Before leaving for my recent visit to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, I asked a number of golf acquaintances whether they’d ever been there, and if so, what did they think. The respondents basically divided into six groups of roughly equal proportion:
- never been there, hear the golf’s only mediocre, so probably wouldn’t go
- never been there, no interest at all, hear it’s pretty tacky
- never been there, would love to, and will go some day
- been there once, it was better than I expected
- been there many times, think it’s great, especially for golf ‘with the guys’
- yes, I own a timeshare/condo there… it’s been a good investment
Everybody’s tastes and desires are different, of course. But having just come back from my solo trip to Myrtle, in which I played 10 courses in 6 days, I’d have to agree with those who look upon it favourably. The golf is far better than mediocre, if you’re willing to pay a bit more to play the better courses… but even at that, most of the green fees are generally below $100 in the early Spring, and that’s a bargain in my book.
The public areas are kinda tacky, as you drive mile after mile along Highway 17, the main road through town that actually begins in Winchester, Virginia and ends in Punta Gorda, Florida. The drive along Ocean Boulevard, steps away from the beach, is less of a strip mall strip than the Highway, but then it also doesn’t give you more than letterbox views of the ocean, because hotels block the vista. These are small complaints, since you’ll mainly be on the golf course or in a pub, but how much classier Myrtle could’ve been with a palm-lined auto promenade bordering the Atlantic.
LOTS TO DO OTHER THAN GOLF
There are certainly some nice areas to visit in Myrtle. Many courses have very impressive homes bordering their fairways, and none more so than The Dunes, which is in a very tasteful and refined neighbourhood in the southern part of North Myrtle. And just south of the airport is a very attractive shopping and dining complex called Market Common, which would be welcome anywhere.
Knowing that I was going to be writing about my little adventure, I examined the area with one question paramount in my mind: would this be a better place for a guys’/girls’ buddy trip, or for a couple? The answer to that was “buddy trip”… and ladies, if you don’t mind my saying, only go to Myrtle if you really love golf. With history and culture fairly low on the Featured Attractions list, my wife, who doesn’t love golf, would probably go nuts here after one night. But my two low-handicap sons and I would find a 7-day diet of golf-dinner-bed/golf-dinner-bed most invigorating.
That said, it’s not a bad spot for young families, with or without golf. There’s the beach, which is non-stop. And even though the ocean’s too cold for swimming till late May, I saw hundreds of toddlers dipping their toes and looking for shells last week.
One thing that struck me as somewhat unique to Myrtle Beach, and it’s perhaps a dubious distinction: the number of elaborate but very hokey mini-putt facilities along the main highway. On one twenty mile stretch through Myrtle and into North Carolina, I unconsciously counted a dozen, with names like Monster Mini-Putt, The Lost River of Dr. Zarkon, and Jurassic Putt… complete with 20-foot gorillas, yellow lava-spewing volcanoes, and everybody’s favourite, the Tyrannosaurus Rex, which of course was well-known for its putting skill, some 60 million years ago. Tacky, yes, but kids will love these places, and believe it or not, they’re a good early introduction to the game.
There’s no Disneyland or Six Flags Over anything, but the beach is lovely, and I’m sure if you did a little research, you’d find enough to keep the little ones happy for a week with other amusements that don’t involve putters.
But for golf, it’s great, and there’s lots of it. My own impression before going, based on hearsay that was probably 20 years old, was that out of roughly 1000 holes then, only one or two were memorable. That may have been true 20 or 30 or 40 years ago, but certainly during golf’s last boom from 1995-2005, enough well-designed, well-built, and very handsome housing and golf developments have sprung up to give Myrtle a higher rung in the social desirability scale.
And there’s a lot more holes than 1000 today. No one can say exactly how many courses there are, because the “Grand Strand” that is accepted as the Myrtle Beach area runs roughly 60 miles of coastline from Brunswick, NC, to Georgetown, SC. The generally accepted line now is “over 100 golf courses”, and really, how many do you need? There is certainly enough jolly good golf here that you’d enjoy a week, or two, playing a different course every day, and think you’d found Mecca.
I had the pleasure of playing my rounds in Myrtle with a variety of different partners, and asked them all why they were here. The general consensus was that the courses were above average, the accommodation was very reasonably priced, the restaurants were predictable (a good thing), and “it ain’t snooty”. I suspect this latter sentiment would not be applied by these folks to Hilton Head, in the southern tip of the state, or Kiawah Island halfway between the two.
I was happy that none of my respondents mentioned the convenience or conviviality of the strip clubs in Myrtle Beach. I had been told there are lots of them, which had no interest for me because I’m an old man. But actually, I was quite surprised that I noticed only two such establishments along my drive of Highway 17, with no cars in either parking lot. I’m sure a decade or two ago, there would have been more. Chalk up another positive social effect to the Internet, I suppose.
(During my week I was fortunate to stay at Anderson Ocean Club and Spa, right on the Atlantic, at the north end of a very central strip of hotels and bathing suit emporia. Anderson Ocean is affiliated with Hilton Grand Vacations, which is affiliated with Club Intrawest, which is affiliated with my wallet. Club Intrawest is in the process of being taken over by a new American owner, and we’ll see how that goes, but for now, the thousands of Canadian CI members can rest easily in the knowledge that we have a good option in Myrtle Beach. The complimentary valet parking was worth its weight in golf balls.)
