CONWAY, S.C. -- Don't believe everything you hear.
If nothing else about the Avocet Course at Wild Wing Golf Plantation just outside of Myrtle Beach stands out, it's that the rumors flying about the course's playability are grossly miscalculated. And that's even before the next big renovation.
Take the warning Kurt and Jackie Barto heard during one of their first rounds of golf in Myrtle Beach while on a week-long vacation from Columbus, Ohio.
The couple was told that not only should they expect some of the worst greens in the area, but they should even work with the booking agency they used to switch to another course.
Kurt Barto's glad they didn't switch.
"They were much better than we expected," said Kurt, an 8 handicap. "They rolled nice. We were pleasantly surprised."
Jackie said the greens "were much better than what we anticipated, given what people had said."
The Bartos aren't the only ones who have heard that. Those involved with the game from around Myrtle Beach have helped start and then inflate the rumor mill regarding the greens at Wild Wing.
It has taken away from the overall playability of what less than a decade ago was a course that was named one of the best the Palmetto State had to offer.
It started as a problem most courses struggle with: patches of simpler Bermuda grass creeping onto the greens during the past two summers. Negative comments continued to circulate via word of mouth and Internet reviews.
"It's a combination of things," Wild Wing Director of Operations Tom Van Hoogen said. "Myrtle Beach, someone hears something one place, and the image gets worse and worse as it goes along.
"We were getting [heavily criticized] in the beginning of the season. The greens have healed up since then. People just want 100 percent perfectly green greens. They don't even care how they roll; they just want them to look perfect."
Wild Wing will adjust rounds during the summer of 2011 to keep the course open while it upgrades those greens. But the Avocet Course is about much more than simply the destination points. It has a foundation that makes Van Hoogen drool.
He says in time it could return to the status it had back in 2002, when it was named South Carolina's golf course of the year and received Golf Digest's top places to play recognition.
Kurt Barto agrees that it isn't far off.
"I'd rate it in the top 10 percent of the courses we've played down here," he said.
The golf course plays anywhere from 7,100 yards from the tips down to 5,300 from the ladies tees. Elevation differences, bunkers or water -- or combinations of the three -- come into effect on every hole. There are scoring possibilities, although some prefer to go the safe route.
"You want to have holes that are challenging," Van Hoogen said. "But at the same time, you want to have a fair round of golf."
Those differences gives players more than enough to ponder during the 18-hole round.
"I think the layout was more challenging; I think the holes were more challenging [than other courses in the area]," Jackie Barto said. "Every hole was different. You're looking at a different challenge on every hole. Some courses you play down here, every hole is the same."
Wild Wing Golf Plantation has a large clubhouse, complete with a pro shop, full grill and banquet area for parties of up to 200 people.
As far as prep work, Wild Wing also has a driving range, chipping range and putting green within steps of the clubhouse. The course does not have a full-time pro, instead referring requests to a handful of off-site instructors.
Wild Wing will likely continue to struggle with its reputation until the greens project is completed at the end of summer 2011.
Van Hoogen knows it's hard to overcome what's already started.
"We have heard a share of complaints. We're not going to deny that," he said. "[But] I think some people's expectations or what they thought of the course or what they said was a little harsher than the condition of the greens."
It's something only the people who head out to Wild Wing will be able to judge for themselves. And as players like the Bartos found out, the rumors were way overblown.
After the renovations, the baseless complaints will disappear, and the Avocet at Wild Wing Golf Plantation may return to its glory days.
June 7, 2011