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Story below by Ian Guerin
Amid the hoopla of the Myrtle Beach golf scene is a conglomeration of 11 of the finest courses the area has to offer. Together, their distinction comes with a separate moniker - the Waccamaw Golf Trail.
From the north end of Murrells Inlet down to the southern tip of Pawleys Island, those tracks represent high-end golf with a Lowcountry feel. Centuries-old plantations, bending rivers and moss-covered oaks are incorporated into some fantastic designs that as a whole are unattainable anywhere else.
Pick any of the group, and you’ll find a great round. Start pairing them together, and the experience grows exponentially.
The property owners had big plans when they hired Mike Strantz to lay out a golf course. It’s fair to say he exceeded all expectations. Caledonia is annually one of the most decorated locations not only locally, but up and down the East Coast. From the 376-yard par 4 at No. 1 throughout the iconic 18th with a pond separating the fairway from the green, every inch of this course can be described as immaculate.
The only area course to play host to a PGA Tour event, TPC of Myrtle Beach is a Tom Fazio design that adds a professional feel without automatically preventing the common golfer from going after some great scores. A mix of thick marsh grasses and pine trees join water hazards and undulation as visitors find a touch of the tour without having the card.
Mike Strantz did so well with Caledonia Golf & Fish Club that he was asked to replicate that type of success at the adjoining property, True Blue. No one can say the late designer didn’t accomplish just that. The course has routinely found itself lauded as one of the best courses in South Carolina while mixing up the normal par 72 with three par 5s on the front and three par 3s on the back.
Ask any first-time player which hole at Pawleys Plantation stood out the most, and the variety of answers would be vast. Maybe it’s No. 4, where Jack Nicklaus inserted three bunkers in the middle of the fairway. Or it could be the tiny par 3 on No. 13 or the following hole where a tree cuts the fairway in half. What the diversity in answers proves is Nicklaus’ design skills are unlike those of anyone else.
A former recipient of the Myrtle Beach Golf Course Owners Association Golf Course of the Year, Gary Player turned the site of the former Longwood Plantation into true shot-makers round. Complete with seven full dogleg holes and playing no more than 6,614 yards from the back tees, the course forces everyone to rediscover those seldom-used clubs in their bag.
The jewel of the Legends’ five area tracks, Heritage Club is every bit the combination of great golf and Southern feel a player could ask for. The sprawling Antebellum-style clubhouse serves as the precursor to a championship-level course that has found itself ranked among the top 50 public sites in the country on multiple occasions all while maintaining its hospitable feel.
It would not be fair to say that Litchfield Country Club is 50 years in the making. Instead, months after celebrating that golden anniversary, Litchfield continues to show what made it great all those years ago when it initially opened. The Willard Byrd design has been best navigated by those who don’t rush shot selection, a move that simultaneously allows players to digest the grounds of the former rice plantation in all their glory.
Few along South Carolina’s Grand Strand can say their course is designed around as much water as River Club. Between bending streams and some man-made ponds, it features some form of the hazard on 14 of the 18 holes. That aspect continues to crescendo right up to No. 18, where the Tom Jackson Signature Course wraps up with a large bend around an oversized pond.
Playing only a touch longer than some of its neighbors in Pawleys Island, Tradition has found its own method of setting itself apart. Wider-than-normal landing zones give bigger hitters a chance to show off their stuff on Ron Garl’s layout. That goes for those who elect to play from the championships, measuring nearly 6,900 yards, or those playing the more manageable tee offerings.
The southernmost course on the Waccamaw Golf Trail, Founders Club is also the newest. Re-designed by Thomas Walker and re-opened atop the former Sea Gull Golf Club in 2008, the sand-heavy track was almost instantly granted a top-30 distinction in South Carolina and earned the esteemed Myrtle Beach Golf Course of the Year award from the Myrtle Beach Golf Course Owners Association.
Dan Maples has a handful of designs along South Carolinas Grand Strand, but Willbrook may be his finest. After opening in the late 1980s, players found not only plenty of history - the property is dotted with markers speaking to events of the last three centuries - but also a give-and-take layout that provides tests and confidence boosters woven into the old plantation land.