C. This course was designed by Clyde Johnston and his classic architectural design style is reminiscent of Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y.

Opened in 2001, Shaftesbury Glen was modeled after typical English parkland courses and features elevated A-1 bentgrass greens, white sand bunkers and wide Bermuda fairways. The course has four sets of tees with the distances ranging from 6,934 yards from the back tees to 4,976 from the most forward tees.

The International Club is an 18-hole facility tucked away in Murrells Inlet, just minutes south of Myrtle Beach. Opened in 2000, the International Club was designed by Willard Byrd, who kept the area's native forests and vegetation as a backdrop for his course. Not only does the International Club feature a great quantity of pine trees but many of the holes are surrounded by wetlands areas and the underground streams keep the water hazards and lakes crystal clear.

The International Club's huge TifEagle Bermuda greens are among the fastest on the Grand Strand. With five sets of tees, golfers can match their skill level to the appropriate yardage. Golf carts are equipped with a GPS system that provides yardages to the front, center and back of the green from anywhere on the course.

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Shaftesbury Glen Golf & Fish Club in Conway - BunkersThe International Club golf course
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