PAWLEYS ISLAND, S.C. | It’s debate time again, and our two local experts, Chris King and Ian Guerin, took to their respective proverbial podiums to talk about what they love about River Club and Tradition Golf Club. Located in Pawleys Island, just south of Myrtle Beach, both courses are part of the famed Waccamaw Golf Trail. River Club, one of Tom Jackson’s five Grand Strand designs in business today, opened in 1985. Eleven years later, Tradition Golf Club debuted as Florida-based architect Ron Garl’s sole Myrtle Beach layout.
IAN GUERIN: Chris, normally you put me on the spot with these debates and ask for my opinion first. Well, turnabout is fair play. You’ve got time to play one of these courses. Which one is it gonna be. Go!
CHRIS KING: These are two good courses that get overshadowed by the likes of Caledonia, Pawleys Plantation and True Blue, all of which are located nearby. Since you are forcing me to make a quick decision, I’ll take River Club by the narrowest of margins. There is a lot of water, but the layout is playable, I love the lowcountry setting, and I played one of my best rounds ever there! Maybe the decision wasn’t as close as I initially thought!
IG: Thanks for playing into my own recency bias, as I hit up Tradition last month and am going to go with that one. I like it for maybe that same reason that you preferred River Club: I found a way to play halfway decent. The staples of this course – playability, variation off the tee and some of the nicest greens in the area – have it among my favorites for the mid-tier tracks here. That’s saying something, because I’ve also scored well at River Club (by my standards at least) and have found it also suits my game.
CK: I enjoy Tradition Club. Garl’s name isn’t one Carolinas golfers may recognize as the vast majority of his work is in Florida, but he is creative and his designs are without fail fun to play, That being said, the look of River Club fits my eye. The course has water on 15 of 18 holes but it’s not overwhelmingly difficult, and No. 18, the risk-reward par 5 is one of my favorite finishing holes at the Beach, even allowing for the fact I can’t get there in two.
IG: River Club’s 18th isn’t just one of my favorite finishing holes. It’s one of my favorite holes, period, at the beach. From the birds that frequent the section of water next to the tee box, that mini-peninsula that gives players who drop a hook an extra sliver of hope or the come-back feel of that green, I love every aspect of what the water there presents. And as you mentioned, Jackson’s affinity for water is present all around. But if that’s not your thing, Tradition up the road some is a great choice. There is some water here, but in reality even lesser players are going to find it affect much of anything on as few as five holes.
CK: Speaking of favorite holes, I came as close as I’ve ever come to an ace on the 12th hole at Tradition. I was two feet away, directly behind the pin! To this day, I wonder if the ball had a foot less in distance if it would’ve dropped. Don’t ask about the come-backer. Water isn’t the defining characteristic at Tradition but it does have the island green 15th, which always sticks out in my mind as well.
IG: The last four holes at Tradition always seem to stand out to me. You have that island green on 15, then three distinct Par 4s that all use different bunkering as a way to make the three holes so distinct. So while the two backside Par 3s and Par 5s all fall within the first five holes, the last three are meant to finish you off with a strong pace of play. Multiple first-timers I’ve played with here have appreciated that type of routing, and if you’re someone who tires near the end of a round, you will, too.
CK: Both courses unquestionably finish with a flourish. The folks who say, “Drive for show, putt for dough” have never had trouble keeping the driver in play and River Club provides a little more latitude off the tee, which is a plus in my book. Conversely, your iron game better be sharp or the hazards protecting the greens will eat you up. Speaking of greens, River Club’s are typically a 10 on the stimpmeter so they are always smooth and fast.
IG: These debates aren’t always going to get clear-cut answers, it appears.
What say you, golfers? If you’ve got to pick between Tradition and River Club, which design are you choosing?