MURRELLS INLET, S.C. -- Golfers looking for a top-shelf experience along South Carolina's Grand Strand, and willing to pay the commensurate cash, may want to tee it up at the TPC of Myrtle Beach.
It is the only Golf Digest-designated, five-star course in the Myrtle Beach area and ambitiously aims to give players of all abilities a taste of the tour.
"We feel that we are set apart by offering a product that allows the client to play where the pros play," said TPC Myrtle Beach's Keith Stanzel. "Our practice area is built with (PGA) Tour standards. Our golfers get the feeling of playing between the ropes."
Lessons are available, and both weekend warriors and current pros use the manicured range to stay sharp. Don't be surprised if you look up while hitting balls at the range to see Dustin Johnson stroking shots out of sight here on his home course in Murrells Inlet, just south of Myrtle Beach.
Just a year after its debut, the Tom Fazio-designed course hosted the 2000 Senior Tour Championship, and it still plays up to that level.
Pine trees line many of the lush, tight-driving fairways that favor players such as Johnson who can dial up the straight and narrow shots needed to navigate chutes too lean for many duffers to stay in play.
Scratch golfers may not have too much trouble landing in the short stuff, but the course offers an array of challenges for those driving from the tips. There are numerous forced carries over water and waste areas that vary in height and distance.
The par-3 fifth features both, with literally little room for error to land on the undulating green.
The well kept MiniVerde greens also demand a deft touch. They create a fast track compared to neighboring courses -- on a recent visit clubhouse officials said they were running 10.5 feet on the Stimpmeter.
If the 6,950-yard course plays too long from the back tees, TPC Myrtle Beach has four other, shorter options that offer some relief, while driving less-difficult and shorter carries.
Golfers will want to go long but not all out for the ninth hole as trouble awaits bombs off the tee. As one attendant who plays it regularly noted, this 472-yard par 4 is harder than many of the par 5s.
A quick check of the scorecard shows the dogleg right No. 9 is the top handicap hole. It's long, requires a drive over some waste no matter which tee box you use, features a narrow landing strip for aggressive tee shots and a deceptively tricky green.
At the turn, even if you don't drink bourbon, you will likely be treated to some wild turkey. They freely roam the course but may not help relax your swing, especially if they approach your group.
The 16th hole's tee box address is picturesque with woods and water on opposite sides, but it may as well have a sign that reads, "Welcome to Bunkerville." There are traps awaiting tee shots that miss the narrow fairway short-left or long-right. The green is guarded by four more traps.
The serene track is a welcome respite from the bustle of the Grand Strand, but it belies the challenges that await golfers. Definitely bring your long-knocking driver, and be sure to air out most of your shots, not just off the tee.
There are plenty of undulations throughout TPC Myrtle Beach's fairways, and approaches should bite into the green, or balls will go skittering off the greens in a hurry.
"It's a very enjoyable course," said Cary, N.C. resident David Snider, a single-digit handicapper. "It's fair, and if you hit the ball well, you can score. There's a good amount of trouble but not as much as at others (around Myrtle Beach).
"It's more out of pocket (rates run up to $175 per round depending on the season) than other courses in the area, but it's worth it. It's more of a big-boy golf course."
October 18, 2013