MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. - The Grand Strand is all about quantity over quality, but with an asterisk. Yes, it's a golf free-for-all, with well over 100 golf clubs to salivate over, and no, it doesn't boast any courses on Golf Digest's acclaimed "America's 100 greatest golf courses."
That being said, there are some tracks that would wow any golf course critic, if he or she could get past Myrtle Beach's churn-'em-out reputation. If you're planning a virgin golf trip to Myrtle Beach or a return trip, and you have no regard for green fees or membership requirements, here are TravelGolf.com's top-10 Myrtle Beach golf courses.
Be advised, it's a subjective list, based on personal experience, input from insiders, outsiders, good golfers, bad golfers, TravelGolf.com writers, golf pros, golf packagers and voodoo. We're taking into account pure golf architecture, scenery, service and the overall golf experience. Play them all and you can say you've experienced the very best of the Grand Strand.
Davis Love III is hardly an unknown, but he went up against Pete Dye, Tom Fazio and Greg Norman - the best and brightest of American golf design - at this mega-facility, and surprised everybody by emerging with the best layout.
Of course, Love had the best piece of property to work with at the sprawling resort, and he took advantage of it. Love is a Carolina native and his love for the area comes alive in this 7,000-yard homage to the lowcountry: elevated greens, tree-lined fairways, challenging par 4s and the recreated ruins of an old, plantation home that runs along holes 3-7. The greens bring Donald Ross and Pinehurst No. 2 to mind.
In addition to the scenery, it's a fun course to play off the tee, with its wide-open fairways and easy-to-hit landing areas. It was voted the sixth-best new course in the country in 2000 by Golf Digest.
Laid out along the Intracoastal Waterway, a little north of North Myrtle Beach, Tidewater will dazzle you with scenery and shots.
It's a gorgeous golf course, with overhanging oaks, marsh everywhere and high bluffs overlooking the sun-sparkled Intracoastal Waterway, complete with cruising sailboats and dotted with local fishermen. Everywhere you look, the conditioning is top-notch, even in the autumn when many other Strand courses are suffering.
It's a little more than 7,000 yards, but you'll feel like you traveled much farther than that when you walk off No. 18. The course dips and rises, twists and bends, and nearly every hole has some feature that makes it stand out. Pick your tees wisely: the slope rating is 144 from the back tees and 139 from the gold.
Caledonia merges plantation history with some of the finest golf available on the Grand Strand. Remains of the rice plantation and the fish and hunt club are easy to spot, including Fishhead Shed, part of the original plantation house. The clubhouse is vintage antebellum and an old boat dock sits in the shadows of the property's 150-year-old oak trees.
"In effect, (Mike) Strantz and Caledonia's owners have produced the perfect combination of location, course design, course conditioning service and ambiance," TravelGolf.com wrote in a review.
A salute to Shallotte (pronounced sha-loot), a beautifully laid-out stunner along the banks of the Shallotte River and the surrounding marshes, here at the northern tip of the Grand Strand. Just don't let your friends coerce you into being Macho Man and play it from the back tees if you're a mid- to high-handicapper.
Designers Arnold Palmer and Erik Larsen did their homework, taking an exceptional piece of lowcountry terrain and subtly routing Rivers Edge through and around it, following the natural curves and yes, even elevation.
"It's the best, natural piece of land, I would say, since Pebble Beach," Head Professional Bart Romano said. "We moved no dirt to build the place, it's all natural land, rolling hills and fairways. Obviously, it's the flattest region in the world, here at the beach - and we have a lot of elevation change."
This is by far the most difficult of the four Barefoot Resort courses, not surprising given its designer, the dark lord of golf architecture. It's more than 7,300 yards from the tips with a Dye-like slope rating of 149.
Dye likes to play with your head more than your game, and most of his tricks are on display here. He likes to hide his bunkers and has been known to align his tee boxes so poor saps like you and me will hit into them.
His greens are rarely uniform in size, and severely undulating. The course has extensive mounding - another Dye characteristic - and only walkers get a break here, along with those who appreciate beautiful courses.
The Dunes is the most revered golf course along the Grand Strand, and the recipient of most of the awards the experts deign to hand out to Myrtle Beach-area golf courses.
It was designed by elegant Robert Trent Jones Sr. and has hosted the Senior Tour Championship. Opened in 1948, you play through live oaks, rolling coastal terrain and the roar of the Atlantic in your ears. As for the course, you'll need to be both long and smart off the tee and be careful around the greens, many fronted by large, penal bunkers.
The golf course has been toned down since its original design by Mike Strantz, but remains one of the more interesting courses on the Grand Strand, with its hidden greens, visually deceptive bunkers and various pitfalls, usually unseen, along the way.
"This course was and is Caledonia on steroids," said Danny Gore, a former Caledonia assistant professional.
Strantz liked to keep you off balance - there are three par 5s on the front nine, for example, and the back nine starts with another long one. Modeled after Pine Valley and Pinehurst.
The track lives up to its name in virtually every aspect. A big bridge leads you to one of the biggest residential developments on the Grand Strand, a $20 billion project on 2,200 acres of prime Intracoastal land.
The course has grand, sweeping views of the Intracoastal Waterway, the fairways are multi-level and water is in play almost every hole. This can be a tough course that can be very penal if you don't select the right tees.
What? A replica course in the top 10? If the World Tour Golf Links is indeed a tourist attraction, it's a good one.
Obviously, you can't make exact replicas, because of the legal issues and because you can't move the North Sea to South Carolina. Nor can you duplicate the idiosyncratic terrain many of the original holes are built on. But, the holes are designed to give you an idea of where the game's legends have made their names at holes that closely resemble the hallowed halls of golf.
The feature the average golfer may notice the most is the size and slope of the greens. The green at the Open course's No. 9, a replica of St. Andrews' No. 18 is massive. It looks like it could serve as a runway at Myrtle Beach International.
Ditto No. 1. The kidney-shaped green at No. 7, based on Augusta National's No. 16, has a slope so severe it will give you four-putt nightmares. This is one of the great things about World Tour: you get an idea of the radical kind of slopes the pros have to negotiate.
One of Jack Nicklaus' fairest designs, Pawleys Plantation is an old favorite, laid out on a resort that encompasses 600 acres of wetlands, ancient oak trees salt marshes and small lakes. One of the prettiest courses on the Strand.
January 10, 2006