Myrtle Beach, South Carolina:
America’s Undisputed Golf Playground

Story by: Steve Donahue
Photography provided by respective resorts and courses

All-you-can-eat buffets might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for chowhounds there’s nothing more appetizing than infinite varieties of food piled on multiple plates.


Now picture a golf destination with a near-endless variety of public-access courses from which diehard golfers can pick and choose. Welcome to Myrtle Beach, S.C. — golf’s year-round heavenly buffet.

The Grand Strand is huge, with some 100 golf courses — including the TPC Myrtle Beach (top) and The Dye Club at Barefoot Resort (below) — probably as many mini-golf venues, a million off-course activities and a billion restaurants.

“The Grand Strand,” as the area bills itself, is huge— more than an hour’s drive from the northern to southern tips, with some 100 golf courses, probably as many mini-golf venues, a million off-course activities and a billion restaurants in between. OK, maybe a trillion restaurants. Hey, if you can’t gain 20 pounds during your stay you ain’t trying.

Most of the layouts are outstanding, enough so that Golf Digest’s course-ranking panelists published a special “Myrtle’s Super 60” courses ranking in 2010. Even better, most of the region’s courses offer bargain prices while packaging green fees with lodging.

Packagers will create an itinerary keeping you off the road as much as possible by planning your rounds and accommodations in either The Grand Strand’s central-and-south or central-and-north sections, which is how Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday — the area’s marketing arm — scheduled my mid October 2013 solo trip’s itinerary. In fact, it’s the only way to ensure playing two courses a day if you visit when the days are shorter.

My first stop was the TPC Myrtle Beach, a 6,950-yard, par-72 layout located in Murrells Inlet, on The Grand Strand’s southern end. The TPC winds through towering pines, and over and around wetlands. The course debuted at No. 98 on Golf Digest’s “America’s 100 Greatest Public Golf Courses 2013-2014” ranking, and is No. 9 on the publication’s “Myrtle’s Super 60.” The greens had all been replaced, and bunkers were supposedly refurbished with new drainage and sand, over the summer, but the sand was wet, heavy and not raked. Of course, my bad for repeatedly discovering this first-hand. Welcome to The Beach, indeed.

Tee-shot placement is key on this tough track. If your drives find the wrong sides of some fairways you may have no chance to access the greens in regulation because of overhanging tree limbs, encroaching trees, etc. There are many memorable holes, perhaps none more so than the 472-yard, par-4 ninth and 538-yard 18th, where water factors heavily tee to green.

The Heritage Club, another south-end course, is part of a 600-acre golf community, Heritage Plantation, which honors the property’s centuries-old rice culture. Unsung Dan Maples designed the 7,118-yard, par-71 Heritage Club, ranked seventh on “Myrtle’s Super 60.” The course flows across the landscape’s natural contours, with stands of beautiful crepe myrtle, camellias, wild flowers, azaleas and flowering shrubs surrounding the rolling fairways and humongous, wildly tiered putting surfaces.

You’ll quickly learn the importance of being on the correct level of the giant putting surfaces, most of which feature multiple heaving tiers. Thing is, the greens rolled beautifully and at a perfect speed so wildly uphill or downhill putts seemed fun rather than impossible. The course is also a wildlife preserve, as we saw an amazing number of wildlife species, including bald eagles and countless gators sunning themselves on the water’s banks.

Strategically placed bunkers are everywhere at The Dye Club at Barefoot Resort.

ight around the corner were my next day’s courses —True Blue Plantation and Caledonia Golf & Fish Club in Pawleys Island, “Myrtle’s Super 60’s” top-rated (Caledonia) and No. 3 layouts. These two adjacent sister courses — which offer completely different experiences — were designed on plantation land by the late Mike Strantz, whose architectural style was wonderfully eclectic, to say the least.

True Blue Plantation, Strantz’s fourth signature course, opened in February 1998 next door to his award-winning Calendonia, which debuted four years earlier. The 7,126-yard, par-72 True Blue sprawls across historic True Blue Plantation, a 19th-century indigo and rice plantation, with natural, wild, huge sandy waste areas accented with native grasses and vegetation. The great thing is Strantz’s designs challenge better players but higher handicappers usually don’t have to deal with the long carries or mental anguish.

Case in point is the 158-yard, downhill 14th, which, from the back tees, requires a carry over what seems like a Sahara-sized desert to a long, narrow green running away. The rest of the tee markers are on a boomerang-shaped tee box, where the front two tee boxes offer a shot to the green unaffected by the sand, which is to the right of the target line.

You’ll also find sand-influenced holes at Caledonia Golf & Fish Club, but most holes are more classic and surrounded by stunning landscaping — including thousands of annual and semiannual flowers — giving the course an entirely different vibe than its sister track.

Caledonia — No. 27 on GOLF Magazine’s “Top 100 You Can Play” list and No. 97 on Golf Digest’s “America’s 100 Greatest Public Golf Courses 2013-2014” ranking — sits on the former site of a working southern rice plantation. Arriving at the antebellum-style clubhouse after navigating the club’s driveway lined with 150-year-old, moss-draped live oaks is an unforgettable experience.