LOTS OF NEW FRIENDS
In all but one of my 10 rounds, I was paired with other players, half of whom, coincidentally, were fellow Canadians. I didn’t say “surprisingly”, because, at this time of year especially, the place is swarming with red-and-white flags escaping late winter. Most of the people I played with were 20-plus handicappers, but they were loving every minute and every lost ball. Few of them had golf-playing spouses, but some had wives who were along for the trip, apparently content to read by the pool or shop at one of hundreds of the aforementioned swimwear stores.
Two of the players I was joined with, on different days, would each have scored well over 200 if every shot, penalty shot, mulligan and 8-foot gimme was counted. I’d be putting a gun to my temple if I was that bad, but I do marvel at golfers who still actually enjoy the game even when they take so many shots, lose so many balls, walk so many yards, and clearly have no talent for it whatsoever.
The weather in Myrtle Beach at this time of year is usually ideal (high-teens ºC), but whether it was a freak, or simply the onslaught of global warming, temperatures during my week away were at near-record highs for the time of year, in the upper 20s. Either way, great for golf. One of the attractions of Myrtle for southern Ontarians, is that it’s a manageable drive…about 15 hours from mid-Toronto. You can do that in a marathon day, or make it a leisurely trip with a Hampton Inn or two along the way. Or, of course, you can fly direct with Porter, or (as I did) fly in about 4.5 hours with a plane change in Atlanta (or other hubs.)
If you’re going to Myrtle Beach this Spring, I offer two words of advice: you might want to check out www.myrtlebeachgolfholiday.com for advice, personal help, package deals or itineraries that can be made-to-measure.
And secondly, don’t express your opinion or fear of Donald Trump to any American, unless you know their political persuasion in advance. Even if they bring the subject up, change it as quickly as possible. You just can’t be sure who thinks the man is Jesus, or who thinks he’s Satan. Just tell them how much you enjoy your free medical care in Canada, and leave it at that.
In all seriousness, it’s always a pleasure to visit, and be with, Americans. And my clubs and I would gladly go back to Myrtle Beach again.
MY COURSE ITINERARY
Based on various online reviews, I chose an itinerary of the best courses in the area. One spot I wanted (Heritage) was not available, unfortunately, as I’d heard from others it was DE-luxe. The courses I did play were all terrific (or at worst, okay), and I list them in my order of preference:
- The Dunes
Originally built in 1948, still considered the cream of the crop in Myrtle Beach. Public times are limited, and the green fee’s expensive, but it’s a superb experience, and worth the investment. Don’t pet the alligators on the 13th hole. http://www.thedunesclub.net
- TPC Myrtle Beach
A fine, modern course carved out of lush forest, and tough, no matter which tees you play. http://tpcmyrtlebeach.com
Tucked away in the backwoods of Little River, it’s hard to find the back road you’re supposed to take, so give yourself extra time to get there. This is a 26-year-old gem of a course, though, with 3-4 great holes along an inlet just off the ocean. http://tidewatergolf.com
- True Blue
About 40 minutes south of MB, a fine layout with some uncommon elevation changes for the relatively flat, sea level area. Right next door to Caledonia, so consider making these two a one-day tandem. http://www.fishclub.com
Just the drive in from the gates to the clubhouse is worth the green fee, and the charming atmosphere of the place makes you think it’s about 1935. The golf course offers a nice challenge, and the 18th hole may be one of the best finishing holes I’ve played. Caledonia is the number one course in MB for many people. http://www.fishclub.com
- Grande Dunes
More commercial and public than its neighbor, The Dunes, but a good golf course nonetheless. I particularly enjoyed the back nine here, with a par 3 and a 5 overhanging the Inland Waterway. http://www.grandedunesgolf.com
- Barefoot Landing – Davis Love course
I didn’t notice any particular imprint that would make me want to put DIII on my “must play” list. But surprisingly, I found this a more interesting, more creative layout than the other Barefoot layout I played (Fazio). (There are two other courses here, designed by Greg Norman and Pete Dye, which I didn’t get a chance to sample.) http://barefootgolf.com
This is a 27-hole facility, situated just across the state line in North Carolina, and the 40-minute drive is worth it. Thistle calls itself a links course, and the “theme” of the place is Scottish, but you certainly won’t imagine you’re playing Carnoustie or Royal Dornoch. Still, the nines are good and challenging, and the course conditioning is excellent. http://www.thistlegolf.com
- Barefoot Landing – Tom Fazio course
Fazio is on everyone’s top ten list of golf course architects, but I’m guessing he mailed in his design on this one. Not that it’s bad, not at all; I enjoyed it, but I just don’t remember one single hole that I played. http://barefootgolf.com
This might not be a bad place to play your warm-up round. Not as manicured or sophisticated as those above, but pleasant nonetheless, with a couple of pretty par-3s. www.blackmoor.com
I didn’t list green fees here, because they vary according to season, but you should be able to find that info by visiting their websites. I should also add, I received a very pleasant and cordial welcome at every course I played. The people of Myrtle Beach, and the staff of every golf course above, genuinely appreciate your visit, and your business.
And the golf balls you leave behind!