Grand Strand Golf (Myrtle Beach / South Carolina)

BRIAN OAR - FAIRWAYS PHOTOGRAPHY

South Carolina’s Myrtle Beach and grand strand boast nearly 100 golf courses created by the best designers in the game. But as our correspondent found, there is plenty of off-course appeal to this stretch of American coastline.

This is the scene. It's a hot and humid June afternoon at Myrtle Beach airport in South Carolina, and after loading my golf clubs and luggage into the back of my hire car, I drive south on Hwy 17, along the 60-mile stretch of coastline known as the Grand Strand. Situated at the northern end, is the Vegas-like atmosphere of Myrtle Beach itself with its sizzling nightlife, shopping malls the size of small towns and endless giant billboards advertising seafood buffets, live shows and theatre. Located only a dozen or so miles further south, but feeling like a world away are the tranquil enclaves of Murrells Inlet, Pawleys Island and Georgetown that still retain their 19th-century rhythms.

One common denominator is that there are around 100 championship golf courses located in the Myrtle Beach and Grand Strand region. Greg Norman, Robert Trent Jones, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio and Pete Dye are just a handful of big name designers who have laid out stunning tracks - some face the beautiful Atlantic Ocean while others line the picturesque Intracoastal Waterway. Throw in several courses that are listed as 'America's Top 100 Courses To Play', Golf Magazine's 'No.1 Value Golf Destination' and 'No.1 Buddy Golf Destination', plus a great climate, excellent seafood and a plethora of outdoor activities, and its little wonder that Myrtle Beach is billed as 'The Golf Capital of the World'.

My home-away-from-home to play a quartet of top-notch courses is the Inlet Sports Lodge, located in the laid-back fishing village of Murrells Inlet, about 17 miles south of Myrtle Beach. This comfortable and convenient base offers golfers a unique blend of Lowcountry luxury and sophistication mixed with rustic Southern charm. Well-appointed resort suites and studios boast pine wood floors, mini-kitchens with full-sized refrigerators and pressured body jets showers. It's been a long day of travel since my 6.am flight from Manchester to Atlanta with a connection to Myrtle Beach, and after a cold beer and a bite to eat, I drift into a deep sleep under the gently whirring ceiling fan in my room.

The Dunes Golf & Beach Club

It’s 7.30am the following morning at the Dunes Golf & Beach Club right in the heart of Myrtle Beach. A row of golf carts are lined up near the clubhouse as friendly staff organise groups of golfers and their clubs. Some players hone their putting skills on the practice green while others loosen up on the nearby range - there’s a palpable buzz in the air. Opened in 1948 and designed by legendary golf architect Robert Trent Jones Sr. this is one of the oldest and best courses in the area, and showcases Trent Jones's signature elevated greens complexes and deep bunkering among gently rolling hills.

“Keep an eye out for gators on the course,” says the starter as I prepare to tee-off on the 425-yard, par-4 1st. “I've seen them on just about every hole on the course but especially the 13th.” My thoughts immediately turn to the golf movie Happy Gilmore where Chubbs loses his hand to an alligator, but thankfully I'm soon distracted by other creatures I spot, including fox squirrels, racoons, turtles, kingfishers and vultures. With all the abundant and colourful wildlife around I find it difficult to concentrate on my golf - and at any moment I half expect David Attenborough to emerge from the lush green foliage with film crew in tow.

The front nine of the Dunes is parkland in character with fairways bordered by splendid mature trees, whilst the back nine plays along salt marshes, tidal creeks and Singleton Lake. The par-5 13th, known as ‘Waterloo’ is the Dunes' famed signature hole and one of the world's greatest golf holes. Playing 640-yards from the gold tees, this challenging three shotter is a severe dogleg wrapping clockwise around Singleton Lake, which is both a consideration on the drive and subsequent shots. There are numerous ways to reach the two-tiered green surrounded by deep bunkers, and risk-reward comes into play no matter what route you take - not to mention the alligators are usually seen basking by the water's edge.

