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By Derek Duncan for Golf Georgia Magazine, November/December 2016 Edition
In the golf and travel business, if you’re not forging ahead you’re falling behind. Another year has brought to some of the Southeast’s premier golf destinations a new wave of renovations, enhancements and expansions. Many regional resort courses have likewise boosted their positions in the golf magazine rankings, while old favorites have quietly re-fortified their longstanding traditions. 2016 was a year of movement and improvement — here’s a look at one of the leading headlines.
Founders Group Lands Four Golf Courses on South Carolina’s “Best” List
You know the story about Myrtle Beach: 60 miles of bright neon, amusement, theme restaurants, putt-putt, boardwalks, beaches and golf. Yes, lots and lots of golf, as in over 100 courses, almost all of them battling for your time, attention and money.
It can be overwhelming even for experienced travelers. What’s good? Where to play? What distinguishes one venue from the next?
One bit of advice is to trust a particular local operator that guarantees consistency across all of its properties. Founders Group International manages 22 of Myrtle Beach’s most respected courses, four of which have recently been named to Golf Magazine’s list of best courses you can play in South Carolina.
Pawleys Plantation (picture, right), rated 19 on the list and located on the south end of the Grand Strand, is a microcosm of everything Myrtle Beach typifies in one course: target-style golf cut through heavy tree cover; frequent encounters with ponds and lagoons; a constant flair for the dramatic; and show- stopping moments in front of breathtaking backdrops, in this case a series of holes perched along the tidal marshes of Pawleys Island Creek. It’s also vintage Jack Nicklaus circa 1988, with deep bunkers fronting angled, oblong greens divided into tiers and sections, several oaks left standing in the line of play and holes that demand high shots over water and sand. Most golfers can’t get enough, however, because of one-of-a-kind holes like the dainty par-3 13th playing off a dyke to a naked peninsula green hanging out in the marsh.
With so much competition in the area, subtlety doesn’t often sell. The King’s North course at Myrtle Beach National, rated no. 15, gets it with a maximalist design that mixes sand, water and contour in a way that’s notable even for this market. King’s North was originally designed in 1973 by Arnold Palmer’s design firm; the team returned in 1996 to conduct a total overhaul of the course, an endeavor that included moving over 400,000 cubic yards of dirt, thinning out pines and underbrush to expose the natural sand soils, enlarging the skinny fairways and small greens and imbuing the entire course with open sand and scrub borders. Located next to South Prong Steritt Swamp, this is entertaining, full-throttle core golf that feels a world away from the Strand hubbub.
Grande Dunes, designed in 2001 by longtime Robert Trent Jones lead architect Roger Rulewich and ranked 13th, is a less overt but charismatic design with supersized fairways and greens. Lakes and marshes come into play on 14 holes, with numerous putting surfaces angled against hazards creating risk/reward decisions from the fairway. Five holes border the Intracoastal Waterway, including the par- 3 14th with an extremely elevated tee playing over marsh and water down to a shallow green. The short par-4 6th, with bunkers staggered through the fairway creating alternate lanes, would be right at home on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama.
TPC Myrtle Beach, home to the Dustin Johnson School of Golf, is deceptive with its elegantly shaped bunkers and greens and isolated fairways that stretch through avenues of oak and pine. Don’t be fooled — this 1998 Tom Fazio design (#10), is built to challenge the best players in the world, as it did during the 2000 Senior PGA TOUR Championship won by Tom Watson. The course is cut from the dense woodlands and marshes of the Collins Creek watershed, with slender holes framed by fairway bunkers, ponds and native vegetation rolling into small greens with beguiling contour.