Experts Debate: Is Pawleys Plantation Really America’s 11th Hardest Course?

PAWLEYS ISLAND, S.C. | In mid-September, Golf Advisor compiled more than seven figures worth of online reviews to tally up their 50 most difficult golf courses in the United States.
Chiming in at No. 11 was one of our own.
Pawleys Plantation Golf & Country Club.
Of those million-plus user reviews, some 350,000 of them – according to the Golf Advisor <Click Here to View Rankings> – included a specific rating for difficult on a scale of 1-to-5.
We asked our resident experts, Chris King and Ian Guerin, if this was an accurate measurement of the course while comparing it to not only their own experiences in the Myrtle Beach area but also outside South Carolina’s Grand Strand.

Ian Guerin: Chris, I gotta tell you, I really wasn’t all that surprised to see Pawleys Plantation ranked so high on this list. For starters, yes, it is a really difficult course for the common player. It’s also in a highly visible golf market that as a whole is driving down prices and allowing players who may not be ready for this type of a challenge to tee it up here. If this data is asking Joe Golfer to rate it, then yes, it makes perfect sense.

Chris King: As you allude to, there is a difference between not being surprised Pawleys is ranked that high and believing the course is really that difficult. Pawleys provides a daunting challenge for even the best of players and some of the course’s most memorable holes are also among its toughest, which means the difficulty sticks with you even more. Honestly, I’m not sure Pawleys is the toughest course in Myrtle Beach.

IG: It’s definitely top two in my book, along with Prestwick Country Club up a little closer to Myrtle Beach city limits. In Pawleys Plantation, I base that belief not only upon my experiences there, but also in relation to how much better I’ve been playing other courses. Around town, my scores have improved some 12-14 strokes compared to even six or seven years ago. At Pawleys? Nope. It still has the ability to make me look like a first timer.

CK: The Fazio Course is also on my shortlist of the area’s toughest, but we are here to talk about Pawleys. Holes 13-17, most of which play along the unforgettable marsh are bruising, at least for me, and they largely account for the excess strokes I take at Pawleys. There is danger on nearly every swing during that stretch and given my mental frailty, good ‘ol Jack Nicklaus usually breaks me and my game down somewhere near the end of the round.

IG: Those are every bit the haymaker Nicklaus intended them to be. But the earlier jabs are what set the tone for his knock-out punches. Look at No. 2, for instance.(pictured right) He dumped the top handicap hole right there. It includes a slim fairway leading directly into a lengthy waste bunker and a tiny green. Reaching in two is next to impossible for the average golfer. And for those who find the big-boy trouble (water up the very far left), it could be a rib breaker.

CK: I never said the front nine was a walk through the roses, only that my biggest numbers have come on the back! To your point, No. 2 is very difficult and so are 5, 6, and 8. Collectively, the front nine par 4s, all of which play at least 370 yards, are a significant challenge. While we debate just how difficult Pawleys Plantation is, I think it’s important to keep this in mind – I, like a lot of golfers, love playing the course. I know going in I’m not going to have a career round but the course is beautiful and to play well there is very gratifying.

IG: I’m right there with you on all of those points. Regardless of how bad my scorecard looks, I get to the green on No. 13 (pictured right) and all is right with the world. It’s one of those iconic views that should be considered among the short list of most scenic spots in all of Myrtle Beach golf. The fact that it is part of a difficult stretch on an already difficult course is inconsequential

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