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.
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Waterway Hills did not sustain any damage. At Grande Dunes, the Members Club saw minimal damage to the berm that separates sections of the course from Highway 31.
Barefoot Resort had to close its Fazio course because three access bridges were damaged. The Love and Fazio courses have been combined to one 19-hole course -- 15 holes from the Love course, plus four holes from the Fazio course. The course will only be open for members until the bridges are repaired. The Dye and Norman courses remain open.
All 18 holes on the Love course will be open no later than June 1. The Fazio course is expected to open shortly after.
Dear Joe, My dad and I are headed to Philadelphia in late October for a football game. We're driving, so it's easy to lug the sticks. Weather permitting, we're itching to play. What courses do you recommend? Ollie Patrick Fair Lawn, N.J.
It's worth the splurge to play the Golf Course at Glen Mills (610-558-2142, glenmillsgolf.com; $65-$95). Proceeds at this feel-good Bobby Weed design go to the Glen Mills Schools, the oldest existing residential facility for troubled youths in the U.S. There's nothing wayward about this old school, 6,636-yard, par 71 layout, which seamlessly blends open and forested holes, artfully crafted bunkering and memorable elevation changes.
Hi Joe, We're traveling with another couple to Myrtle Beach in November. My girlfriend and I would like to play once or twice with the guys, but they're low-handicap golfers and we just play for fun. Can you suggest any scenic courses that would work for all of us? Abby Kay Auburn, N.Y.
Wachesaw East (843-357-5252, wachesaweast.com; $71) in Murrells Inlet held four LPGA events from 1997-2000. Even with hazards galore, this well-wooded former rice plantation is fair and fun for lads and lasses of every ability.
Dear Joe, I'm headed to Phoenix this fall. What's the best bargain you've got for me? Eric Eglin Miami, Fla.
Until Phoenix's primo muni, Papago Park, reopens in December, your best bet for bargains is to head back to school-and enroll at the ASU Karsten Course (480-921-8070, asukarsten.com; $60-$70) in Tempe. Located practically on the campus of Arizona State University, this is the course where Phil Mickelson and Paul Casey honed their skills. The heavily mounded, 7,057-yard, par-72 layout is schizophrenically scenic -- to the west is strong, with views of mountains and Sun Devil Stadium, to the east, uh, not so good -- with roads and power grids. In any direction, it's a rugged test, especially the ninth and 18th, a pair of side-by-side nasty, watery par-4s.
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.