SUNSET BEACH, N.C. - Thousands come to Sea Trail Golf Resort and Conference Center every year to play with Rees. Many of them, however, find that Willard is more enjoyable.
The Rees Jones course at Sea Trail is the resort's most popular course, mainly because golfers want the opportunity to play a tract designed by one of the nation's most acclaimed architects. Yet, one of its mates, Sea Trail's Willard Byrd course, is an underrated challenge that is just as popular with many of the people that have played them both.
"The Byrd course since they put the new greens in is great," said New York resident Tom Capowski, a 5 handicap. "I prefer this actually even over the Jones. It's very playable for most of the people. I know guys that play here that are 30 handicaps or 15s. It's playable for everybody. It's challenging enough. I enjoy it."
Both the Byrd and Jones courses opened in 1990, and each of them have their own personality and have developed their own following.
"The public all wants to play Rees Jones," said Tom Plankers, the president of golf at Sea Trail. "The Willard Byrd is more renown for being one of the better Southern courses he's done. He's done quite a few in the South, but this is probably one of his better golf courses."
Measuring just 6,750 yards from the tips, the Byrd course at Sea Trail isn't a long course. However, it does require more thought and shotmaking ability than the other two golf courses at Sea Trail. The Dan Maples course is the third tract at this popular vacation spot just miles from the oceanfront.
Doglegs are prevalent on the Byrd course, including several that make near 90-degree turns. Good players will have the ability to cut the corner on several of these holes, but you have to be in the right position off the tee to make such a move. The fairways are wide enough that most fairly accurate hitters will be able to use the driver on many holes.
"It's not long, but you have to hit to a certain area to score," Plankers said. "The Rees Jones course hosted a U.S. Open qualifier on it. We played it at 6,800 yards, and nobody tore it up. These courses hold their own without having to be 7,000-yard golf courses."
Byrd strategically placed a number of fairway bunkers so that they would come into play on almost every shot. Mounding is prevalent along the fairways, but much of it helps to keep shots within the confines of the short grass.
A number of man-made ponds, including some that are as big as 20 acres, are scattered throughout the golf course, but they only come into play on a few holes. Depending on the choice of tees, challengers could face carries over water on No. 2, 3, 6, 13, 14 and 18, but few of them pose a significant test.
Over the last two summers, Sea Trail replaced the bentgrass greens at Byrd with Champions Bermuda. The result is one of the truest set of greens in the Myrtle Beach area. There is some undulation in the greens, but the condition allows for golfers of all levels to make some putts from distance.
"A few of the greens you don't want to leave [your approach] short of the hole, because there are some undulations," Plankers said. "The greens do have a lot of movement in them."
Canadian Glen Fowke, a 14 handicap, said the quality of the greens is what makes the Byrd course so special.
"This is the most challenging - it's a little tighter - and in the best condition," he said, comparing Byrd to Sea Trail's other two courses.
While this is a mostly straightforward golf course, it does offer a challenge with its doglegs and fairway and greenside bunkering. More talented players may not find this the most challenging test, but it gives playing groups with a variety of handicaps the opportunity to enjoy widespread success. The condition of the new greens makes putting a true joy. Plus, it's less crowded than the more popular Rees Jones course at Sea Trail and it's an ascetically pleasing tract. If you're in the Sunset Beach area, it's certainly worth a try.
Sea Trail's Byrd and Jones courses have their own driving range and putting green. Instruction is available from PGA Professionals on site.gre
March 29, 2010