Natural beauty and sandy waste areas are hallmarks of Barefoot Resort’s Fazio Course.

The 6,526-yard, par-70 gem’s 18 unique holes are routed around majestic oaks and meandering streams. Caledonia’s large, undulated greens are protected by ponds, streams and imposing bunkers. Caledonia’s mixture of sandy and straightforward holes are exemplified by the 118-yard ninth and 383-yard 18th holes. The ninth requires a wedge shot over a sea of sand to a putting surface that’s wide but shallow front to back. Enjoy your complimentary cup of steaming, homemade fish chowder right out of a large kettle at the turn.

We played the picturesque 18th fairly close to sunset, so the views over the old rice field abutting the entire length of the hole’s right side were incredible. A pond also fronts the green, requiring an accurate drive and an approach over the wet stuff made even more difficult by the lubricated golfers sitting in clubhouse-porch rocking chairs overlooking the green cheering or jeering the incoming shots, depending on the ball’s final resting place.

While in southern Myrtle Beach, be sure to dine and drink at the historic fishing village of Murrells Inlet’s MarshWalk, where seven casual and upscale restaurants and bars feature great dining, drink and music ranging from alternative to beach or country. Murrells Inlet is known as the “Seafood Capital of the South” for good reason. All the joints are fantastic and the views off their back porches over the inlet are spectacular.

The semi-private Dunes Golf & Beach Club, the top draw in Central Myrtle Beach, is the highest-ranked Myrtle Beach track on Golf Digest’s “America’s 100 Greatest Public Golf Courses 2013-2014” ranking, at No. 52, and is No. 2 on “Myrtle’s Super 60” list. The Club — opened in 1948 — has 750-plus members but a few tee times daily are reserved for the public.

In Summer 2013 all the greens on the 7,370-yard, par-72 Robert Trent Jones-designed course were replaced and are now firm, smooth and receptive. The 640-yard 13th hole resembles an upside-down “U,” with a large pond right of the driving area. The fairway then bends right around the pond and back up the other side to an uphill green. The second-shot decision how much, if any, of the hole you want to cut off is crucial. There’s a reason why it’s the No. 1 handicap hole.

However, I thought the 430-yard 18th — 385 yards from the next-up tee — is more difficult. You have to crush an into-the-wind drive that finds the uphill fairway, which then rolls slightly downhill to a small pond about 30 yards short of the elevated green. After a sigh of relief I was soon making the short drive to the Grande Dunes Resort Club, ranked No. 8 on “Myrtle’s Super 60.”

Caledonia’s large, undulated greens are protected by ponds, streams and imposing bunkers.

The spectacular 7,618-yard, par-72 Resort Club — Grande Dunes also has a private Members Club — is a Roger Rulewich Group-designed masterpiece. Much of the course has fantastic views of the Intracoastal Waterway, Grande Dunes Marina and the four-diamond Marina Inn at Grande Dunes resort.

We were rudely awakened with wide, subtly undulating fairways and large, rolling greens bordered by water and wetlands in some shape or manor on the entire front side. The 13th and 14th holes are a brutally tough one-two punch. The 560-yard 13th, the No. 1 handicap hole, requires a long tee shot, and either a second-shot layup or a ripped fairway wood over wide wetlands to reach the fairway short of the slightly raised green. You arrive at the next tee only to find a 220-yard par 3 requiring a shot over a vast sandy wasteland to a wide, but shallow front to back raised putting surface. Oh, and the Intracoastal Waterway — which comes into play on seven holes — awaits on the hole’s right side.

I spent my last two days playing in North Myrtle Beach, most of it at Barefoot Resort and Golf. Thursday dawned sunny and warm, the first time since my flight arrived on Sunday that the sky wasn’t cloudy, although it had been dry with comfortable temps all week.

We ventured out to tackle The Dye Club at Barefoot Resort & Club, a 7,343-yard, par-72 beast that is filled with sandy pits of despair, watery graves, waving fescue and other hazardous obstacles waiting to gobble errant shots. The visually stunning course — No. 14 on “Myrtle’s Super 60” and the only semi-private layout among Barefoot’s four tracks — is a blast, even if you find the right-hand Dye-abolical bunkers with regularity. I found two right-side fairway bunkers on the 581-yard fifth and three on the right side of the 344-yard 10th, with water running down the hole’s entire left side. Regardless, the Dye Club is outstanding and fun to play.

Barefoot’s Love Course, which shares a large clubhouse with Barefoot’s Fazio and Norman courses, is just around the corner from the Dye Club clubhouse. Davis Love III’s 7,047-yard, par-72 beauty features generous, wide-open landing areas and green complexes that feed errant shots into collection areas, much like Pinehurst’s historic No. 2 course. The Love course — No. 16 on “Myrtle’s Super 60” — also utilizes an old plantation home’s recreated ruins along hole Nos. 3 through 7.

I enjoyed the 294-yard, uphill fourth, whose green is backed by those recreated ruins and flanked on the left by an ivy-covered brick wall. I thought the toughest hole was the 450-yard seventh, where your drive better find the right-side fairway or else your playing for bogey.

