PAWLEYS ISLAND, S.C. -- Located just south of Myrtle Beach, the Caledonia Golf & Fish Club is a work of art, both in design and execution, laid upon a parcel with a rich history, Deep South accents and visual cues of its life as a hunting and fishing lodge. In short, this place exudes, from every pore, personality.
Caledonia was designed by, literally, an artist. Mike Strantz first sketched out the course hole by hole, then brought each work of art to life in exacting detail. It was his first golf course, the beginning of a career of nine courses, primarily in the Carolinas.
What you'll never forget about Caledonia Golf & Fish Club, if one can parse the list to only three elements, are: the duck decoys that serve as tee markers, the Spanish-moss-shrouded live oaks that form a tunnel all the way to the clubhouse, and the perfectly manicured grounds. Not only the golf course but every shrub, every flower petal, every stairway of tabby, brick or railroad tie are precisely designed and maintained.
The golf course sets itself apart with creativity enhanced by excellent grooming, from lush tifeagle Bermuda fairways to champion Bermuda greens that slope and turn and drop and rise. Any putt longer than a few feet turns into a roller coaster ride. And it could be a long ride at that, with a few greens tipping the scales at 50 yards.
Driving to the Caledonia Golf & Fish Club clubhouse entails traveling under a tunnel of Spanish-moss draped live oaks, a passage barely wide enough for two vehicles to pass.
After a right turn, one sees on the left the acres on which rice once grew and ahead a glimpse of the antebellum-style clubhouse, massive wooden doors at its entrance.
There aren't many courses built on land that just a few generations ago was South Carolina's largest rice plantation operated by the same family from the 1700s to 1940. The Caledonia Plantation, using an ancient Roman term for Scotland, once consisted of 2,500 acres stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Waccamaw River.
Over the years, that estate shrank to just 152 acres. The current owners bought it in 1971 and used the land as a hunting and fishing club dotted with lodges. But in the early 1990s, they decided to build a golf course while maintaining the influence of outdoorsmen, thus, Caledonia Golf & Fish Club. Really, they should add "Garden Club," too.
"It's manicured no matter what the season. From the entrance to the 18th green, it's just perfect" said three-year member Brook Heider of nearby Murrel's Inlet.
Head Professional Marc Guertin explained that Caledonia Golf & Fish Club employs a staff dedicated only to making the golf course pretty.
"There is always something in bloom," he said. "Right now, we have impatiens and crepe myrtles. In April, I think we have as many azaela blooms as Augusta."
Caledonia Golf & Fish Club is more than pretty, though. It offers 18 unique holes, none boring, not one mundane.
It's a par-70 golf course, adding an extra par 3 on the front and missing a par 5 on the back.
It still warrants a 140 slope rating from the tips that measure 6,526 yards. There are three other tees available, each marked by a pair of duck decoys at each tee station, from the pintails at the back, to the mallard, the wood duck and the redhead up front.
Caledonia starts with a gentle par 4 with a broad fairway flanked by bunkers. It's an offset green, a common occurrence on the course. The green is sizable and sets the tone for the rest of the round. It's fast, firm and undulating. That's where you'll score well or often.
"There is a lot of risk-reward," said Daniel Knight, a 7-handicap player from Murrel's Inlet. "It's not very long, but it can be tough off the tee.
"Caledonia has one of the best finishing holes in Myrtle Beach. It has that feel of Augusta National, as far away as Myrtle Beach."
Caledonia Golf & Fish Club's 18th hole is a par 4 that requires a launch over a sizable pond in front of the green. More on that hole in a minute.
Brook Heider expounded: "The greens are always firm and fast, and the course is always in excellent condition."
Common features are deep bunkers lined with turf eaves, huge waste bunkers, some with islands of turf floating within them, and meandering fairways that require angled approaches to enormous greens. It includes a few blind shots to greens if approached on the wrong side and a few "gotcha" bunkers, tiny little pits awaiting unsuspecting shots just a little off course.
Notice, if you will, the variety of vegetation plunked atop turf oases in vast seas of sand on the par-3 17th hole that ranged from marsh grasses to pappas grass to one plot that looked like a cornfield.
Note, also, the massive live oak front right of No. 7 that blocks out the green that rests about 10 feet below the tree. Whether trying to hit over or under that oak, the suspense of whether you pulled it off will prompt you to rush over the rise to see where the ball ended up.
No matter what tees you play, glance over at the catwalk arched over a pond, leading long hitters to the back tees on No. 14.
Finally, one finishing touch on the 18th is the grand brick stairway that leads down to the front tees. It's rare that the front tees of any course enjoy such impressive infrastructure.
There are many more sights that will stay with you, from the greenery-filled gully leading to the par-3 No. 11 to the daunting approach to the 18th green, with water between you and it and the row of ring-side spectators in rocking chairs on the porch of the clubhouse.
Since Caledonia Golf & Fish Club opened in 1994, it has made Golf Magazine's "Top 100 You Can Play" and been named one of "America's 100 Greatest Public Courses" by Golf Digest. Furthermore, Golfweek continues to name Caledonia as one of "America's 100 Best Modern Courses."
Without a doubt, Caledonia Golf & Fish Club is one of the most elaborately, intensely landscaped golf courses anywhere.
Its horticultural endeavors will surprise and delight you throughout your round. As for the golf, one can't take anything for granted because each hole is different. Some rely on sand to keep you on your toes, others water. Some greens are wide, others deep. But they’re fast, so try to put that ball near the pin.
It's a warm, inviting golf course, from the clubhouse to the riotous blooms awaiting you on every hole.
July 12, 2010