Worldgolf Travel

Talk About Great Golf in Myrtle Beach
by Tim O'Connor

"I don't get it," he sniffed from behind the wheel as we pulled out of the conference parking lot and barreled down four- lane Highway 17, the lifeline of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

"This place is tacky. Nothing but fast-food outlets, T-shirt shops and firecracker joints. Why didn't we go to some all-inclusive place where everyone's in one spot that's really nice with a decent golf course," asked the driver, an American magazine publisher whose gold chains and diamond ring suggested he's enjoyed a fair degree of success.

"Is this your first visit to Myrtle Beach?" I inquired.

"Uh-huh," he grunted.

"Well, yeah, it is a bit strange if you've never been here before. But you have to understand what Myrtle Beach is about. It's probably the best value in golf. That's the whole thing right there. People come here to golf their brains out on the cheap. You stay at one hotel, but play a bunch of different courses. You can get five or six nights with golf included from about $250 to $400, which is pretty good."

"Yeah, but it's not exactly what I'd call a beautiful place to visit. Nothing but concrete, asphalt and neon."

"Golfers don't care what Myrtle Beach looks like. You know Washington Road outside Augusta National? It's a gaudy, fast-food alley. And the Masters seems to do OK. Same deal here. You roar down Highway 17, make a turn and all of a sudden you're at a nice golf course. Voila. Palm trees and green grass."

"So how many courses do they have?"

"You won't believe it. Eighty-six."

"Eighty-six? Are you kidding?"

"Nope. And 83 of 'em are public. There's only three private courses in the whole Grand Strand. That's what they call this 60- mile stretch down the coast, but Canadians just call the whole thing Myrtle Beach. The boom in golf here has been wild. By 1968, there was only 16 courses. Then about 30 were built in the '70s, and about 30 more in the '80s. But since 1990 -- in less than five years -- 24 courses have been built."

"Wow! That is wild. Hey, why do you know so much about Myrtle Beach? Who are you? Mr. Myrtle Beach? Where's your polyester plaid pants?"

"Hey, I'm writing an article about it. I've done my homework."

"A lot of Canadians come to Myrtle Beach?"

"Oh yeah. For a lot of guys Myrtle Beach is like golf mecca and they make an annual pilgrimage. Especially in the spring when we're just champing at the bit to hit a golf ball off green grass. It's a long haul -- about a 20-hour drive from Toronto and Montreal. But it's not bad if you got four guys and everyone takes a turn behind the wheel. You can make it in one marathon drive, arrive in the morning and tee it up right away. And a lot more women are coming down all the time."

"Why don't people fly?"

"Well, some do, but flying from Toronto or Montreal usually means you have to hop-scotch, stopping in New York, Pittsburgh or some place, again in Raleigh-Durham or Atlanta and then catching a puddle-jumper to Myrtle. But there's some charters now with direct flights."

"Speaking of bad food, all I see here are Shoneys and Stuff 'n' Puff Seafood Buffet-O-Rama. Are there any halfway decent places to eat?"

"Oh yeah. The Sea Captain's House is nice. The Collectors Cafe is excellent. The most famous restaurant is the Old Pro's Table. They got a whack of golf memorabilia there. You've got to check it out. Gosh, I sound like an FM radio food critic."

"So, Mr. Myrtle Beach, what are some of the better courses?"

"The Dunes Club is the most famous course. It's where they hold the Senior Tour Championship, the season-ender for the geezers."

"What's so special about the Dunes?"

"A lot of people -- even other architects -- think it's the best course by Robert Trent Jones. He built it in 1949 so it's one of his earlier courses. Every hole is different at the Dunes. It's on a gorgeous piece of property, with lots of rolling fairways, giant palms and ponds with alligators."

"Gators?"

"Yeah. You look for them before you look for a ball in the water. There's lots of room to bust it off the tee on the Dunes, but the greens are big and tough."

"Doesn't the Dunes have that wild one that bends all way around the water?"

"No. 13. Waterloo. It's an L-shaped par five. The fairway makes a severe right turn around a lake and then runs uphill to a green with a couple of killer swales cutting through it. You have to hit your drive fairly close to the water down the right side or you'll face about a 200-yard carry over the lake."

"You probably know the slope doncha?"

"One-Three-Eight."

"You're getting on my nerves."

"Hey, you asked. By the way, you can only get on the Dunes if you stay at a few of the fancier hotels or condos."

"What's another nice old course?"

"The Surf Club. It's a classic George Cobb course. The Surf Club goes through really tall pines and with a lot of severe doglegs and a there's a fair bit of water. It got run down for a while, but they renovated it and rebuilt the greens a few years ago and it's back in great shape. Litchfield is another nice '60s- era course by William Byrd."

"I read they renovated one of Myrtlewood courses. There's two there, right?"

