MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- Paul and Robin Ketchum played the early bird game.
And not only did they get the worm. They got it served no questions asked.
The Cape Cod, Mass., couple, visiting the Myrtle Beach area, showed up two hours early for a recent tee time on Myrtlewood Golf Club's Palmetto Course hoping to squeeze in a round before an approaching thunderstorm. No one along the way -- from the pro shop employee to the bag-drop person responsible for setting times to the starter -- did anything but make sure it happened smoothly.
"I think that was wonderful," Paul Ketchum said. "We were hoping because the threat of the rain storm would keep some people away. I think they've had a couple of groups (at other courses), and if we didn't have a tee time then, we never would have gotten on."
That wasn't an issue at Myrtlewood. And while part of it had to do with those darkening skies, it was the course's approach to the last-second audible that impressed the Ketchums.
The course hoped all along that its consistency would carry it through a tough economic time. And that attitude is another reason the majority of golfers who play there are doing so as repeat customers.
One of the first things Robin Ketchum noticed about Palmetto was the course's focus on making it look better.
Myrtlewood could have rested on the scenery associated with the Intracoastal Waterway or mostly nicer housing surrounding the majority of fairways. Instead, she remembered the flower beds.
"There were more plantings here, the azaleas," Robin Ketchum said. "I know the guys don't look for that. But I look for that. When we chose the courses to play, I told (Paul) I would like the more picturesque courses."
Those picturesque settings were big on several holes, especially on holes such as No. 17, a par 3 over water with those azaleas as a back drop.
The way Keith Bloom sees it, Myrtlewood is sort of like a good baseball umpire in that regard. People will notice it, but they'll only really get vocal about the scenery if it's poor.
"It's not even that we hear about it because it looks nice," said Bloom, the assistant general manager at Myrtlewood G.C. "I think we would hear about something if it didn't. We try to make things esthetically pleasing. I guess it's probably for the fact that you don't want complaints about anything."
If nothing else, golfers sometimes have too much -- in terms of the game itself -- to worry about.
The solid mid-range course, originally opened in 1966 and changed over from bent grass to Bermuda grass in 2003, has a great mix of distance, accuracy, sand and water.
The wet stuff is in play on 11 of the 18 holes. The length of No. 18, for instance, is parallel to the Intracoastal, with water in play up the entire left side of the tee box, fairway and green.
The course ranges from 7,015 yards from the blue tees to 5,176 for the women's. The whites play at 6,516.
Few, if any, of the fairways could be considered especially tight, meaning golfers with a straight drive off the tee will be fine, for the most part. Even the five holes on the course that are significant doglegs can be played nearly true to the fairway.
Wherever he put his ball, Paul Ketchum said he felt he always had a fair shake at getting back on track.
"The fairways were very, very good. The greens were consistent from one to the next," the low-to-mid-20s handicapper said. "The sand in the bunkers was terrific. It was like beach sand. You rarely get that where we play. The sand on the course where we played (the previous day) was almost dirt. It was very hard."
Myrtlewood Golf Club's Palmetto Course does not include the standard half-way house option at the turn. In fact, outside of a small group of restrooms between holes 9 and 10, there's little to let golfers know they've completed the first half of their round.
In its place, the Palmetto Course includes a full-service pit stop at the midway point of each nine holes. The "Quarter House," as it is known, allows player the opportunity to grab a bite to eat off its mini grill or the same beverage options available in the clubhouse or from the readily visible drink cart.
Myrtlewood also offers full-service individual instruction, split among three teaching professionals, a large driving range, and putting and chipping greens located steps from the pro shop.
It's clear Myrtlewood Golf Club has put golfer relations at the forefront of its business plan.
It just so happens that the Palmetto Course's stability over time has stayed at the same level for nearly a decade. Whether the course is jam-packed or empty, the response from the staff is going to be nearly as consistent as the playing surface. The surprises are limited to Mother Nature.
"Our conditions for the past eight, nine years have been perfect year round," Bloom said. "Maybe they do like the fact that nothing changes. The staff -- I've been here 11 years, and my assistants have been here seven years, six years and four years. They kind of get the same faces."
And it keeps the golfers, be it the locals or the tourists, coming back.
"We could always fit this one in," Ketchum said.
April 7, 2011