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The Tribe Has Spoken: One Spring Golf Trip, Four Golf Destinations

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

MYRTLE BEACH - One spring golf trip, four golf destinations, one survivor. The Carolinas golf version of everyone's favorite reality based television series is here at travelgolf.com. The concept: Four golfing destinations are put under the microscope and scrutinized to determine where you can get the most for your golfing dollar.

The contestants: Myrtle Beach, the self-proclaimed golf capital of the world; Hilton Head, the posh golf mecca of the southeast, Pinehurst, one of the nation's oldest and most respected golfing destinations; Charleston, home to history and some of South Carolinas most highly rated tracks.

The format: We'll eliminate the contestants, in good old survivor fashion, until we are left with our winner. Good luck, and may the best Carolinas golf destination win.

First to Go

There may be no better place in the Carolinas to take a weekend vacation, but Charleston just doesn't have the quantity of golf to compete with our other three contestants. Still, this historic town deserves serious consideration for a visit for a number of reasons:

The home of golf in the United States is a hotly debated topic, but Charleston can actually lay claim to the nation's first golf course and golf club - Charleston Green and the South Carolina Golf Club, both of which were established in 1786.

Unlike golfing in Myrtle Beach, golfing in Charleston is fathomable, and flat out relaxing. Despite it's popularity as a travel destination, the old town plays host to a limited number of golf courses, most which sport designer names and are not afraid to charge accordingly. Some golfers may view this as a drawback; others may view it as charming and manageable. If you do not want to deny yourself one of the true golfing pleasures in life, please choose the later viewpoint.

And unlike golfing in Hilton Head, golfing in Charleston is distinctly southern. You can go Hilton Head and literally not run into someone from the South, much less South Carolina. But Charleston attracts its own, as southerners and northerners alike are drawn to the purity and challenge of true Low Country golf.

"Kiawah'" as it is simply referred to by golfers, is home to five golf courses, the most famous being the Ocean Course designed by the venerable Pete Dye. Many players and writers consider the Ocean Course to be one of the most difficult in the United States, what with it's gusty, variable winds and legion of seaside holes.

The course hosted the Ryder Cup in 1991, just a year after it opened, and may be the closest thing on the east coast to a true "links-style" course. Of course, with fame comes demand and with demand comes inflation - if you decide to play the Ocean Course, it may be the only golf outing you can afford on your trip!

Great courses tend to attract other great courses, and that best describes the evolution of golf on Kiawah Island. Tom Fazio, Jack Nicklaus, Clyde Johnston and Gary Player are all represented on this little slice of Low Country just 45 minutes from downtown Charleston.

Nicklaus' Turtle Point Course opened in 1981, "round about" the time the Golden Bear started designed courses with a chip on his yellow sweater. Fazio's Osprey Course opened in 1988, and legend has it that arguably the greatest course designer of our time had to swallow a little pride when Dye's Ocean Course burst onto the scene like a scalded three-wood.

Next to go

This may be the toughest round of the Carolinas Golf Survivor series, but Hilton Head is next to get the axe. Forty years ago, Hilton Head was a lightly populated low country island, accessible only by boat or ferry. In 1961, the first golf course opened and the island began to gain a favorable reputation among Sandlappers and visitors.

Today, the island destination is home to some of the best upscale resort golf on the east coast. Palmetto Dunes offers three outstanding courses designed by Robert Trent Jones, Arthur Hills, and George Fazio. Palmetto Hall is home to the famed Bob Cupp course that will challenge your notions of traditional course design.

Arnold Palmer designed the Crescent Pointe Golf Club on an excellent piece of land that features plenty of marshland views, a boatload of bunkers, and wonderful strands of magnolias, oaks, and pines. Look out for the par 5, 518-yard 17th hole that features marsh down the right side, a waster bunker to the left and a hidden green.

Author Pat Conroy (Prince of Tides) used to live and teach here, and now you can play two of the best courses in the area by taking a trip across the Calibouge Sound to Daufuskie Island. Jack Nicklaus designed Melrose, which features a trip into the islands dense vegetation on the front nine, and a back nine that opens up for some amazing holes.

