MURRELLS INLET, S.C. - If you can get beyond the wild turkeys, the alligators, the deer, the old plantation cemetery on the 13th hole, and all the ancient cypress and live oak trees, you'll find that Blackmoor is one fine golf course.
Gary Player designed the track back in the early 1990's when the South Strand was still carving out a niche for itself in the Myrtle Beach golf scene. But credit Blackmoor's owners with knowing how to build and market a golf course.
They were smart enough to know that they needed a big name on the scorecard to compete with the established courses up the road. Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer were charging a small fortune for their design services back in the late 1980's, but the elder statesman of the "Big Three" was just beginning to establish himself in the business, and was available for a reasonable price.
"At the time, the ownership thought it was very important to bring in a name like Gary Player," says Blackmoor head professional Mac Hood. "You are ensuring that you will get the curiosity of the players peaked. Ten years ago, Player wasn't nearly as prolific as we is now. Since then he has become more of a prolific designer, and it has helped us even more."
Landscape architects Jack, Arnie and Gary are not . But Hood says that Player did more than just sign his name on the scorecard.
"He had a vision for the golf course," Hood says. "He had a look that he wanted, and he tends to make very playable golf courses. The fronts of the greens are always open so that lesser skilled players can run the ball up on the green, and the course is not very penal."
Blackmoor's owner also realized that when it comes to opening a golf course, nothing beats a good piece of property. While dozens of courses were opening along the flat, uneventful topography of Highway 501, Blackmoor's could claim the historic Longwood Plantation as home.
Like so many of the South Strand plantations, Longwood was once a prolific rice producer, owned by two of the area's most popluar figures.
Enamored with its low elevation and ample swampland, P.W. Fraser and John Green purchased the plantation back in 1820 to grow and farm rice. Fraser and Green were both heavily involved in the Horry and Georgetown County social and political scene.
Fraser graduated from South Carolina College (now the University of South Carolina) in 1822, and went on to run for a seat in the state senate. He was also an original member of the Murrells Inlet Hot and Hot Fish Club, one of the creators of the Planters Club on the Pee Dee River, and even donated some of his land for the clubhouse.
Green was a Revolutionary War soldier who was often referred to as "Big Uncle" because of his six-foot-four inch, 300 pound frame. Green was also one of the original members of the Hot and Hot Fish Club, and he is buried in the old cemetery to the right of the 13th hole. Blackmoor's surroundings have changed dramatically since Fraser and Green roamed the countryside, and even the past ten years have witnessed a bit of a housing boom. But the presence of a few ubiquitous patio homes has not been enough to spoil the overall experience at Blackmoor.
"The fauna here, the alligators, the turkeys and the deer, that is one thing that Blackmoor has always had," Hood says. "People who played here when we first opened are sometimes disappointed with the new development. But not too many golf courses do you have to wait to hit your tee shots because there are turkeys crossing. There are certain parts of the golf course that will never see development."
When Blackmoor first opened, it was the most expensive course on the Grand Strand. Golfers from around the country were ready to pay top dollar to stroll the fairways designed by one of professional golf's great ambassadors.
With all the new courses built in Myrtle Beach over the past five years, Blackmoor's greens fees have fallen back into the middle of the pack, making it even more of golfing value. "When we first opened, Blackmoor was the most expensive golf course in Myrtle Beach," Hood says. "But as time went on, because of what it costs to build a golf course, we are right in the middle now. We say that we are an upscale golf course, but that we are a moderately priced upscale golf course. Our goal has always been to provide an upscale golf course for a fair price. I think Blackmoor opened at the opportune time because the piece of property we got was one of the last of its type."
One of the Blackmoor's primary attractions, other than the affordable price and the Wild Kingdom-like wildlife, is the course's variety. The front nine plays through the higher elevations of the Longwood Plantation, while the back nine takes a dip into the swamplands of the Waccamaw River.
"The 12th and 13th holes are as close as you get to the river," Hood says. "You are just 100 yards away but you can't see it because of the trees."
The 411-yard par 4 tenth hole is a wonderful hole that doglegs left around some stately Pecan trees that frame the hole. The par 5 13th hole, home to the old plantation cemetery, is one of the most beautiful holes on the course, but not all golfers are able to get on in two because of the massive cut that is required off the tee.
