MYRTLE BEACH, SC
By Larry Gavrich, Founder & Editor,
Home On The Course, LLC
For the golfing gourmand, there is no place like Myrtle Beach. Despite the fact that the Grand Strand, as its marketers call it, has lost nearly two dozen golf courses in the last 10 years, there is still more golfing variety along the 90-mile stretch of sand and pine forests than in any comparable area anywhere.
Whether you envision a private or semi-private golf club membership in your retirement, or whether you are inclined to save money and play a grand buffet of different layouts, the Myrtle Beach area golf scene will quell your appetite.
The classic Surf Club, a little farther north, transitioned to private status 10 years ago yet, truth be told, if you call on a slow day, you will probably bag a tee time. Aside from the Members Club at Grande Dunes, the only golf course in the area attributed to former PGA Tour player Nick Price, the rest of Myrtle Beach’s private clubs are located on the south end of the Strand, in the Murrells Inlet/Pawleys Island area.
They include the Tom Fazio design at Wachesaw Plantation, The Reserve Club at Litchfield (Greg Norman) and DeBordieu Colony, a windswept Pete Dye layout, even though the ocean, a few hundred yards away, is never in sight; the finishing holes are some of the toughest on the east coast.
One bonus of membership at The Reserve Club is privileges at nine other McConnell Golf Group golf clubs in the Carolinas, with not a clunker in the group (three layouts by Donald Ross included). And because McConnell manages the private Members Club at Grande Dunes, Reserve members have access to yet another private course just 45 minutes away.
The term “semi-private” has always struck me as a bit silly in the context of Myrtle Beach because some clubs that call themselves so seem more semi-public, given the steady stream of resort players clogging the tee sheets. And yet, these types of clubs offer some of the greatest golfing bargains to members who don’t mind sharing their fairways with visitors. For golfers who live inside the gates of a golf community and play a few times a week, a reasonable monthly dues rate can save a lot of money. At Pawleys Plantation, for example, the marsh-surrounded Jack Nicklaus layout in Pawleys Island, members pay dues of $285 per month.
In peak season, the club charges non-members a rack rate of $120; off-season, the rate is around $60 per round. Simple math makes the case for membership if one plays just twice a week. Besides Pawleys Plantation, a combined membership at under $2,000 annually at the iconic Caledonia Golf & Fish Club and True Blue Plantation, both in Pawleys Island and both typically ranked in the top five courses in the Myrtle Beach area, is a major bargain. Most of the courses that are accessible to the public –- see below -– also offer unlimited golf to members.
Mindful that tourists come and tourists go, and that a bad economy can cause discretionary spending to vaporize, golf course operators in Myrtle Beach began to look locally for a sustaining flow of cash well before the recession of 2008. Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, which promotes golf vacations in the area in behalf of most of the area’s courses, developed a new revenue spigot in something they pegged the Myrtle Beach Golf Passport. For $40, residents of the three adjoining counties (Brunswick, Horry and Georgetown) receive deep discounts for golf at the majority of Myrtle Beach’s courses. The discounts can range from about 60% off the rack rate in off-peak seasons to a more modest discount at peak times; for Myrtle Beach, peak is spring and fall. (Note: Local courses are so hard pressed for revenue during the high heat of summer that they discount rounds significantly and even offer free golf to children 17 and under when accompanied by a paying adult.)
There are so many excellent public access golf courses in the Myrtle Beach area – including the aforementioned semi-private clubs – that it’s hard to know where to begin. Starting just over the North Carolina border in Sunset Beach, The Thistle Club is patterned on a 100-year-old Scottish club; its clubhouse does evoke a sense of the Old Sod and its golf course, while lacking in links turf underneath its fairways, makes the most of the local sand and water hazards. The community of Ocean Ridge, also in Sunset Beach, is home to 72 holes of golf and some wild cats named Lion’s Paw, Tiger’s Eye, Leopard’s Chase and Panther’s Run. These courses, available for unlimited play in one semi-private golf package or on a pay-as-you-go basis, range in degree of difficulty, with bunkering defining the range of challenges.
In North Myrtle Beach, the Barefoot Resort offers a tough choice among four layouts by Davis Love III, Tom Fazio, Greg Norman and Pete Dye. The Love course features brick ruins just behind the fourth hole that can redirect a too-strong shot back onto the green. The Dye Course features – what else? – fairway moguls and gloriously annoying bunkers.
In the heart of Myrtle Beach, the Intracoastal Waterway forms the backdrop for a few holes at The Grande Dunes Resort Club, located just over a dramatic bridge from U.S. Highway 17 that spans the waterway. With wide expanses of bunkers from tee to green and surprising changes in elevation for a beach layout, Grande Dunes is one of the most fun courses on the Strand. Many public players don’t see the fun in Prestwick Country Club, among the most challenging layouts in the area; we have noted reviewers’ comments like “unforgiving,” “Bring your A game,” “not for the high handicapper” and, yet, “Great course for women to play.” Prestwick, like golf in general along the Grand Strand of Myrtle Beach, provides something for every golfer.