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Story by Ian Guerin
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. | No matter which golfing demographic you fit into - Myrtle Beach local or visitor - choosing which courses to play here can be a daunting task, overwhelming even. Having 90 or so to pick from can have that effect. We’re here to share a tip as you begin planning your 2019 rounds. Golf shouldn’t just be about cost. Or playability. Or relative location. It should package all of that together perfectly, whether you have a week of rounds straight through or can only play every few weeks. Some courses need to be on your list.
These are those Nine for ’19.
This may not be Tom Fazio’s best-known course in the area (TPC of Myrtle Beach certainly gives it a run for its money). However, his namesake track is every bit the stunner that anyone would assume would accompany one of his designs - not to mention the highly regarded Barefoot legacy that has been crafted in a relatively short amount of time. Players here can be so sucked into his work that they forget these par-71, 18-hole layout goes start to finish without a turn.
For as many of the Grand Strand designs have earned top accolades, very few have done what Grande Dunes did in 2009, when it earned “National Golf Course of the Year” status from the National Golf Course Owners Association of America. In the decade since, the resort course here has done nothing to shy away from that distinction. It profiles some of the best hole views via adjoining land surface with the Intracoastal Waterway while adding a country club feel to public golf.
Players leave Heritage Plantation and start to think about how they could make their yard look like this. Fat chance. The culmination of three-plus decades of fine-tuning have accented the land Dan Maples had to work with. Specifically, he had a leg up when it came to natural ponds, oaks and magnolias. Building off that and the gradually rolling terrain of the former rice plantation, Maples took advantage, not only using sand traps, but also direct and indirect tree lines off the fairways and some of the water to protect his greens.
Each of the next two entries feature work from long-time architect Willard Byrd, but what he did at International could be seen as his proverbial swan song of sorts. Opened just four years before his death, International put to use that crossover land between the old pine-laden forests located closer to the Myrtle Beach and the Lowcountry feel associated with huge oaks and elevation dips. What’s more, native grasses and ponds were utilized nicely. The cherry on top is the 2018 greens project that now has International sporting some of the nicest putting surfaces in the area.
Whereas International was one of Byrd’s last projects, Litchfield was among his first (and his opening act locally). The soon-to-be 52-year-old course proves just how committed he was to build tracks that would stand the test of time. Very little has been done to change the work that was done to help attract year-long visitors to the town that would eventually become Pawleys Island. Not only did it do just that; it inspired other golf groups to open courses of their own in the vicinity.
Arnold Palmer’s love affair with the Myrtle Beach golf market from his college playing days later culminated in the Myrtle Beach National trio of courses. The flagship of those is King’s North, the course frequently considered the best of the best of the tracks located in heaviest population center of Horry County, S.C., Carolina Forest. There, King’s North mixes creative par 3s, dynamic mid-range holes and - of course - the iconic No. 6, affectionately known and sold as “The Gambler.” All of it sits atop pristine playing surfaces where finding a bad lie is next to impossible.
Arnie's good buddy Jack Nicklaus did his best to keep the competitive fire between the two going with his 1988 design at Pawleys Plantation. Nothing about this layout is average, from the low-lying marsh on the opening hole to to the peninsula green on the super-short No. 13 to the need for a bailout waste bunker on No. 18. Thirty years after the course opened, Nicklaus made a high-profile return in 2018 and rode his signature course hole-by-hole. You may not have his analyzation skills, but that shouldn't stop you from getting your own look.
Tidewater loves to boast that Ken Tomlinson wanted to avoid artificial elements to his first professional design. And with what he was given and how he made it work, we think that line works really, really well. On one side of the property is the Cherry Grove Inlet marshes; on the other is the Intracoastal Waterway. The doubled-up water effect can turn players around, but even that allows them to take in the sights Tomlinson so wanted to put on display. In between are a bunch of holes that will add to the experience.
Often packaged with its sister course, Caledonia Golf & Fish Club, True Blue would easily stand on its own. For starters, Mike Strantz’s “other” Myrtle Beach design differs from his first solo project outside of some of the shared environment. But what True Blue has also done since it opened in 1998 was find ways to make players appreciate what is in front of them. Fairways are framed by trees, sand and water and impressive bunkers lie next to oversized ponds and streams. Together, it equates to a visual masterpiece and a near-perfect round.