NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- Of all the big-name modern golf course architects: Jack Nicklaus, Pete Dye, Robert Trent Jones Jr., etc., perhaps none warrant the expectations of a Tom Fazio-designed resort course.
Fazio commands the big bucks to deliver a smash hit that will have mid-handicap, traveling golfers leaving happy - and planning their return. All the trimmings of a vintage Fazio design are on display at the Barefoot Resort Fazio Course, one of four courses at the star-studded Barefoot Resort in North Myrtle Beach.
Fazio has three golf courses along the Grand Strand, and his two down in the South Strand -- Wachesaw Plantation Club (private) and TPC Myrtle Beach -- both have better scenery to work with. Wachesaw Plantation plays along Carolina lowcountry and the Waccamaw River, while TPC Myrtle Beach has a quiet, wooded setting teeming with birds.
The newest of his Grand Strand trio, Fazio's Barefoot setting might not be as remarkable as the land for his other two courses, but it has character -- and loads of acreage. The course boasts a good amount of elevation change, both natural and man-made, along with plenty of water and swampland (and there's always the possibility of a bear sighting out here). Fazio had a massive palette to work with, and the result is few parallel holes, quiet confines and little residential development.
The course, at a par 71 and under 6,900 yards from the championship tees (five par 3s, four par 5s), sets up slightly easier, with some wider landing zones and more approachable greens, than the difficult Barefoot Dye, but it's no stroll in the park.
That becomes quite apparent when you arrive at the par-4 fifth hole, a beastly 499 yards playing uphill and filled with bunkering and water to the right and heather left. Now, any Fazio course affords an opportunity to score on a few occasions. On this hole, you're merely trying to escape with a bogey and move on.
As you'd expect with a Fazio signature design, that's not the only shock here. Each par 3 requires a carry over water, and the par 5s feel never-ending. On the par-5 12th, the fairway is mostly blind from the championship tees, which are blocked by high grass.
Then between the ninth & 10th holes, a waste bunker with native shrubs and trees spans the entire length of the ninth and the first half of the 10th (before a pond takes over).
The par-4 13th hole even features alternate green locations. The right location is a bit longer, but straighter (reachable off the tee to longer hitters), while the left location requires a deft approach shot over water.
Another waste bunker that is a force to be reckoned with and to be avoided at all costs covers the short side of the dogleg left par-4 14th hole, which swallows up drives that play the cut-off too aggressively. The good news about this bunker is it may save a hooked ball from going into the lateral hazard left of it. But the shot from here is all carry over bunkers and hazard to an elevated green - not the kind of shot you want to be left with, especially if you're a mid-handicapper.
The Barefoot Fazio Course is going to fall into just about any discerning Myrtle Beach golfer's top upscale courses; it's just a matter of how high up.
The main Barefoot clubhouse, shared by the Fazio, Love and Norman Courses (the Dye has its own just down the road) is exceptional. There are a full locker room, dining room and terrace overlooking the 18th hole (its only rivals for watching the closing action are Caledonia Golf & Fish Club and Glen Dornoch Waterway Golf Links). In the clubhouse, you can check out a collection of photos taken of the designers when they came to the property during construction (yes, even Greg Norman flew to Barefoot for some hands-on planning).
Golf carts are equipped with GPS, and the greens are seeded with a very smooth and quick A-1 bentgrass strain.
There is also a driving range, practice greens and a golf academy offering individual and group lessons. Range balls are included with your green fee on the four Barefoot courses.
March 19, 2009