Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Myrtle Beach is nothing short of a golfer’s paradise. Few destinations boast the quality and variety of courses in such a compact area as this South Carolina destination. Its first course was built in 1927 but the second didn’t follow until 1948. Now there are more than 100 within a short drive of the city. Seven are ranked in America’s Top 100 Public Courses and more than 50 are deemed four-star – yet many green fees are reasonable. Whether you want the opulence of an American country club, the relaxed atmosphere and value of a public course or a combination of the two and everything in between, it’s all here. There are seaside layouts that jut into the Intracoastal Waterway, target-golf resort courses with alligator-packed lakes and tree-lined tracks to pick from.
It’s a fun and action-packed city away from the course too. The Grand Strand is over 60 miles of incredible beaches and there are more great bars and restaurants than you could visit in a lifetime. You can try any watersport you want, watch the Pelicans baseball team and motor racing at the Speedway Track and get an adrenaline rush at one of three water parks. All in all, Myrtle Beach is an incredible destination for a golf holiday, whether with your mates or a family-friendly escape.
This place is exactly what springs to mind when you think of golf in Myrtle Beach. The 7,044-yard course (although we recommend playing it off shorter tees) is bordered on either side by expansive wetlands that are rich in wildlife, with an array of incredible birds and the odd alligator lurking in the reeds. It’s the type of target golf you expect from an American resort, but that doesn’t mean it’s straightforward and boring. Far from it. The fairways are wide, but you need to be in the right part of it to give yourself the best angles into the greens and you’ll reap the benefit from moving the ball through the air on most tee shots.
Marshland is replaced by pines just off the fairways on the inland holes but it all ties together seamlessly and the distinct characteristics of the inland and waterside holes feel natural and refreshing. Large white bunkers are well positioned to frame the holes and gather errant shots. It’s when you get a view of the greens that the challenge really begins here. The putting surfaces are extremely undulating so you need to find the same level or section as the pin with your approach shots and you definitely don’t want to leave yourself above the hole. Often, this will be made easier by a more aggressive or risky tee shot that is well executed.
That’s the beauty of this design. There are many ways to play the course to suit your ability. Mid and higher handicapper can aim for the large sections of the fairway and the middle of the greens to get the ball safely round and post a solid score, while lower handicappers will be rewarded for taking on and executing more difficult shots. The greens are a lot of fun to putt on and you quickly realise how much of a difference ‘grain’ makes in this part of the world. It took a good few holes to get used to hitting it harder into the grain and allowing more break when the ball was turning ‘down grain’ – and vice versa.
Tidewater delivers exactly what you want and expect from American golf. There’s plenty of water, it’s in excellent condition and the design allows higher and lower handicappers to equally enjoy the experience. And in true American tradition, it’s buggy golf all the way as it’s an incredibly long walk. But you’ll definitely enjoy the ride.
As you drive towards the Dunes Club it’s very obvious it is something a bit different. The second oldest club in Myrtle Beach – it opened in 1948 – is set in one of the older parts of town. The modern condos and villas are replaced by expansive and traditional wooden houses that look like something you’d see on a plantation. Entering the club itself feels like a step back in time. The whitewash clubhouse embodies the same spirit of the surrounding houses and the walls are adorned with old pictures and relics. This is a club that’s clearly proud of its history and status.
And rightly so. This is American country club golf at its best. Most importantly, the course is an absolute gem. The best compliment that can be paid is that it almost feels like you’re playing Augusta. The tee boxes, fairways and greens are beautifully manicured, many holes are flanked by imposing pines, recovery shots are played off ‘pine straw’ and out of bright white bunkers, quaint water features glisten in the sunlight, the Azaleas are in full bloom and even the flags are yellow.
Robert Trent Jones has tweaked his original layout over the years and his son Rees oversaw the most recent alterations in 2013. The strain of Bermuda grass on the greens was changed, 250 yards were added to the Championship tees and the practice facilities were improved. “The golf course my father, Robert Trent Jones, created for the Dunes Club in 1948 is one of his true masterpieces,” says Rees. “It’s a championship course designed on ideal land for golf; sandy, rolling terrain along the ocean with magnificent trees framing the fairways. It has been one of the highlights of my career to have thee opportunity to restore and enhance the original design intent. The course is now positioned for play by today’s golfers.”
He’s right. It’s a superb course that offers challenge and enjoyment in just the right balance, and playing it lives long in the memory. The par-5 13th is a particular treat. This 545-yard hole bends left-to-right around a large lake with tall pines flanking the left side of the hole. The closer you hit it to the water on the right off the tee, the shorter your carry over it with your second shot to lay up or attack the green is. And then there’s the wildlife. If you play at the right time of day, some of the biggest alligators you’ll ever see will be basking on the water’s edge. This is risk-and-reward golf in every sense – and we loved it! This was the first hole we recounted every time we were asked about our experience in Myrtle Beach. Any golf trip to the area should have a round at The Dunes on the itinerary – even if you have to stretch the budget a little. We promise you won’t regret it.
This expansive development was built to offer the best golf holiday destination on the East Coast of America – and no expense has been spared. There are four courses that are each designed by, and named after, a quartet of the most well-respected architects around; Greg Norman, Davis Love III, Tom Fazio and Pete Dye. Each course has its own style and they’ve all received individual recognition. You could easily spend your entire holiday playing here, with hotel and villa accommodation available on site.
