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)