MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. - If historians ever needed a cross section of what went wrong with American city planning in the 1970's and 80's, they could pour through volumes of academic urban criticism, or they could take a field trip to Myrtle Beach.
Here they will find endless miles of neon signs, gaudy storefronts, and ubiquitous strip mall developments. They will find a region that sold its soul to the devil in the name of the tourist dollar and cheap golf course living.
Dr. Faustus with a set of forged blades and a patio home on the 10th hole.
And like a teenager in toddler's clothes, the Grand Strand's worn highways never caught up to its tens of thousands of residents or its 12 million plus annual visitors. Sure, the South Carolina Department of Transportation finally caught wind of the urban calamity that is the Grand Strand and initiated a series of roadway improvements to facilitate reasonable vehicular progress (read: liability reducing hurricane evacuation routes.)
But Myrtle will always be Myrtle, and the traveling, golfing public seems to love it just the way it is.
Yet, there will always be a small clan of travelers with an insatiable desire to know what Myrtle Beach was like before the sunglass shops and all-you-can eat buffets. Was the Strand wild and pristine, with white sandy beaches bumping up against coastal estuaries and pine forests? Or was it aristocratic and sophisticated, with a small but influential gentry that adored the game of golf as we do today?
That clan typically makes its way to Pine Lakes International Country Club, the oldest course in the Grand Strand by a long shot. Locally known as the "Granddaddy", Pine Lakes opened in 1927 as the Ocean Forest Club. Its antebellum clubhouse, attendants in white gloves and Scottish kilts, and the bagpipe music pumping through the grounds harkens back to an era gone by in this Johnny-come-lately golf destination.
The clan is more than happy to eschew the new, modern courses of the region in favor of a traditional, walkable golf course that was a favorite of the late Sam Snead and Gene Sarazen. There's even a plaque in the clubhouse commemorating the Squire's "78 (score) when he was 78 (years old)."
St. Andrews native and first president of the PGA, Robert White, founded the original Ocean Forest Club. White also designed the course with numerous consultations with legendary golf course architect Donald Ross and the layout oozes with design characteristics from Ross and his contemporary, Alister MacKenzie.
The clan prefers to knock it around this thoughtful layout from sunup to sundown, but they are just as happy to wander around the clubhouse and the grounds, taking it all in. They are sports fans and history buffs, and the fact that Sports Illustrated was born out of a golf retreat here in the early 1950's isn't lost on them. During that fateful week, a train brought 67 executives from Time Life Magazine into town, including Henry Booth Luce, with the dual purposes of playing a little golf and planning the world's highest circulation sports weekly.
And if there's any truth to the mantra of killing with kindness, Pine Lakes is the master assassin. Patrons do not touch their golf clubs until it's time to go home (unless they walk). Attendants are quick to offer golfers complementary mimosas on sultry, hot days, and hot chocolate on brisk, cool ones. At the turn, the club chef of over 40 years stirs a vat of clam chowder and offers it up as sustenance for the final nine holes.
Myrtle Beach land barons Burroughs and Chapin recently purchased the Granddaddy from long time owners, the Miles family, and service levels and course conditions haven't skipped a beat. The word on the street is that B and C have plans to expand the club by way of 213 additional acres of land it owns adjacent to the course.
"Over the next couple of months, we will begin to explore, with our Board of Directors, ways to enhance the golf course and supporting amenities in order to continue to build upon the tremendous tradition of the Pine Lakes experience," said B and C spokesperson Pat Dowling.
Here's to hoping the "enhancing" is kept to a minimum and the tradition carries on in the face of the Strand's continuing modernization. As you can tell, I'm not ready to give up my membership in the clan.
June 23, 2002