Friendly, efficient staffers greeted us as we arrived, as befits a premier Grand Strand course. Impressively, the beverage-cart girl met us on the first hole, although she didn't return until No. 13. Then again, this potent layout gives you a better buzz than any cocktail can.
PACE OF PLAY
We teed off at 9 a.m. in late August and breezed around in slightly over four hours. Multiple water holes produced minor holdups, but the personable course marshals kept play moving. That said, rounds likely take longer in prime time, given the difficulty of the hazard-filled track.
While Mike Strantz's brilliant design has been softened over the years, it remains one of the best in Myrtle. Holes are so interesting and varied that our spy couldn't wait to reach the next tee. The greens and fairways were smooth and well-kept throughout the entire 18.
You'll pay a premium fee for a premium course. Our man shelled out about $100, the off-season rate at this high-end track. A few quibbles here and there (no divot mix in the plastic bottles) are forgivable. The scenery, variety and overall challenge made True Blue worth every penny.
You know you had a good day on the course if your biggest complaint is that the snack shop was closed. From the late, great Strantz's sublime design to the helpful staff to the tip-top course conditions, this dramatic, watery layout remains a must play in Myrtle Beach.
Pawleys Island, S.C.; 7,126 yards, par 72; Green fees: $110-$120; 888-483-6801, truebluegolf.com
Antebellum oak trees line the entrance to Caledonia Golf and Fish Club.
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.
Jeff Ritter, Stuart Johnson, Mark Phillips, Kevin Bray, Jose Alea, Brian Hutcherson and Luke Simpson.
(Photos: Caledonia Golf and Fish Club, Jeff Ritter, Jose Alea)
In the ever-evolving meat market that is Myrtle Beach golf, the juiciest cut is The Dunes Golf & Beach Club. Of the 100-plus courses along the Grand Strand, this 1948 Robert Trent Jones Sr. original is the only true-to-its-roots classic. When it closed for renovations this summer, the course already ranked No. 47 in Golf Magazine's Top 100 You Can Play. Now, following a sensitive retouching by Jones' son Rees, the Dunes is open again -- and better than ever.
The younger Jones stretched the tips back 185 yards, added a number of new tee boxes, rebuilt or constructed new bunkers on several holes, and widened the approaches to open up new shotmaking options. The biggest change came on the greens themselves, where the club transitioned the old bent surfaces to Champion Bermuda. That means faster, smoother conditions year-round. Fortunately, Jones left the teeth of the course largely unchanged, especially the scenic, if scary, stretch from 11 through 13, aptly named "Alligator Alley," which tangles with Singleton Lake (and its reptilian residents). The vaunted 13th, "Waterloo," now doglegs around the water at a healthy 640 yards, up from 590.
Even with the new greens and extra muscle, the Dunes' appreciation for traditional design values sets it apart from much of the Myrtle muddle. You'll still need to stay at a member hotel to access this otherwise private course, but if you're craving a classic amid the modern marvels of the Lowcountry, you gotta do the Dunes.
The late architect Mike Strantz was an artist, a bulldozer his paintbrush. At Caledonia Golf & Fish Club in the Myrtle Beach area, he created a masterpiece. He later did the same with nearby True Blue.
Short in stature at 6,526 yards, but long on challenge (140 slope), Caledonia is my favorite course on the Grand Strand, thanks to a thinking man's shot values and Lowcountry aesthetics, with holes zigzagging between live oaks and edging the Waccamaw River.
Caledonia Golf Vacations' Grand Slam Package embraces the value and variety that define Myrtle Beach. This is one great deal. Included are three nights' accommodations at either True Blue Resort on the South Strand or Barefoot Resort in North Myrtle Beach. You get four rounds of golf, one each at Caledonia and True Blue and two more from among the four superb Barefoot courses, designed respectively by Greg Norman, Davis Love, Tom Fazio and Pete Dye.
Many hail the Fazio and Dye offerings as best, but I love the Love, with its Donald Ross–inspired greens and faux antebellum ruins.
February rates start at $469, based on quadruple occupancy in villa or condominium accommodations. 866-954-8311, fishclub.com
Dear Joe, Seven of us are headed to Scottsdale in May to play all of the top courses—Troon North, TPC, Grayhawk, Boulders and We-Ko-Pa. We've got room for one more course. Any suggestions? —Ray Talley, Medford, Ore.
