Myrtle Beach is a backwards town. If it wasn't for golf, it would be Fort Wayne, Indiana with a beach.
When CATS at the Palace Theater is considered a major cultural event, the ancient Greeks aren't exactly worried about their legacy. (Finally having run out of tourists to keep the show alive on Broadway, CATS producers must have figured let's take it to our people. Hello Myrtle Beach!)
When a shooting range not only survives but thrives on the largest local highway, out grossing a nearby Planet Hollywood...wait, this actually may be a sign of superior intelligence.
Which is the point. There is nothing wrong with backwards. Not in the right circumstances. Yes, Myrtle Beach may sometimes make you feel like you drifted into the Kentucky mountains. So what. Embrace it. You came here to play golf not ruminate over life's mysteries in an overpriced sidewalk cafe. If you held the option of dining in a room of Renoirs, you'd be in Las Vegas...and you'd be paying $300 greens fees.
Instead you're in Myrtle Beach, the land of kitsch dolphin souvenirs, fast food heaven and some of the cheapest, high quality golf in the U.S. Rather than lamenting what is not here (a quality restaurant without a theme or a T-shirt stand?), it is time to discover the hidden treasures that are. On a recent trip to the Grand Strand, I ran into too many major city East Coast golfers whining how they miss the off-course pleasures of home.
You're in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. What'd you expect?
Notice how the guys complaining are never from say...central Illinois. What are they going to miss? A 24-hour Steak 'n Shake?
The guys moaning are likely the same ones who never deviate from the tried and true Myrtle Beach golfer's itinerary. The one that everyone except maybe the ditziest of wives knows.
"No, the golfers are pretty much the same," Kristy McLaughlin said without hesitation when asked if anything's changed in her time tracking hackers' interests as sales manager at Courtyard By Marriott - Broadway At The Beach. "They golf during the day and go to the clubs at night."
No one needs to be told what the clubs are limited to in Myrtle Beach. Yet it turns out there are women on the Grand Strand you don't have to pay $20 to sit with. Really. They sometimes can be found at the most unlikeliest of places. Including a Catholic school-sponsored fundraiser that is actually one of the most blatant pick up scenes you will ever come across.
No kidding. Every fall, St. Andrew Catholic School runs a "Taste of the Town" event at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center that morphs into hookup central. First timers go in expecting a staid, stuffy competition between the top restaurants in the area, with senior citizens nibbling on the small taste portions. Instead, they get a loud, buzzing gymnasium setting with groups of women in low-cut blouses hanging out. Sometimes literally.
At this year's "Taste of the Town," a woman lifted her long skirt up past her thigh as she danced to the music, next to her 2-year-old daughter and a host of suddenly friendly guys. The Catholic priests from St. Andrews weren't exactly reminding anyone of the reverend dad from Footloose. It was more of a pump up the volume vibe with few collars in sight.
"Our group plans our trip around this every year now," said Philadelphian Don Robinson, one of the golfers who has discovered Myrtle Beach's other side. "Are you kidding me? This is one the biggest meat markets around. Girls who wouldn't give me the time of day in Philly are all smiles here.
"And if you take a girl to Pizzeria Uno here, they think you're the biggest gentleman in the world. Back home that's getting me the cold shoulder. In Philly, I've got to drop $200 on a dinner date easy."
With that Robinson excused himself. A young woman waiting in line for the Hilton resort restaurant's first place scallops had caught his eye.
Still think Myrtle Beach is boring?
And "Taste of the Town" is not even the only convention center mingle special. It turns out Myrtle Beach's convention center has something of a reputation. Many locals call it "the largest 19th hole in the world." When's the last time you heard that about a convention center? Most convention centers are filled with accountants or lawnmower salesmen. Myrtle Beach's is a party girl.
Of course, if you're looking for something a little more subdued, or easier on the marriage, there is always a shooting range. Sure, they have target ranges in Philadelphia, New York and Boston. But they definitely do not make them like this. Myrtle Beach's Indoor Shooting Range boasts a huge red facade that is almost impossible to miss traveling on Highway 17. Step inside and it feels like you've entered the Toys "R" Us of guns.
Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein targets are available!
OK, maybe there is something to going too far in embracing the backwards.
Still, stop moaning and start living Myrtle Beach style off the course. No, there is no world famous MoMA (Museum of Modern Art). There's not even a Pat's cheesesteaks. But if you're lucky, or not careful, you may just find a wife.
JT Kobelt - a native of worldly Montreal - decided to really experience the local Myrtle Beach culture early on in his regular golfing visits. He went where the locals drink, hit every hole-in-the-wall he could find. Before long, he had met the woman he would marry.
"There's just something about a Southern Belle," Kobelt said.
Soon, those regular visits turned into every other weekend visits. Now Kobelt works for Carolina Golf Travel setting up other golfers' Grand Strand trips.
Which brings up another cautionary disclaimer. Watch it. Get too carried away with this new knowledge and you too could find yourself moving into Myrtle Beach.
November 19, 2004