True Blue Plantation

The second course I play is True Blue Plantation, ranked as one of the 'Top Ten Golf Courses in Myrtle Beach', and situated in Pawleys Island about fifteen minutes drive down Hwy 17 from the Inlet Sports Lodge. Built on the site of historic True Blue Plantation, a famed 19th-century indigo and rice plantation, this dramatic Mike Strantz layout winds its way through pristine salt marshes, wetlands and maritime forests, and features plenty of elevation change, large-scale fairways, scrub-filled natural sandy areas, lakes and undulating greens. Emphasising the natural beauty of the area, it incorporates native grasses and vegetation to maintain much of the character of the property.

Right from the superb 624-yard par-5 opener where all three shots flirt with sculpted sandy waste areas, wetlands and a twisting creek, to the trio of watery closing holes, the challenge of True Blue never lets up. Strantz's artistic use of water and numerous abstract waste bunkers with hardly a weak hole along the way, means this captivating and aesthetic design stands out amid many other offerings along the Grand Strand. From the bag-drop and well-groomed grass range, to the complimentary after-round ice cold towel and shaded verandah overlooking the18th hole, everything about True Blue oozes quality and relaxed Southern hospitality.

Caledonia Golf & Fish Club

A Dustin Johnson drive away from True Blue is another classic Myrtle Beach golf experience - the Caledonia Golf & Fish Club. Voted the “Fifth Best New Public Course in America” upon opening its gates in 1994, the accolades have never stopped rolling in for Mark Strantz's first design on the Grand Strand. It feels like a journey back in time as I drive along the grand entrance lined with rows of centuries-old live oaks draped with Spanish moss to reach the Old South clubhouse. Often compared to Augusta National for its exquisite style, floral beauty, and velvety fairways and greens, Caledonia has a sleepy ambiance that embraces its Southern roots. ...

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Attached Files

Grand-Strand-Golf-Myrtle-Beach-South-Carolina.rtf
Grand-Strand-Golf-Myrtle-Beach-South-Carolina.rtf
“Wahoo's Tiki Bar sign on the Marsh Walk, Murrells Inlet – Image credit Andrew Marshall”
“Wahoo
“Myrtle Beach coastline – Image credit Julia Lynn”
“Myrtle Beach coastline – Image credit Julia Lynn”
“The Marsh Walk at Murrells Inlet – Image credit Andrew Marshall”
“The Marsh Walk at Murrells Inlet – Image credit Andrew Marshall”
“A couple of friendly locals on the Marsh Walk, Murrells Inlet – Image credit Andrew Marshall”
“A couple of friendly locals on the Marsh Walk, Murrells Inlet – Image credit Andrew Marshall”
“Par-4, 13th hole, True Blue Golf Club – Image credit Brian Oar ( Fairways Photography)”
“Par-4, 13th hole, True Blue Golf Club – Image credit Brian Oar ( Fairways Photography)”
“Golfers enjoy a cold beer from the clubhouse overlooking the 18th green at Caledonia Golf & Fish Club – Image credit Andrew Marshall”
“Golfers enjoy a cold beer from the clubhouse overlooking the 18th green at Caledonia Golf & Fish Club – Image credit Andrew Marshall”
“The par-4, 13th hole, Caledonia Golf & Fish Club – Image credit Brian Oar (Fairways Photography)”
“The par-4,  13th hole, Caledonia Golf & Fish Club – Image credit Brian Oar (Fairways Photography)”
“Par-3,11th hole, True Blue Golf Club – Image credit Brian Oar (Fairways Photography)”
“Par-3,11th hole, True Blue Golf Club – Image credit Brian Oar (Fairways Photography)”
“Alligator on the fairway of the par-5 13th hole Dunes Golf & Beach Club - Image credit Andrew Marshall”
“Alligator on the fairway of the par-5 13th hole Dunes Golf & Beach Club - Image credit Andrew Marshall”
“18th green and clubhouse at the Caledonia Golf & Fish Club – Image credit Brian Oar ( Fairways Photography)”
 “18th  green and clubhouse at the Caledonia Golf & Fish Club – Image credit Brian Oar ( Fairways Photography)”