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High-five: Quality golf on the north end of the Myrtle Beach Grand Strand that won't break the bank

Ian GuerinBy Ian Guerin,
The Pearl golf course in Calabash, N.C.
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Located in Calabash, N.C., The Pearl is among the top golf bargains on the North Strand. (Courtesy of The Pearl G.C.)

NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- Playing lush golf courses is nice. But let's be honest, not everyone can afford $150 for a round.

On the northern end of the Myrtle Beach Grand Strand, there are plenty of options that offer a great round of golf and won't break the bank. Here are five highly affordable North Strand golf courses ...

The Pearl West and East courses (Calabash, N.C.)

Market forces have brought the cost of a pair of former Golf Digest four-star courses down considerably.

The economic downturn forced prices at the Pearl East and Pearl West courses to drop. Being surrounded by a number of courses involved in multi-play package providers dropped the prices even more.

The Pearl, an independent club, is also doing what it can to keep players coming back. And that means consistently dropping rates.

"To stay competitive with my neighbors, I have to stay at what they're at," General Manager Michael Borton said. "Our tee sheets aren't slammed. We're still wide open. And in my opinion, we've got the best layout in the area."

The Pearl East is considered more traditional; the West is a patterned links course. The latter is complete with marshland stemming from the Calabash River.

Both are landscaped through forest, meaning trees are apparent throughout.

It's not exactly clear how long prices for The Pearl courses will stay low. But for the price, players in the area are silly not to take advantage of it.

"We hope the days are near where people are slamming on the doors," Borton said. "That's not the way it is right now."

Azalea Sands Golf Club (North Myrtle Beach, S.C.)

As a lifelong Myrtle Beach resident, Craig Kenley knew all about Azalea Sands Golf Club long before he took over as head professional.

Now, Kenley and the rest of the members of the Signature Golf Group, who recently took over management of the property, are looking to build on the course's solid reputation, especially for the price.

"The high-end golf guy will not play here," Kenley said. "But the average golfer will come out and love it. It's an affordable place to play golf."

Outside of a favorable price tag, Azalea Sands offers something many courses in the area can't -- a lack of housing units surrounding its holes. The player-friendly course has not been overrun by homes and condos.

Combined with a renovation project that started in the fall of 2009 (when Signature Golf Group took over), and the course is being fully promoted again.

"We've put in a lot of time and effort to change the perception of the course," Kenley said.

The par-72 course is routinely playable in less than four hours, and many are surprised to see that number fall closer to the three-hour mark.

"It's not going to beat you up. If you shoot 85 back home, you're going to shoot 85 out here," Kenley said. "We definitely fill a niche for the people who come to Myrtle Beach."

Carolina Shores Golf & C.C. (Calabash, N.C.)

There's a stigma associated with super cheap golf.

And Carolina Shores Golf & Country Club deals with that more than most.

The course, located just across the North Carolina border, offers rounds for as low as $18. And for just a buck a hole, the biggest problem Carolina Shores has is convincing people that low cost doesn't mean low quality.

"It's in great shape," General Manager Phil Bureau said. "We have a very strong membership -- members who have been here for more than 20 years -- who say that the course has never been in better shape."

Much of that can be attributed to new maintenance routines, different profiles on the seeding process and removing some bunkers.

The par-72 course is designed for the average golfer; those playing from the tips usually look for higher-end layouts.

Those middle-of-the-road players, however, are not only showing up, but they're also coming back.

"The value is exceptional," Bureau said. "We're getting a lot of people who come in on vacation, play us on a Monday, and then they come back and play us again because of the condition."

Eagle Nest Golf Club (North Myrtle Beach, S.C.)

A new staff, some new greens and a commitment to customer service are ushering Eagle Nest Golf Club back into the middle tier of pricing along the Grand Strand.

But when it comes to cost, the course is making sure to take its time.

"Back in the '70s, starting every year we would go up $2," Head Professional Francis Cooper said. "We hit the peak, and then the bottom fell out. It turned into War of the Worlds back here."

With so many courses, Eagle Nest and its local owner, Dick Elliott, had to find something else to keep people coming back. That meant dropping the price considerably.

The cost went down, and only now -- at a rate of about $5 each year -- is the course starting to bump the rates back up.

With plenty of repeat business, they recently redid every green on the par-72, 18-hole layout. Eagle Nest went with MiniVerde Bermuda on the greens, adding a truer dimension to putting.

That's not the only attraction.

Promoting itself as a "nature's course," Eagle Nest visitors will get a chance to see something you don't see at many golf courses -- wildlife that extends beyond the typical squirrels and Canadian geese. Those interested can spend their round witnessing scores of local birds and flower varieties.

And, it all comes with a relatively cheap price tag.

"We're headed in the right direction," Cooper said. "So hopefully everything keeps getting better."

Oyster Bay Golf Links (Sunset Beach, N.C.)

Simple economics spurred a drop in price at Oyster Bay Golf Links.

"Our owners do not like empty tee sheets," Assistant Professional Brian Altena said. "They like to keep things full. They'll do whatever they can to fill them up."

The course gets the majority of its business as part of the prime package season rates. The Legends Golf group's popular "Five-For-Four" plan offers a boost.

But outside of that, Oyster Bay relies heavily on walk-in traffic to keep it going. That's where a golfer can hit the jackpot, especially out of season.

The picturesque course is complete with native white and black oyster shells on most of the holes. There's also plenty of wildlife, with birds and reptiles.

"It feels like animal planet out there with all the alligators and the egrets and everything else that's out there," Altena said.

The course plays anywhere from 4,700 yards from the ladies tees to 6,700 yards from the tips. From either, players are going to get plenty of variety.

Oyster Bay's signature finishing holes will leave players with some great memories. Golfers finish the round with two island-green par 3s, a water-laden par-4 16th and a par-4 18th where thick marsh acts as a potentially aggravating hazard.

And all that is packaged cheap enough for those last-second reservations or walk-ins.

More photos

Azalea Sands golf course - 7th holeOyster Bay Golf Links - 17th hole

Ian Guerin is a freelance writer and DJ living in Myrtle Beach, S.C. He's decent with the driver and putter; it's everything else in the bag that gives him trouble. Follow Ian on Twitter at @iguerin.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Comment

    Doug McCann wrote on: Jul 26, 2011

    Unfortunately, the Pearl was a disappointment the last time we played. Not anywhere near the same league as Oyster Bay.
    Just my two cents...