PAWLEYS ISLAND, S.C. – The creators of True Blue Plantation insist that you form an opinion about waste bunkers.
They're seemingly everywhere on the golf course, laying in wait for an errant drive or a sloppy approach shot. Love them or hate them, you will be in them at some point.
But that's not to say the sandy stuff is always in your face. To be blunt, you have to hit it pretty badly to find the bunkers. The advantage to that sand? It serves a double purpose as a cart path.
"We don't have a lot of concrete or asphalt on the course," said Bob Seganti, director of golf.
Waste bunkers aren't all that goes over the top at True Blue.
"Everything here is big -- wide, expansive fairways and big greens," Seganti said. "It's not unusual to have a three-club difference on some greens."
The golf course is the sister to Caledonia Golf and Fish Club. Both are designed by Mike Strantz, more artist than architect, but the venues are quite different. True Blue is links style; Caledonia is park-like. True Blue throws a variety of holes at you with little rhythm in between.
"Each hole is a bit of a surprise" Seganti said.
Caledonia's holes play at a pace, and seasonal annuals are found in abundance around the golf course. True Blue is more subtle.
"We don't landscape it as heavily" Seganti said of True Blue, named after the indigo plantation that once occupied this land. "We keep it more natural and use more wildflowers."
True Blue includes five sets of tees, from a challenging 7,126 yards at the tips to 4,995 in the front. All sets are rated for men and three for women, so you'll know how to handicap your round.
True Blue is a quirky, par-72 layout, split into a nine with three par 5s on the front and a trio of par 3s on the back for a 37-35 combo.
In essence, there's a lot of latitude off the tee and not so much on approach, because the goal is to land your golf ball in the same stratosphere as the pin. But getting on the green is manageable.
"(Stantz) always gives you an opening," Seganti said. "There is always a way to the green if you have trouble keeping your ball in the air."
You'll discover it's a risk-reward golf course, though not because you took chances; rather, it's the bounces that pose a risk -– often into the ever-present waste bunkers that drop off the edges of most fairways. The reward? Maybe it's lucky bounce off a mound that straightened an errant drive or advanced an approach shot near the pin.
Life isn't fair, and neither is this golf course. But it all balances out. Where you shouldn't have gotten a break, you did, and vice versa. Roll with it.
You won't encounter a lot of rough during your round. What's there seems to serve as just a conduit between the fairways and waste bunkers. Your ball will encounter the zoysia only in passing through on its way to some sort of sand or, toward the end of the golf course, water.
First off, what you see is not what you get at True Blue. Surprises exist throughout. A yardage book helps to some degree, but really, it's a golf course that needs to be played once for the shock value and again for the nuances.
Take, for instance, the second hole. You'll position your drive just so, but the second shot -- you were warned -- is the key. The green is long and skinny, flanked by bunkers front and right, with an encroaching hazard on the left. Oh, it all must be achieved by air, thanks to a waste bunker front and right and a tree. Great hole, but there's no way to know everything from tee, nor from your approach shot, because you can't see it until you're atop it.
The third hole is an irritating, short par 3. It requires something short of a full club to a tricky green surrounded by hazards -- sand or water -- in varying configurations, depending on pin placement.
More water appears for the par-5 fourth hole, a half-moon left around a body of water. Calculate your distance and placement carefully here. It's a fun hole, with more breaks than are noticeable. Play it well, and the fairway will funnel your shots back into play.
Another oddity is the sixth hole, a par 4 with an optional green. Both greens are drivable from the tee, depending on your sense of adventure in going over the waste bunkers left and right.
The two closing holes, both par 4s, involve a lot of water. For women, No. 17 is a long hole, so play it like a par 5. There's a lot of room off the tee, but it thins to a green guarded by water front and right.
The closing hole will stay with you. It's hemmed in, with water and mounds on the left and waste bunkers to the right. But a cutout for long hitters exists, presenting a great approach to the large green. Essentially, no matter where your drive lands, you'll have an interesting approach to the clubhouse-side green.
Harry Cassidy of the Boston loved True Blue on his first round. He played with a group of buddies, none of whom had experienced the golf course. By the way, he hit a brilliant second shot on 18 and holed it for a birdie. Yes, he was happy.
"It's a very scenic course, and it fit my eye very well," Cassidy said. "I liked the way it played through the woods on the back. It's very playable."
Emerald Levesque of Attleboro, Mass., offered a concise analysis: "It's a gorgeous course."
Richard Clark of Naples, Fla., said True Blue stands out among the many Myrtle Beach golf courses he's played.
"It's a great course," Clark said. "It's very interesting, very challenging. You have to hit it straight, but I had trouble putting. I couldn't hit anything."
True Blue Plantation is a work of art that, in many instances, must be ignored so you can play golf. For example, the par-3 third hole melds sand, water, railroad ties and a sharply curved cart path to a huge green. Indeed, it's distracting.
If you want to warm up before your round, just fish a bunch of crystal balls from a bin near the driving range. True Blue features an impressive school and club-fitting facility, shared with Caledonia.
This is a one-of-a-kind facility that requires as much creativity to play as it took to design. Consider it a three-dimensional art class.
November 12, 2010