However the most perplexing hole is quick to greet players on the front nine. The par 4 eighth hole plays 347 yards if you follow its traditional routing down the right side. But a clearing to the right just 270 yards from the middle tees tempts players to go for the green.
"A lot of designers these days like to have that drivable par 4," says Hood. "The tee box and the green are almost in a straight line with each other because of the dogleg. We thought it would be interesting to open the hole up and give players the chance to go for the green."
And are players taking the bait?
"Gauging by the back up on that hole on a busy day, I would say almost everyone takes the gamble," Hood says. "That hole and the 15th hole are the two signature golf holes. Sometimes it presents a place of play issue because people are waiting for the green to clear. Most people find the worst of the hole."
The Myrtle Beach golf community, however, is still finding the best of Blackmoor. The course was recently voted the Strand's Golf Course of the Year by the Golf Course Owners Association, and by way of the award qualified for the state finals.
"I can't take credit for that," Hood laughs. "I have only been here a couple of years. We have just kept the tradition going with our conditions, our service, and what we give back to the community."
Designer: Gary Player
Year Opened: 1990
Turf: Greens - Bermuda, Fairways - Bermuda.
Slope/Ratings:71.1/126, 69.3/118, 67.5/111, 67.9/115
Yardage:6614, 6533, 6217, 5774, 4807.
Address: P.O. Box 2010 Myrtle Beach, SC 29578
Head Professional: Mac Hood
Sharp Says: Blackmoor is truly one of the most player friendly courses in the South Strand (just look at the slope rating.) For the money it is an excellent layout that gets little recognition now that Caledonia and True Blue garner most of the post 1995 publicity for the area. The back nine will stand out in most players mind's, as it ventures right down into the gut of the Waccamaw River Basin. The par-5's are some of the best at the beach, in terms of scenery.
Blackmoor head golf professional Mac Hood is living proof that it's never too late to consider a career change. Hood was working on Wall Street as a stockbroker prior to the market crash of 1989. With plenty of savings in the coffer and a hankering to head south, Hood and his wife packed up for the warm weather and numerous golf courses of the Grand Strand.
"My family had always vacationed to Myrtle Beach and we liked the way we were treated here," Hood says. "We went through the stock market crash and the opportunity presented itself. I came down goofing around selling other people's products.
"I was living up at Colonial Charters and the head pro offered me a job at the bag drop. I was a 20 handicap when I moved here, but I was always one of those athletic players that could hit it a ton, but couldn't score."
Hood reduced his handicap to a four, passed the Player Ability Test after seven tries, and eventually landed the head position at Blackmoor after a stint at Magnolia Plantation in Wilmington.
"With my background in business, the book learning was the easy part," Hood says. "The actual playing golf was the hard part, but I got over it!"
Drivers beware. Blackmoor has its own version of the Road Hole, a concept made famous by the Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland. The 412-yard par 4 sixth hole plays right along the asphalt to the right, and Hood says a number of balls have found their way into car windows.
"Many a car window has met its fate on that hole" he says. "We use that hole for long drive contests in tournaments. It is a nightmare to play that hole unless you get within 150 yards for your approach shot."
Blackmoor is home to a variety of memorable holes, but Hood says his favorite is the 509-yard par 5 ninth hole when it comes to match play.
"Eighteen is a great finishing hole," he says. "The long hitter has the opportunity to get on in two but you have to make sure the shot doesn't slip into the bunkers and the lake. When you are out there playing a match, 18 is a hole where you could make a good score with two great shots and turn the whole thing around."
Hood also loves the par 5 seventh hole, a three shotter that requires one of the most accurate approach shots on the Strand.
"Number seven is probably the smallest green in Myrtle Beach," Hood says. "We have trouble finding new pin placements for that one. It is almost impossible to stop a long iron on that green, even if you are a golf pro."
Gary Player likes to design courses with the average player in mind. The difficulty at Blackmoor is set up by the tee boxes of varying lengths. The green complexes are very player friendly. Player feels that golf is a game for the masses, especially public golf ...
Hood says that the traditional fall overseed should not cause much of a disruption at Blackmoor. The greens are overseeded with Poa Triviales, a little seed that causes little or no interruption. The entire course will be overseeded in early November. Blackmoor is one of the few courses that overseeds from tree line to tree line.(SS)