LITTLE RIVER, S.C. - There are two things you'll remember about Glen Dornoch Waterway Golf Links on the north end of the Grand Strand: It's a beautiful golf course capped by a trio of holes you'll never forget, and the staff members are exceptionally nice and appear to love their jobs.
Designed by Clyde Johnston in 1996, Glen Dornoch is a Scottish-type course that manages a lot of elevation changes while fronting the Intracoastal Waterway.
"When they built the golf course, they kept the natural landscape," said Vickie Heher, the golf director at Glen Dornoch. "It's a challenging course. You definitely have to play the course, not your game. You gotta keep it straight."
Starter Wendell Booth gives you the lay of the land: what various markers mean, where the restrooms are and how quickly you should play. He's a stickler about time, checking the pace with every foursome that makes the turn.
"They made it in 2:03," he says as a couple of carts go past. "Since we want a four-and-a-half-hour round, nothing wrong with that."
Also, in the interest of time and avoiding frustration, Booth tells players, "Unless you're a legitimate single-digit handicap, please just play the whites." Heed his advice.
There is a yardage book in each cart, but paper doesn't do justice of what's ahead: marsh carries, trees plopped in the middle of fairways, scores of deep sand or turf bunkers -- some you discover much too late -- and on No. 17, a "Close Encounters"-type mesa pockmarked with cavernous railroad-tie-lined bunkers.
Read that last paragraph again. That's why this golf course rates 73.2 with a 145 slope from the 6,890-yard tips and 69.8/129 from the 5,002-yard reds.
The creativity on the course is amazing and builds as you go. You might notice on the third hole, which is a short dogleg left with regular bunkers at the corner, the twin bunkers lined with railroad ties about 50 yards from the green.
Glen Dornoch's par-5 fifth is a hop-and-a-skip exercise to clear the marsh on your second shot and again for the approach. One comes to the green at an angle from the right side, over a wall of gnarly bunkers. If you don't angle in enough, you'll land in muck farther right or hit a footbridge.
The sixth is a scrappy par 4 that requires a straight drive to position your ball for a hard right to the green. Your second shot has to clear not one, but two marsh areas and fly up to an elevated green. The good news is that Johnston did provide a run-up on the left to the green.
The eighth hole descends to sea level for a ringside seat to the Intracoastal Waterway. It includes a little optical illusion with a minefield of bunkers that start 70 yards from the hole and march left, right, left up to the green.
As much fun as the front was, the back is even more fun, with fairways that drop and rise, bunkers that front greens and waste bunkers that back them.
The par-4 15th features a huge tree in the middle of the fairway with a bunker around it. But it's the last three holes that are some of the best in golf. Surprisingly, this breathtaking work is done without resorting to a single par 5.
No. 16 requires your drive to get to -- but stop short of -- a cliff, avoiding mounds and bunkers short left and longer right. From there, you have to launch your second shot into space, taking into consideration the wind coming off the Intracoastal Waterway. Down, down, down your shot will fall toward a green with a bunker short left, far right and across the back. Farther left are trees, farther right, marsh.
But there is no time to recover. Next, the par-3 17th requires a blind shot over a large foliage-rich, branchy tree to a green with an Incan-like temple mound on the right that is pitted with massive, railroad-tie-lined bunkers. On the day I played, the pin was behind this mound, a scrap of blue flag only partially visible.
"Play often slows down on 16, 17 and 18 because people tend to just stand around and stare," Booth said. That's certainly understandable.
The closing hole is a little confusing because it's not clear which is the better course of action. Go left for a long marsh carry, but a short iron shot to the green? Or knock it short right, then hope you can launch an approach long enough to cross the marsh and get to the green? Either way, a ring of bunkers await at the green.
Geof Durring of Peterborough, Ontario, was playing in a group of 12 that spends November in Myrtle Beach, then continues south to Florida for the winter.
"It's the prettiest course I've ever played," he said. "The second shot on 16 is intimidating, and so is standing on the tee on 17."
His friend Ron Hays said, "Glen Dornoch is one of the toughest courses I've ever played." Then he got maudlin, thinking of what he left behind in the many marshes. "All the balls you lose …," he said.
There's nothing not to love about this golf course. It's interesting, challenging, then amazing. The grounds crew does a great job on the course, and the rest of the staff takes good care of you. Put this one on your short list.
December 1, 2010