My hometown is chockablock with second-tier tracks that would be trophy courses most anywhere else. It's tough to pick one, so here are three. Not far from We-Ko-Pa is SunRidge Canyon ($60-$170; 480-837-5100, sunridgegolf.com) in Fountain Hills, which, after a few years of neglect, is on the mend with new ownership. This layout boasts a back nine as rugged and scenic as any in the Valley of the Sun, culminating with a final stretch of challenging holes nicknamed "The Wicked Six."
Gold Canyon's Dinosaur Mountain ($45-$189, 480-982-9090, gcgr.com) is marred by too many houses but redeemed by dramatic holes and views of the Superstition Mountains.
A half hour south of the airport is Southern Dunes ($25-$89; 480-367-8949, golfsoutherndunes.com) in Maricopa. Formerly a private men's club (members included Mark Calcavecchia and Steve Jones), this Schmidt-Curley design in a pristine desert setting has clever bunkering, sizable greens and nary a weak hole.
Dear Joe, I have a dilemma! Sixteen of us are going to Myrtle Beach, where I haven't been in 25 years. We're looking at two packages: Stay at the Legends and play all five courses (Heathland, Moorland, Parkland, Heritage and Oyster Bay), or stay at True Blue and play there, Grand Dunes, Man O' War, Caledonia and TPC Myrtle Beach. Your thoughts? —Stuart Ryan, via e-mail
This is a tough call. You've got a solid lineup of courses at the Legends (800-299-6187, legendsgolf.com). I've played and enjoyed them all. I've also downed a few pints at the resort's charming Ailsa Pub, and even practiced after-hours on its 30-acre lighted range.
Now, if your crew is more into scenery and solitude, the True Blue villas (866-954-8311, fishclub.com), down south on Pawleys Island, is a better bet; plus, the region holds its own for restaurants. However, since you haven't been on the Grand Strand since Reagan was in the White House, play Caledonia. For its marriage of thinking-man's challenge and Low-country allure, Caledonia is my must-play course in Myrtle Beach.
Hi Joe, My husband and I have been to Jamaica, the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic for golf vacations. My brother-in-law just returned from Puerto Rico and raved about it. Where does Puerto Rico rate with you compared to the others? —Sue Thompson, Bay Village, Ohio
Puerto Rico's golf scene has made huge strides in the past two years. Start with the new lodging component and stunning cliff-top design at Royal Isabela ($150-$250; 787-934-5648, royalisabela.com), which we featured last month.
Next on your list should be eco-minded Bahia Beach ($225-$275; 866-529-3996, bahiabeachpuertorico.com), recently redesigned by Robert Trent Jones II, where a superb St. Regis hotel opened in December 2010.
Jones's newest venture on the island is a sympathetic restoration of the East course at Dorado Beach ($185-$250; 787-626-1001, doradobeach.com), one of his father's true classics. Simply unforgettable are the risk/reward options and Atlantic Ocean views at the Z-shaped, par-5 4th. Lodging is lacking at Dorado right now, but a Ritz-Carlton Reserve boutique hotel is slated to debut late this year.
With a handful of other strong courses (many at bargain rates), a visit to El Yunque Rainforest, and the fine dining to be had in Old San Juan—and no passport needed—you've got a destination that's fast becoming a promised land for golf lovers.
Dear Joe, My wife and I want to get away to the Southeast this spring for a week's golf vacation, and we want to get her lessons, too. What do you recommend? —Kent Cummings, Nutley, N.J.
Come spring, I'm partial to the Sandhills of North Carolina. With golf lore at just about every inter-section, Pinehurst simply rules. The iconic Pinehurst Resort (855-235-8507, pinehurst.com) offers fine golf instruction and the chance to tangle with the newly restored No. 2.
Yet for your specific needs, I'd pick Pine Needles Resort, next door in Southern Pines (May package rates from $270 and 5-day "Golfari" instruction packages from $2,545; 800-747-7272, pineneedlesmidpines.com). With two Donald Ross courses and one of America's greatest learning programs for women, Pine Needles will get your wife's game razor-sharp in short order.
When choosing the location for the perfect buddies' golf trip, three details must always be considered:
1) Abundance of golf courses.
2) Plethora of solid restaurants.
3) Reasonable hope of favorable weather.
With these criteria in mind, my annual buddies' trip landed in Myrtle Beach, home to 102 golf courses along a stretch of the South Carolina coast known as the Grand Strand. Average high temperature in October: 77 degrees. As for food, there are so many steak and seafood spots packed along the main drag, you could easily eat surf-and-turf for a month without repeating a restaurant.