Resorts with multiple courses often have a number one layout, but it’s virtually impossible to pick a standout here because they’re all very good. Ranking the four is down to personal preference, but the unique character of each course means you will have a favourite.
Seven holes on the Norman course run along the Intracoastal Waterway, with fairways that run right up to the sand and open green complexes that offer stunning vistas across the water. It has an incredibly natural feel and the design encompasses Norman’s philosophy of allowing bump-and-run shots into the greens. This will probably feel like the most natural transition for European golfers.
Carolina native Love incorporates the recreated ruins of an old plantation home into his traditional layout. The wide open fairways make it extremely playable but greens inspired by Pinehurst No.2 provide a challenge for better golfers so anyone can enjoy their round. This is the one for you if you want to shoot a good score or can be a little wild off the tee. The Fazio Course is more tree-lined than the others, with natural oaks and pines coming into play. There is quite a bit of elevation change, which is unusual for this part of the world, and water can been seen on 15 holes, although it’s not always in play. A mixture of waste areas and deep bunkering frame the holes as well as providing hazards to be avoided.
Dye’s layout borders the natural white sands of the Carolina Bays and is the longest and probably the most challenging of the quartet. It’s beautiful, but there are many pitfalls to punish errant shots such as upturned saucer greens with mown run-off areas and heavy bunkering. However, there are chances to score with some shorter par 4s and temptingly reachable par 5s. The purists will appreciate the intricacy of the design.
Grande Dunes (Resort)
This club takes the interesting approach of having a private course called the Members Club and a public course called the Resort Club. We played the Resort and it’s the perfect example of the quality you can experience for a very reasonable fee in Myrtle Beach. Since it opened in 2001, the Roger Rulewich Group design has been accumulating awards and fans. In 2001, it was named a ‘Top 10 You Can Play’ course by Golf Magazine and it was recognized as the ‘National Golf Course of the Year’ by the National Golf Course Owners Association of America in 2012. The locals love it too and it’s consistently voted into the ‘Best of the Beach.’
It’s one of the highest courses in the area geographically and seven holes run along a bluff that looks down on the Intracoastal Waterway. The tight, dry turf and natural rolling terrain hark back to the game’s original links beginnings from a visual perspective, but the Bermuda grass fairways and bentgrass greens are very different to anything in the UK. It may look like a links in places, but you definitely play this course through the air. It’s also one of the longest on the East Coast and stretches to 7,618 yards off the tips. Fortunately, there are multiple tee options that take it down to a far more playable 6,737 yards or 6,272 yards. Water is visible from virtually every hole and comes into play on 13. But the fairways are pretty generous so it’s not too taxing off the tee.
The real test comes in your approach play. Five of your shots into greens are carries over water, including three of the four par 3s. The 189-yard 14th is arguably the most spectacular hole on the course. The Intracoastal waterway runs all the way down the right below you and a gorge separates the elevated tee from an impossibly narrow-looking green that runs diagonally away from you from left-to-right. There’s usually a healthy breeze to factor into the equation as well. Take your three – a few pictures – and run!
While the par 3s may be intimidating, the long holes offer a real scoring opportunity. All four par 5s measure between 512 and 536 yards so they’re reachable with two good shots. Play it off the appropriate tees and you can’t fail to enjoy your round.
KEY TRAVEL INFORMATION
Where to stay
You’re spoilt for choice as all the courses are within easy reach of any hotel in the city, although you might want to pinpoint your location near a specific course or based on your preference for being inland or on the seafront. Every budget is handsomely catered for. For luxury, we recommend Inlet Sports Lodge (www.inletsportslodge.com), Mar Vista Grande (www.marvistagrande.com), Marina Inn at Grande Dunes (www.marinainnatgrandedunes.com) and North Beach Plantation (www.northbeachrentals.com). In the mid-price bracket there’s Anderson Ocean Club (www.oceanaresorts.com/anderson), Caribbean Resort (www.caribbeanresort.com) and Island Vista (www.islandvista.com). If you’re looking for value, you should consider Beach Cove (www.beachcove.com), Caravelle Resort (www.thecaravelle.com), Compass Cove (www.compasscove.com) and Long Bay Resort (www.longbayresort.com).
Where to eat
Again, you’re spoilt for choice but there are a few highlights that are well worth pencilling in to your itinerary. On the North Strand you have Greg Norman’s Australian Grille (gregnormansaustraliangrille.com), the Aspen Grille (www.aspen-grille.com) and Sea Captain’s House (www.seacaptains.com) on the Mid Strand, and Wahoo’s Fish House (www.wahoosfishhouse.com) on the South Strand.
When to go
It’s mild enough to play in the winter but isn’t unbearably hot in summer and there’s usually a nice sea breeze as well. Most people visit March-May and October but June-September are great if you enjoy average temperatures up to 31° and quieter courses. Green fees are a lot cheaper in winter and you’d be very unlucky to be rained off.
How to get there
You can get a connecting flight to Myrtle Beach International from the American airline hubs such as Philadelphia, Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, New York, and Washington.