Tidewater Golf Club & Plantation’s diabolical 189-yard 12th hole is a beauty and a beast.

Tidewater Golf Club & Plantation — site of my final morning’s round back under cloudy skies after the one-day sunshine reprieve — is ranked No. 4 on “Myrtle’s Super 60” for good reason.

Architect Ken Tomlinson’s 7,044-yard, par-72 gem delivers a stunning, challenging course that utilizes the terrain’s natural contours and blends in with its natural surroundings, a major feat considering the number of homes lining the course and that some of the green-to-tee journeys on the lengthy, twisting cart paths take so long to navigate I once caught myself looking for an exit with a Cracker Barrel restaurant.

The course — whose subtle elevation changes are uncommon in coastal South Carolina — is flanked on the east by a lovely saltwater marsh while an Atlantic Ocean inlet and the Intracoastal Waterway abut several holes on the north and west. Even the distant high-rise hotels, condos and timeshares can’t ruin the view.

Tidewater’s 430-yard slightly downhill fourth, the No. 1 handicap hole, is a brute. It takes a solid drive and long iron/hybrid to clear the left green-front bunker, a deep, yawning pit of despair guarding the raised putting surface. Take more club than you think on the approach.

Another favorite was the 189-yard 12th, which features an all-carry tee shot over the saltwater marsh to a putting surface that diabolically tilts downhill from back left to front right. One way to avoid the green’s severe sloping on a birdie or par putt is to hit your tee shot to two inches behind the hole as did a guy in the following group.

The grand finale of my Magical Myrtle Tour was Barefoot’s Fazio course. Arrive early and enjoy one of the juiciest cheeseburgers you’ll ever inhale at the outdoor snack shack adjacent to the bag drop. Tom Fazio’s 6,834-yard, par-71 layout — ranked No. 12 on “Myrtle’s Super 60” — is just as juicy.

True Blue Plantation, a 19th-century indigo and rice plantation, with natural, wild, huge sandy waste areas accented with native grasses and vegetation.

Fazio routed the course through and around extensive forests of live oaks and pines, sand, natural areas and native grasses. The waste areas and formal bunkering are strategically situated to create optimum challenge and visual effect. Water is visible on all but three holes, but many of the lakes are out of play to ensure playability for all golfers. Natural elevation changes create drama.

The 499-yard fifth would be a heckuva par 5 if it wasn’t already a dastardly par 4. This hole has everything — water right and bunkers lurking at every corner of the winding fairway, including one pit smack in front of the green. My trip concluded with us racing darkness while following two groups who plumb-bobbed four-inch putts the entire round. Fortunately we finished all 18 holes before darkness fell — barely — but not before something strange happened as we reached the final tee.

It began raining.

Perhaps it was fitting the week’s first drop of rain waited until my 180th and final hole, at sunset on Friday night, when Mother Nature let it pour, then abruptly stopped the rain as we putted out.

Oh well, nothing’s perfect, but I discovered what millions already have — Myrtle Beach is as close to perfect as a golf destination can be.

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Steve Donahue is a veteran freelance writer and editor who has played nearly 900 golf courses in all 50 states and 10 countries. He is based in Watertown, Conn. He can be reached at steve.donahuecomm@gmail.com. 


FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday
3901 North Kings Highway, #22-B
Myrtle Beach, SC 29577
800-845-4653
www.golfholiday.com

Barefoot Resort & Club (Love)
4980 Barefoot Resort Bridge Road
North Myrtle Beach, SC 29582
888-250-1793/843-390-3200
www.barefootgolf.com

Barefoot Resort & Club (Fazio)
4980 Barefoot Resort Bridge Road
North Myrtle Beach, SC 29582
888-250-1793/843-390-3200
www.barefootgolf.com

Caledonia Golf & Fish Club
369 Caledona Drive
Pawleys Island, SC 29585
800-483-6800/843-237-3675
www.fishclub.com

Dunes Golf & Beach Club
9000 North Ocean Boulevard
Myrtle Beach, SC 29572
866-386-3722/843-449-5914
www.thedunesclub.net

Grande Dunes Resort Club (Resort)
8700 Golf Village Lane
Myrtle Beach, SC 29579
888-886-8877
www.grandedunesgolf.com

Patricia Grand Resort Hotel
2710 North Ocean Boulevard
Myrtle Beach, SC 29577
800-923-9014
www.patriciagrandonline.com

The Dye Club at Barefoot Resort & Club
2600 Pete Dye Drive
North Myrtle Beach, SC 29582
866-708-6817/843-399-7238
www.dyeclub.com

The Heritage Club
478 Heritage Drive
Pawleys Island, SC 29585
800-552-2660/843-237-3424
www.legendsgolf.com

Tidewater Golf Club & Plantation
1400 Tidewater Drive
North Myrtle Beach, SC 29582
800-446-5363/843-913-2424
www.tidewatergolf.com

TPC Myrtle Beach
1199 TPC Boulevard
Murrells Inlet, SC 29576
888-742-8721
www.tpcmyrtlebeach.com

True Blue Plantation
900 Blue Stem Drive
Pawleys Island, SC 29585
888-483-6801/843-235-0900
www.truebluegolf.com