When it comes to my golf-crazed friends, there’s one fall tradition that surpasses frost, foliage and even football.
For the past several autumns, I’ve met up with the same group of guys for a weekend of golf, drinks and good times. Last month, we convened in Myrtle Beach for our fifth edition. Astute readers may remember that this rollicking affair [past editions found here, here and here] once produced what this website boldly dubbed “The Worst Golf Shot in America.” This group is capable of making history at any moment.
As time has passed, our annual trips have slowly grown shorter as family and career obligations intercede. Most of us are now in our mid-30s, and life looks a lot different than it did five years ago. Thanks to an office meeting and flight snafu, I wasn’t able to join the band in Myrtle until Saturday morning, when less than 36 holes remained in the trip. A few guys had to blow out of town that night. One guy bailed on the trip at the last minute, leaving us with an awkward seven-man group instead of a perfect eight for foursomes. All told, the entire unit was together for a total of about 10 hours.
We made the most of it.
Recently in Golf.com’s PGA Tour Confidential, we kicked around our dream 36-hole day and, because one should never miss a chance to be sarcastic dazzle readers with dry wit, I said that a perfect 36 holes in 24 hours would be Augusta National followed by Royal Melbourne. Good luck with that. But there are more than 100 courses in the Grand Strand, and I’d put the duo of Caledonia Golf and Fish Club and True Blue Plantation up against any other pair in Myrtle Beach. That was our two-course lineup for the day.
Caledonia’s Southern charm is apparent from the moment your car tires hit the driveway -- that path is lined by antebellum oaks (pictured above) and calls to mind, of all places, Magnolia Lane at Augusta National. That’s right: wheeling into Caledonia makes me feel like I’m about to play the Masters. I consider this a good way to start a round.
Caledonia was built on a Southern rice plantation, and the immaculate course is a staple on Golf Magazine's list of Top 100 Courses You Can Play. (I mean, look at that grass on the tee box above.) I’ve been fortunate enough to hit Caledonia a few times, and after each round I come away with a new favorite hole. This time the honor goes to the par-5 eighth, and its risk-reward second shot over a pond which fronts a green that’s severely sloped from back to front. My buddy Stuart, the biggest hitter of the group, eagled it. I birdied it. Others made 8s. Holes like this are a blast, especially in match play.
The par-4 18th [shown at right] has historically eaten my lunch. A large pond runs along the right side of the narrow fairway, and it takes a precise hybrid or mid-iron to stay in play off the tee. Then you need to hit one more pure shot that flies the pond and carries all the way to the green. The putting surface slopes toward the water, so, yeah, good luck. I think my best score on this hole entering Man Weekend was a 6. Here’s my tee shot from this year’s event. Spoiler alert: it stunk.
For our second round of the day, we hopped across Kings River Road to play True Blue, Caledonia’s sister property. While Caledonia is exacting off the tee, the Blue is more open and forgiving. Massive waste bunkers line many of the fairways, and the greens were still running quick, even in late October. The opening hole is a long, dogleg-left par-5 that kicks you in the teeth right out of the gate (It’s the No. 1 handicap) but the wide fairways were a welcome sight for our group as fatigue (and, in some cases, alcohol) began affecting our swings.
On the quaint little par-4 sixth, Stuart, a lefty who regularly busts drives over 300 yards, hopped out of his cart, flipped a right-handed club on its side and ripped this shot 330. You probably had to be there to fully appreciate it, but here it is:
We staggered home from there, mixing in a few good golf shots with more drinks and unprintable insults. True Blue's home hole, with water left, trees right and the stately clubhouse dead ahead, was memorable, and a great cap to a long afternoon on the course. We finished our day with a fresh seafood dinner at the excellent Flying Fish Public Market and Grill (Slogan: “If it swims, we’ll catch it!”) and basked in the glow of another weekend that was well worth the trip.
Can't wait to tee it up again next year.
(Photos: Caledonia Golf and Fish Club, Jeff Ritter, Jose Alea)