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Myrtle Beach National's King's North course: Arnold Palmer's gem is much more than just The Gambler

By Josh Hoke, Contributor

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. - Challengers of the King's North course at Myrtle Beach National will find a multitude of risk-reward opportunities.

King's North course at Myrtle Beach National - hole 12
The 12th hole on the King's North course at Myrtle Beach National features a par-3 island green.
King's North course at Myrtle Beach National - hole 12King's North course at Myrtle Beach National - hole 17King's North course at Myrtle Beach National - hole 18King's North course at Myrtle Beach National - hole 4King's North course at Myrtle Beach National - hole 6King's North course at Myrtle Beach National - GamblerKing's North course at Myrtle Beach National - hole 3

That doesn't just apply to the famed sixth hole, "The Gambler," but rather much of the entire Arnold Palmer-designed layout, which has established itself as main attraction in the 54-hole Myrtle Beach National field.

With difficult pin placements often bringing greenside bunkers and water into play, the golf course makes you think carefully before every shot.

"It narrows and there isn't a lot of landing area," said Tom Lemaster, a nine handicapper from Ohio. "It's most definitely risk or reward. But I never felt like that I hit a shot where the course was unfair."

King's North at Myrtle Beach National: The course

This course is about 10 miles from the ocean and was among the first built in West Myrtle Beach, a community that parallel's U.S. 501, the main thoroughfare in and out of the tourism hotspot. Palmer played a role in the initial design in 1974, but his fingerprints are all over the 1996 redesign, said Michael Burnside, the course's head professional.

What was initially planned as an overhaul of the greens ended up being a much more significant project with almost every hole on the course undergoing a makeover, according to Burnside. The size and undulation of the greens were increased and bunkers, mounds and bulkheads were added, resulting in an entirely different challenge.

King's North at Myrtle Beach National has since won the designation of a top-100 public course several times and has been named a South Carolina Course of the Year.

"Nothing is really similar about King's North," Burnside said. "Every hole is different. It's fair off the tee. Each hole has a unique challenge, and it's memorable. There are at least two or three holes that you're going to remember. I think that's what it is all about."

Six sets of tees and ever-changing winds, which are especially prominent along the exposed lakes that are scattered throughout the course, provide a varying test for all golfers. It measures just over 7,000 yards from the tips and just over 4,800 from the shortest tees.

It's a fair test if you can avoid the pitfalls along the way. King's North requires drives over the water on half its holes and almost half of them require approach shots over water. The course's signature hole could require both depending on the route you take.

"The Gambler," was christened by singer Kenny Rogers himself in 1996 – his spike marks were cast in concrete near the tee box – to celebrate the opening of what has become one of the most famous holes of any Myrtle Beach golf course. It's unique, because it gives every golfer the ultimate chance to go for it.

An island fairway was added in the redesign that requires an 84- to 215-yard drive depending on the tee. With a landing area that's 100 yards long and 50 yards wide, it's not an overly difficult shot except that wind is a big factor along this part of the course.

By hitting the island, you will have a significantly shorter approach to the peninsula green at the par 5. Still, it's a treacherous approach with water coming into play short, left and right. It requires a long drive so that you don't leave yourself with 215-plus yards of carry on the approach.

Even those that take the safe route and avoid the island fairway altogether face a daunting challenge. Three fairway bunkers guard an even smaller driving area, and the approach shot is still over water.

"They all go to the island," Burnside said of the first timers at King's North. "They didn't come here not to. That is the water ball diver's favorite spot."

Even if your ball does end up in the water, it's still a unique test.

"I really like The Gambler," said Judy Dingman, a 28 handicapper from Canada. "You're just tempted to try it. I always try the island. It's different than anything I've played. And the island is big enough that if I hit it, I can stay on it."

It's not too difficult for anybody to stay on the medium-width fairways, which have a little more elevation change than is typical at many golf courses along these coastal plains. When you do miss, there is little to no rough, the number of trees is minimal and fairway and greenside bunkers are typically not very deep, meaning golfers of all levels shouldn't have a problem getting out with one shot.

The Crenshaw bentgrass greens are large, but Palmer helped protect them with added undulation in 1996. Plus, Burnside and Co. like to utilize pin positions that bring the undulation, bunkers and water into play.

"I had to hit the ball farther away from the [pins] that I would otherwise," said Carlos Willis, a 14 handicapper from Ohio. "I hit away from the water, take my par and go to the next hole. If you hit it in the water, you could be looking at a 7 or 8. You have to be smart."

Along with the sixth, King's North has several other memorable holes. That includes the 12th, which features a par-3 island green. The closing stretch features approach shots over water on the 16th and 17th, and the par-4 18th features 40 bunkers waiting to swallow up any errant tee shots.

King's North at Myrtle Beach National: The verdict

The King's North course at Myrtle Beach National always draws rave reviews from those that play it. King's North is a favorite of those that live in the West Myrtle Beach area. Since it boasts so many variables from tee to green, the course rarely plays the same way twice. When the wind is blowing in off the coast, it can become an extreme challenge. Yet, its wide fairways and big greens allow anybody the opportunity to play a solid round.

Facilities and instruction at Myrtle Beach National

The Myrtle Beach National complex has two putting greens, a chipping area, a practice bunker and a driving range. Lessons are available from PGA Professionals on site.

Josh HokeJosh Hoke, Contributor

Josh Hoke is a newspaper journalist currently living in one of the world's golfing meccas, Myrtle Beach, S.C. A high handicapper who plays as often as possible, he spends more time in the green-side sand than the beach-front sand. He currently covers the Div. I athletic program at Coastal Carolina University for The (Myrtle Beach) Sun News.

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