Being such a major hub for golf in North America, Myrtle Beach (aka The Grand Strand) has been dubbed “the place where America goes to golf.” As true as that may be, it’s also the place where Canadians go to golf.
Easily accessible by road or air through its newly minted International Airport smack dab in the middle of the action, and with 60,000 accommodation units lining turquoise waters, you have a prime cut, grade A vacation destination (speaking of grade A, there’s plenty of surf and turf for the discerning pallet).
The Grand Strand is home to more than 100 golf courses spread out among three regions: North Myrtle Beach, Central Myrtle Beach and South Myrtle Beach. Each is home to various must play courses, but don’t rack your brain over which courses to play — multiple visits are needed to see them all.
We’re embarrassed to admit that we’d never been to Myrtle Beach. We’ve had friends of over 20 years who make the trip on an annual basis, but for one reason or another the dates never aligned with our schedules.
We finally had enough of missing out and made the trip on our own.
Most of the things you’ll read or have read about Myrtle Beach will inevitably be about the great value it provides as a golf destination and it’s all true. But we’re not going to talk about value as it often overshadows the quality of golf in Myrtle Beach — and there is plenty of high quality golf.
We scheduled a whopping 10 rounds in 7 days (we also made a quick day trip to Kiawah Island which we’ll save for another post). Considering it was late winter, and that we hadn’t touched a club since the fall, we don’t know what we were thinking. But it’s Myrtle Beach, right?
A 15 hour drive and good night’s sleep later our first stop was an under the radar gem.
OUR HIDDEN GEM
One of our passions in life is seeking out golf courses few have heard of but everyone should know. After reading through hundreds of posts on various golf forums Prestwick seemed to fit the bill. A Pete Dye and son (P.B. Dye) design in South Myrtle Beach, the course is chalk full of typical Dye attributes: railroad ties, pot bunkers, lakes, dramatic land forms and undulating greens.
Open to the public but with a country club feel, we quickly realized this wasn’t going to be the most ideal warm up after 6 months of what can be described as complete hibernation. Host to U.S. Open qualifiers and Mid-Amateur Championships, this wasn’t an easy first round. But if we were looking for easy we wouldn’t have scheduled 10 rounds in 7 days. We weren’t there for a warm up and it was go big or go home at that point.
Those who know Dye know Dye doesn’t take his foot off the pedal. And at Prestwick, there’s no deviating from the plan. After moving over 1.3 million cubic yards of earth, the course is a beautiful introduction to low country golf lined by pine trees and sandy waste areas. Creeks, lakes, dramatic contouring and bulkhead greens are everywhere and the course is sculpted into the landscape like only a Dye could manage to do.
The irony of Prestwick as it pertains to these winter chiseled escapees wasn’t lost. We were aware of the plethora of nail-biting, risk/reward opportunities presented throughout the round, just begging us to bite off more than we can chew. But by now you know risk is the only word in our vocabularies when it comes to such situations.
And that’s what makes Prestwick so much fun. Its manicured fairways challenge you and ask you to be precise with every shot. When you don’t pull it off it can wreak havoc with your score, but when you do, you’ll feel like David taking down Goliath.
OUR 36 HOLE DAY
We might very well be the late Mike Strantz’s biggest fan. To this point, we’d played all of his golf courses except for The Shore Course at Monterey Peninsula, Caledonia Golf and Fish Club and True Blue. So we were excited to be knocking two courses off my Strantz list in one day.
Caledonia and True Blue are just 5 minutes away from one another, but they could be worlds apart and we wouldn’t have known the difference. Whereas Caledonia has a rustic, parkland, low country feel, True Blue is more wasteland and features bigger undulations. Mike Strantz had a unique eye for creativity and this allowed him to create two very different experiences right next door to one another.
Our day started at 9 a.m. at Caledonia. The drive up the entrance-way lined with live oaks was a preview of what was to come. Colours chalk full of life with exquisite landscaping and blooming azaleas were everywhere. Tranquil lakes and streams work their way throughout the property and are crossed by various wooden and stone bridges. Caledonia felt like a setting straight out of the movies and was bursting at the seams with low country charm.
Some have compared Caledonia to Augusta National. It was near to Masters week when we visited and heading home after our round to watch Masters previews on television made us feel like we came straight from Amen Corner. We can’t imagine a much better setting to represent what South Carolina golf is all about than Caledonia.