So I was off with six friends: Stuart, Bill, Mark, Jose, Kevin and Brian. Most are based in Atlanta, where I used to work, and this was our third-annual golf trip -- and second since I began working at Golf.com. Last year's trip to the World Golf Hall of Fame was going to be tough to top, but once we rolled into town and devoured a meal at Soho Cafe & Bar, which has a great atmosphere, good service, and fantastic (wait for it) steak and seafood, we liked our chances.
Golf began the next morning at Tidewater Golf Club and Plantation, and our 8:30 a.m. tee time coincided with unseasonably cold temperatures, which were hovering in the high 40s. After we attempted to warm up on the range, the starter informed us that given the heavy dew on the course, we should play "lift, clean and place." Jose stared blankly at the starter, prompting Stuart to crack, "He thinks you're talking about drinks." This seems like a good time to mention that this isn't the strongest group of golfers you're ever going to find, but each of us knows full well how to lift, clean and place a drink back in a golf cart cup-holder.
Anyway, Tidewater is a great track, and the course really peaks at the par-3 12th hole [pictured above], which plays straight out to a green that's hard against the Intracoastal Waterway, and the par-5 13th, which runs along the scenic, boat-filled channel.
But this course is not the easiest way to start a weekend on the links -- I counted six holes with water hazards, and several others had elevation changes. In fact, my buddy Brian, a novice golfer and our group's fearless leader, experienced what can only be described as a complete physical and emotional meltdown on the tee at the challenging par-5 eighth hole [photo evidence at right], which led to his teeing off with a driving iron for the remainder of the trip. More on Brian's weekend shortly.
After getting knocked around by Tidewater, our group decided to ramp up the punishment by heading to the Dye Course at swanky Barefoot Resort. Has Pete Dye ever designed an easy course? His track at Barefoot is right in line with some of his other diabolical creations (Whistling Straits, TPC at Sawgrass, PGA West), and if you play this one, bring a beach towel, because you're going to spend some time in the sand. (Then again, what would you expect from a guy whose biography is called "Bury Me in a Pot Bunker"?) My group spent so much time in the bunkers we could've paid rent.
Still, the course was immaculate. If you're going to shell out $105-$185 for a round you should expect some luxury, so in addition to smooth greens and velvet fairways, be sure to swing by the Dye's posh clubhouse and lounge. (The course is so well-kept, I could've eaten lunch off the fairways, if I had ever actually played from one.) We played the finishing hole, a 471-yard par-4 dogleg left around a pond, into the setting sun [photo at right]. No one sniffed a par. A perfect way to cap Day 1.
The next morning our group opted to book a spur-of-the-moment, confidence-repairing round at River Oaks Golf Plantation. We played nine holes with a cart for $20 a pop, and it was exactly what we needed –- fewer bunkers, zero four-putts and practically no lost balls. Good times.
One other note from River Oaks: dedicated Golf.com readers might recall that a year ago, this man-cation helped launch a contest we dubbed "Worst Golf Shot in America." My buddy Brian provided the inspiration behind the idea, and one year after he unleashed some of the most wretched swings ever seen on the Internet, here he is on the 198-yard, par-3 eighth hole on River Oaks's Otter Course. (As a reminder, Brian is now teeing off exclusively with a driving iron.)
Yes, he placed his ball on a Brush-T (as seen on TV!), and yes, he was lined up at about a 45 degree angle away from the target, but hey, progress is progress, right? Someone else will have to uncork the worst shot in America this year.
We capped our golf adventure by playing 18 of the 27 holes at Arrowhead Country Club, which is competitively priced (about $75 per round, with a replay rate of $45) and one of the best values in Myrtle Beach. Each of the three nine-hole courses is a unique test, and the two that we played, the Waterway and the Cypress, rolled neatly through wetlands and along the Intracoastal Waterway. Our beverage-cart girl Chrissy was our best of the trip, and if you couldn't tell from the photo at right, we had a pretty good time.
One last story from the course: During our round at Arrowhead, we were the last two groups on the course, and Brian, playing in the foursome in front of mine, thought it would be hilarious to turn around and hit a ball 150 yards back up the fairway at us. Naturally, he cold-shanked it, which prompted Bill to holler up at him, "Maybe you should try using a Brush-T!" It was that kind of trip.
We capped things off at one of my favorite seafood joints in town, Rockefellers Raw Bar. If you enjoy oysters and great drinks, and don't care about things like cloth napkins and fancy centerpieces, this is your place. We ate a mess of foods from the sea and laughed about the weekend. Yes, there were more Brush-T jokes. No, they are not printable on this website.