In terms of family fun, scenery, and shopping, it was tough to dismiss Hilton Head so early on. But this is, after all, about the golf.

And the runner up is ...

Donald Ross' name is thrown around so often you'd think you see him bellying up at the local pub after 18 holes. Forty golf courses dot the landscape of an area that is about a tenth of the size of the Grand Strand.

This is the Sand Hills region of North Carolina, home to Pinehurst and Southern Pines, and some of the best golf in the country.

Anchored by the Village of Pinehurst, the Sand Hills are made up of a collection of small towns and blessed with a sampling of public access golf courses that many golf aficionados consider to be among the best in the world. The "Village" is home to the venerable Pinehurst Resort and Donald Ross' vaunted No. 2 course. The entire area oozes with layouts from Ross, Dan and Ellis Maples, Rees Jones, and Robert Trent Jones.

This collection of golf courses comes together like ingredients in healthy portion of N.C. barbeque to produce one of the most unique golfing experiences on the planet. Just driving into and around Pinehurst is a surreal undertaking that every serious golfer must experience at least once.

The thousands of long leaf pines outshine their scrubby, coastal cousins as they tower over the area's more than 40 golf courses. On a sunny day -- which there are plenty -- the light green glow of the pines and the blazing white reflection of the sandy soil come together to produce aura unlike anywhere else in the world.

The Village is the centerpiece of this hedonistic existence, and driving through its winding, canopied roads, you are treated to a rare blend of New England architecture and old South charm. Oh, and home to Pinehurst Resort and Ross' famed No. 2 course.

Donald Ross considered No. 2 to be his true masterpiece - and this coming from a man that is credited with over 500 designs. No. 2 is head and shoulders above any course in the area, and is consistently ranked as one of the best in the world. The fairways are wide open and forgiving, in the traditional fashion. But the greens are crowned and typically adorned with false fronts and gapping greenside bunkers. Miss a green on your approach and Ross will penalize you ‘till the cows come home.

Perhaps no golf course in the U.S. has been touched by as many prominent architects as No. 4. Ross designed the original layout, Robert Trent Jones touched it up it 1973, and Tom Fazio totally revamped the course last year, adding 140 pot bunkers and some fairway mounding to create one of the most visually enticing courses on the east coast.

Of all of Tom Fazio's great accomplishments over the past 20 years, being handed the keys to his own Pinehurst Resort course must standout as one of his greatest moments. In 1996, Fazio's No. 8 course opened to celebrate the 100-year of the Resort, and to pay homage to No. 2. Fazio employs the use of Ross' famous turtle back greens, waste areas, and the old masters uncanny ability to mix and match par-4's of differing lengths.

There is one golf course that most locals feel can hold its own with the Pinehurst Resort courses, including No. 2, and that is Pine Needles. The course is host to the 1996 and 2001 Women's U.S. Open, and is a Ross original that exemplifies Pinehurst area golf. Pine Needles is as traditional as sipping lemonade on the front porch - everything is out in front of you and there are no gimmicks. There are six par-4's that are over 420 yards, but Ross is nothing if not fair: all the par 5's are reachable in two.

And the winner is ...

Let's face it; the other contestants were doomed from the start. No matter how charming Charleston is, no matter how posh Hilton Head is, no matter how much golf history Pinehurst possess, how can they compete with 110 courses strewn over a 60-mile piece of white sandy beach?

There was a time about 15 years ago when Myrtle Beach couldn't have competed with its Carolina cousins in the quality golf category. But those days are over. Venues like Tidewater and Caledonia, both ranked in GOLF Magazine's Top 100 You Can Play, have put the Strand on the map in terms of high-end daily fee golf.

More recently, courses like the TPC of Myrtle Beach, the International World Tour and Grande Dunes are raising the bar even higher.

But, and this is a big but, there is still plenty of affordable golf to be played. Older courses like Arcadian Shores, Myrtle Beach National South and West, the Sea Gull, and provide golfers with sub-$70 golf rounds. Even a bevy of newer courses, including Diamondback, the Meadowlands, Calabash Golf Links, and Winyah Bay.

Book Your Trip Through TravelGolf.com Today

For Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head, Charleston, and Pinehurst: 866-409-2177!

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.

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