"Yeah, Arthur Hills redesigned the PineHills Course. Like courses here, there's a ton of water and a lot of doglegs. The Palmetto course is fun. It gives you a little more room."

"I heard one guy who's played here a lot say there's a lot of courses where it seems like every other hole's a dogleg."

"Yeah, there's a quite few like that. You have to do your homework before coming down. There's a number of older courses that were pretty uninspired to begin with. They gave Myrtle Beach a reputation as a low-rent golf holiday, but in the last 10 years or so a bunch of high-class courses have opened."

"Like Tidewater?"

"Exactly. That's a great track. Tidewater and the Dunes are the two must-play courses down here."

"The way you pull these facts out of the air is really annoying."

"Thank you. Ken Tomlinson, the owner, designed it. Tidewater's got some inland holes that curve through these giant pine forests. But it's not tight like a lot of courses down here. And about half the holes follow the edge of marshland and the Intercoastal Waterway. Beautiful. It's a dramatic modern course with a plenty of elevation changes and bold bunkers."

"Omigawd. The Golf Channel is broadcasting from my car."

"Should I get a perm and lower my voice an octave?"

"Spare me."

"Heather Glen is another fairly new course and it's pretty fab. It's a linksy style course with a nod to Glen Eagles and St. Andrews. William Byrd designed it too."

"The Legends also has Scottish feel too, right?"

"Yeah. The Legends is almost as big as Scotland too. There's three 18-hole courses and they're all good. The Heathland is by Tom Doak, Larry Young did the Parkland and P.B. Dye, one of Pete's sons, did the Moorland."

"Wild Wing is a monster too?"

"Yup. Four courses. I played the Falcon and it's amazing what Rees Jones can do with a bulldozer on flat land. On the Falcon, you play through giant mounds and around a lot of water. Larry Nelson did the Avocet and it's terrific. I didn't play the Hummingbird or the Wood Stork courses, but both are by Byrd and a lot people rave about the Hummingbird."

"Don't they have those electronic caddie things on the carts at Wild Wing?"

"Sure do. A little screen on your cart tells you how far you have to greens and hazards such as bunkers and water. Saves walking off yardages. It even gives you tips on how to play certain holes and warns you about OB. A lot of people think it's a stupid gimmick, but most people are playing these courses for the first time and these things really speed up play."

"Any Nicklaus courses in Myrtle Beach?"

"Two. He worked Pawley's Plantation into a sensitive marshy area. It's pretty tough like most Nicklaus courses. Like the Dunes you have to stay at one of the more upscale hotels to get on it. Jack also did Long Bay, which has got a ton of mounding to define the fairways and these humungous waste areas. Almost the entire fairway of the 10th is surrounded by one gi-normous waste bunker."

"What about Gary Player or Palmer?"

"Player did Blackmoor which is carved out of thick trees, while Palmer consulted on the three Myrtle Beach National Courses. All of them are good."

"Gee Mr. Myrtle Beach, you doth prattle on. Were you one of those guys on the math team in high school who set up the projector for the teacher and always smelled like vegetable soup."

"Ah, no."

"All right. Here's a test. What courses has Dan Maples done here?"

"He's down a ton of courses around Myrtle Beach, and most of them are really nice. The Witch is the one everyone goes ga-ga over. It winds through all these marshes and wetlands. You can lose a fair number of balls, but it's a beauty. He also did the Pearl, Oyster Bay and Marsh Harbour, which are all '80s courses that Myrtle Beach veterans swear by."

"Oh brother, you're obnoxious. You're starting to really sell me on the place. But my head's starting to spin and we're almost at your hotel. What are some other good courses?"

"Well, the Heritage Club is very nice. Has a lot of oak trees, marshes and a plantation clubhouse that looks like the home of some southern baron. The Caledonia Golf and Fish Club -- love that name, eh? -- is only a couple of years old, but it's defined by a lot of huge old oak trees. Mike Strantz designed it. He was an assistant to Tom Fazio so you know he's something."

"And so are you Mr. Myrtle Beach. I bet now you're going to tell me the average temperatures."

"Sure, in April, which is high season, the mean temperature is 20 Celsius or 69 Fahrenheit "

"OK, that's enough."

"... and in October it's 22 or ..."

"I said ENOUGH! GET OUT!"

"Don't you want to know the toll-free 800 number for getting the Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday vacation planner?"

"NO!"

"No? OK. Well, thanks a lot for the lift, and I hope you now have a little better understanding of Myrtle Beach."

"Yes I certainly do."

"Thanks again. Oh, and one more thing."

"What?"

"It's 1-800-845-4653."

"AHHHHHHH!!!!!"


The sound of screeching tires fades, giving way to the ocean surf pounding the beach in Myrtle Beach.

Courtesy Score Magazine.

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