Obviously, it was a great trip, and I can't think of a better host city than Myrtle Beach. We're counting the days until our next adventure. Brian is counting the dollars to save for a new driver. We can't wait.
(Photos courtesy of Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, Jose Alea, Jeff Ritter)
Hosted by Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, the non-profit trade association that promotes golf in the area, the Golf.com World Amateur Handicap Championship practically functions as a major championship for the amateur golfer. Held the week before Labor Day, the tournament is open to all amateur golfers with a USGA handicap or a foreign equivalent. The 2009 event hosted more than 3,000 golfers from 49 states and 20 countries at 51 area courses for a week-long extravaganza. Flighted based on handicaps, players compete in four rounds with all flight winners and ties advancing to an 18-hole world championship playoff.
Ask Travelin' Joe will return to your specific questions next week. This week, I'll use my column to give you the lowdown about one legendary course on the Grand Strand. Every two weeks or so, I'll shine the spotlight on another course in the area. In all, we'll cover the top trophy courses, the best bargains and everything in between, from now through August.
This week we kick off the run-up to the 2010 Golf.com World Amateur Handicap Championship with a look at the oldest course in Myrtle Beach, Pine Lakes Country Club. The fit is perfect: In 1954, Time Inc. executives met at Pine Lakes to begin planning the national weekly sports magazine concept that became Sports Illustrated.
Until 2009, the oldest track in Myrtle Beach was better known for a magazine design than for its course design. Thanks to a multi-million dollar makeover, however, golf has retaken center stage at Pine Lakes Country Club.
Long known on the Grand Strand as "The Granddaddy," Pine Lakes debuted in 1927 as the nine-hole Ocean Forest Hotel and Country Club. St. Andrews, Scotland native Robert White, the first president of the PGA of America, claimed design credit, but in truth, the lavish facilities were the better draw. After a 20-month restoration and expansion, the clubhouse now shines with its original grandeur. Intact and enhanced is the Snug Pub, where in 1954, a group of Time, Inc. editors met to plan and design the magazine that became Sports Illustrated.
As for the golf, Pine Lakes reopened in March 2009 and it has never looked better. Architect Craig Schreiner retained most of White's original 9 as the current back nine, eliminated several blind water hazards, recontoured the terrain to provide more shotmaking interest, added length, lakes and several sandy waste areas and planted the layout in lush Seashore Paspalum grass. With its smallish greens and par of 70, the result is a throwback design that harkens back to Golden Age classics. So while they no longer serve mimosas and chowder at the tee of the pond-guarded, 155-yard, par-3 11th (formerly No. 7), there's no question that this Granddaddy is cackling with new vigor.
I took a trip to Myrtle Beach recently, to play the very tasty Dye course at
Barefoot resort. The recession is showing: Tee sheet largely blank. But the
course remains in primo condition.
On the flight out of Myrtle, I sat next to a guy who'd played the Love
course at Barefoot, where I'd also played. His round was interrupted
when he got bit on the left leg by a rattlesnake on the par-5 eighth.
He killed the snake with his five iron, decapitated it, and brought it
to the hospital with him. He said the swing that killed the snake was
one of his best of the week.
Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, which represents 76 golf courses, is launching three golf schools Monday, June 8, aimed at helping families bring down their handicaps together. The schools -- the Hugh Royer Champions Golf Academy, Classic Golf Swing School, and Grande Dunes Golf Academy -- offer various programs and packages.
Children age 16 and under can play free on 46 Grand Strand Courses when accompanied by a paying adult. Other courses offer substantial discounts for junior play.
"We want Moms and Dads to bring the entire family to Myrtle Beach where everyone can enjoy golf,’’ says Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday president Bill Golden. "This year we want to help families improve their games and their golf vacation to be filled with memories they’ll cherish for a lifetime.’’
Hi Joe, My foursome will be in Myrtle Beach in mid-June and we'd like to play five days -- 36 holes per day. We're thinking the Legends Moorland and Heathland courses, Barefoot Resort's Love and Dye courses, and Tiger's Eye/Leopard's Chase. What others do you recommend? Tom Karalis Tulsa, Okla.
Dear Joe, I'm traveling to Louisville in early June. I'm a 9-ish handicapper looking for a well groomed, challenging, reasonably priced course. I have all day to play, so I don't mind extra travel time -- anything inside an hour. Alex Nosevich Framingham, Mass.
Our traveling correspondent has been where you're going. Heading out of town on vacation? Business trip? Travelin' Joe can suggest the best places for you to tee it up. If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at email@example.com.