True Blue is like Caledonia on steroids. Undulations are bigger and the unique elements present at both courses are exaggerated here. You’ll find width, waste areas, bunkers flowing into various lakes and even an island green at the 3rd hole. Green settings are tucked into varied and enticing enclaves and each presents a unique set of challenges.
Measuring over 7,100 yards True Blue is the tougher of the two courses, but it’s also very forgiving if you pick the right tees. Strantz was able to make many shots appear more difficult than they really are, and that is one of his best traits if you ask us.
Though it’s been said many times before, the Caledonia/True Blue twosome are a stellar combo and must plays if in the area. Our personal preference is towards True Blue, mainly because of our love for risk taking in golf course architecture, but picking between these two is like picking between a golf ball numbered 2 or 7 — both will be a great ball.
WHERE THERE IS TIDE THERE IS WATER
Take this as a metaphor or take it as us talking about laundry detergent. Tidewater came very highly recommended to us and were we ever glad we made the 45 minute drive north of our base to play. More than any other course Tidewater was exactly the type of layout we expected to find when visiting Myrtle Beach.
Routed through pristine forests along the Intercoastal Waterway, it was also the best conditioned course on our trip and featured beautiful, flowing undulations to keep you on your feet.
The greens — recently redone — are varied and devilish. You can find yourself with large breaking putts in various places and being on the proper section of the green is critical, especially with them being so quick.
Nine holes at Tidewater play along the waterway or Cherry Grove Inlet offering beautiful views of the saltwater tidal marshes and the Atlantic Ocean. These holes contrast nicely with the more parkland holes cut through forests.
Having already mentioned the work done on the greens, we were told tree work has been done as well and, to our eyes, they’ve done a great job. Hole corridors were perfectly framed without any interference in play and holes through the trees felt just as wide as the holes along the open marshes.
LEGEND OF LEGENDS
We didn’t have enough time to play all the courses in Myrtle Beach so we had to make some tough decisions. When it came to our final round we couldn’t pass on the opportunity to play an early Tom Doak design (of Pacific Dunes, Streamsong fame) called Heathlands at Legends Resort.
Famous for its high value golf packages, Legends Resort also has a reputation for being the place to be if you want to golf all day, every day. In addition to the 3 courses located on the resort property (Heathland, Parkland, Moorland) it also features Oyster Bay and Heritage Club about a 20 minute drive away and a palatial practice range golfing guests can use as they please.
Though it has lost a bit of its luster Heahtland was the biggest surprise of our visit to the area. The flow of the layout is almost flawless and the entire course fits perfectly with its surroundings. This is quite a feat when you consider the property was originally a flat piece of land with little interest.
The shaping here is great. Fairways and greens flow flawlessly into one another, bunkers are natural in appearance and add strategic merit with preferred angles of play and varied greens provide numerous options for recovery. Often, when courses bill themselves as a “links” or “heathlands,” they tend to disappoint, but the contrary is true here with a distinctively beautiful heathlands feel throughout.
As busy as the Legends Resort complex can be conditions were all around very good. Near wall-to-wall fairway adds plenty of width to make every shot interesting, balls sit up nicely and greens roll surprisingly smooth.
We were only able to play one round at the Legends Resort, but that one round already has us planning a return visit.
FROM SNOW TO SAND
Our time in Myrtle Beach came to an end quicker than anticipated and we were back in Toronto in a flash. Thinking back, the whole trip seemed much too short. We’ve already made plans to return in the fall in order to experience some of the courses we didn’t have an opportunity to play this time around, but also, to get back to some of our new favourites from this trip.
To sum up, here are some of our overall recommendations:
• Try to play courses within a single area — it makes things a lot less stressful.
• Try one of the famous seafood buffets — our personal favourite is Crabby Mike’s in Surfside Beach.
• A side trip to Huntington State Park — well worth the effort and the best beach on the entire strand.
• For dining and nightlife — Murrells Inlet and Marsh Walk for South Myrtle Beach; Broadway On The Beach for Myrtle Beach; Barefoot Landing for North Myrtle Beach.
• Bring lots of sunscreen — you might not think so at times, but the sun is strong and we were burnt after our first round.
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