PAWLEYS ISLAND, S.C - For those golfers fed up with tricky, modern golf courses, and the heart attack inducing rounds they provide, Robert Spangler and Ron Garl feel you pain.
The head professional and designer of the Tradition Golf Club in Myrtle Beach's picturesque South Strand honestly believe that enough is enough when it comes to the great injustice perpetrated on golfers around the U.S: Golf is a game to be savored, enjoyed and appreciated, not an experience to be rued, cursed, and feared.
"Playability," says Spangler when asked to sum up the Tradition in on word. "For instance, when we designed the course, we sent out a couple thousand questionnaires. We also put one in Golf for Women. The course is designed so that no matter what tees you play from, you should be hitting your second shot from the same place as the other guy or gal."
Querying players as to what they want out of course design is the sort of democracy you can only find in America. And golf course owners have taken notice. The Golf Course Owners Association of South Carolina recently named the Tradition "Golf Course of the Year".
As for Garl, unless you play a boatload of golf in Florida, you may not have heard the name. As prominent as Gators fans and soft math in the Sunshine state, Garl takes a backseat to Clyde Johnston, Dan Maples, Tom Jackson, and Willard Byrd in the Carolinas.
Perhaps it's only fitting that the Tradition is nestled between the Jackson designed River Club and the Maples designed Willbrook Plantation in the quaint little settlement of Litchfield Beach.
And just as there seems to be room for three college football powerhouses in Florida, Litchfield Beach has little trouble accommodating this welcome addition to the South Strand golfing arsenal.
"Ron is starting to come into his own," Spangler says. "He is big in Florida, where he was the golf architect of the year back in 1995. He has over 200 courses there, and he is making a name here."
Golf Digest hit the Tradition with its Four Star rating in its "Places to Play" ratings, and right from the get-go its not difficult to see how the course fell into favor with the magazine's reviewers.
The first hole is a wide open, 323-yard par 4 that plays as the easiest hole on the course, and must have every player that tees off on No. 1 saying "God bless Garl." Even if you are a victim of the dreaded double teeing process (you have a 50/50 shot), the 520-yard par 5 10th hole is a dogleg right that will accommodate the nastiest of slices.
With starting holes like the first and 10th, a relative lack of penal bunkering, wide-open landing areas, and large, flat greens, it is no wonder the Tradition is so popular with local golfers and visitors.
But simply being playable does not a great golf course make. The Tradition offers up enough memorable holes, however, that it can confidently claim to be one of the top 5 layouts in the south Strand.
The 377-yard par 4 seventh hole features an island green that once featured a bailout waste bunker on the front and right sides. Now, the hole is ringed with bulkhead, forcing players stricken with TPC Sawgrass disease to aim for the grass bailout area to the back left.
The 408-yard par 4 eighth hole is exquisitely framed from tee to green by Low Country hardwoods, and has to be one of the most aesthetically appealing holes on the course.
Yet, the 399-yard par 4 16th steals the show as perhaps the best hole on the course. This cleverly designed two-shotter plays over a small hill, and down into a forward sloping green that accepts approach shots from long irons like Ivan Rodriguez accepts fastballs.
Playability, a cadre of memorable holes, and last but not least - conditioning.
The Tradition is known from Calabash to Georgetown as having some of the best Bermuda grass greens in the southeastern U.S.
"If you are a resort course in this area, Bermuda is the way to go," says Tim Guthrie, the Tradition's head superintendent. "Bermuda does not need aerified in the peak fall and spring seasons like bentgrass does."
For years, the Tradition was one of the few upscale courses in the south Strand to use Bermuda grass on its greens. But recently, True Blue and Wachesaw Plantation East underwent major renovations that included replacing their bentgrass greens with Tif Eagle.
"If every other Bermuda grass was to get a virus and die, Tif Eagle would be the only strand that would live," Guthrie says. "Tif Eagle is the grass of the future, but even Tif Dwarf can be taken to a different level if you take good care of it."
Spangler says that the Bermuda grass greens, superior drainage, and easily maintainable conditions at the Tradition make it one of the most playable tracks in Myrtle Beach year around. But the Socastee native says that its customer service, and not necessarily conditioning, that often makes the difference in repeat play.
"We pride ourselves on the customer service," he says. "When a guy comes in to check in, we don't just give him his ticket and say thank you. All the guys at the bag drop are great. We try to use players' names as much as possible."
Every morning, dozens of women set their bags at the Tradition's bag drop and get ready to embark on a round with their (better??) halves. Coincidence? We think not. Tradition head professional Robert Spangler says that Ron Garl has incorporating more women-friendly golf elements into this course than perhaps any course in the southeastern U.S.
"We have two tees for ladies, and really a third for ladies," Spangler says. "We really want this to be a women-friendly golf course. We have drinking coolers and restroom located in proximity to their tees. We made sure that the restrooms on the golf course were ready first.
"At a lot of courses, the ladies tee will be an after thought. Ours are actually tee boxes with some thought behind them."
Man, I like my course: Course designer Ron Garl took such a liking to his design at Tradition that he purchased an ownership share in the course. Well, not exactly. Spangler says that Garl was offered a share in the course as part of the payment for his work. Garl remains good friends with the other owners, and is known to tee it up at this south Strand favorite from time to time.
Practice makes perfect: If the practice range at Regent Park Golf Club in Charlotte, N.C. looks familiar after working on your game at the Tradition's practice range, it should! Garl designed both tracks, and the Tradition's state-of-the-art practice facility was the model for one of the Queen City's most popular practice ranges.
Hole you can birdie: According to Spangler: "No. 3, a short par 4 with a huge landing area. I hear people talking about (taking) threes and I hear people talking tens. It is one of those double-edged sword holes."
Did you know?: The No. 14 hole was modeled after the famous 15th hole at Augusta? "Most people have never been to Augusta so they won't recognize it," Spangler deadpans.
Practice Fac.: A+
Club House/Pro Shop: A
Pace of Play: C
Overall Rating: A