How The King, The Golden Bear & The Black Knight have left an indelible mark on the Grand Strand golf scene.
Story by Ian Guerin, for the July/August 2016 issue of Golf Georgia Magazine
One hundred fifty nine PGA Tour victories. Thirty-four major championships. Thirteen green jackets.
And seven Myrtle Beach area golf course designs.
Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Arnold Palmer may not be winning tournaments anymore. But their legacies have lived on in more ways than just their ceremonial opening to the Masters Tournament each April. Along South Carolina’s Grand Strand, the Big Three’s architecture possesses a special connection to golf’s history – and arguably the biggest modern-era names that shaped it.
Palmer’s Trifecta (Plus One)
The billboard off one of the busiest stretches heading in and out of Myrtle Beach proudly displays Arnold Palmer.
While he also designed Rivers Edge Golf Club across the North Carolina border in Shallotte, Myrtle Beach National Golf Club has gone all-in on letting folks know his Grand Strand influence is mostly nestled in a three-course package just outside the Myrtle Beach city limits.
“Arnold Palmer’s name brings people in,” Myrtle Beach National Head Professional Brad Crumling said. “There are so few golf courses that have his name attached to it. We’re obviously going to continue to promote his name. It’s one of the main reasons people come here.”
The West, SouthCreek and King’s North courses all opened in the early 1970s under Palmer’s umbrella. Then, in 1996, he took King’s North to the next level with an extensive redesign.
The track re-opened to rave reviews, has spent its fair share of time considered among the area’s best courses, and continues to own one of the South Carolina golf’s biggest talking points.
The par-five No. 6 includes an island fairway and a fitting nickname.
“I think ‘The Gambler’ brings a lot of people back,” Crumling said. “But I don’t think it’s the only memorable hole on the course. I think six, 12 and 18 are three of the most memorable holes on the Beach.”
Nicklaus’ Championship Influence
Jason Mitchell remembers watching the 1986 Masters with his dad. Also an Ohio native, Mitchell is now the head professional of Jack Nicklaus’ design at Long Bay Golf Club.
Three years after the epic visual of the slightly hunched over Golden Bear pointing his putter to the sky, his finishing touches at Long Bay went into effect. In many regards, Nicklaus ensured that players here earned what they got.
“He may have made Long Bay a little more difficult because it was one of his first designs,” Mitchell said. “I think what stands out is the undulations in the greens. I don’t know if it is too difficult, but it would be a formidable challenge for the 20-plus handicappers. It wouldn’t deter them from playing, but it stands out.”
Coupled with extensive waste bunkers and mounding, Long Bay’s reputation has solidified its standing as one of the Grand Strand’s more challenging rounds. Still, as one of just two Nicklaus designs locally along with Pawleys Plantation Golf & Country Club (where he formerly owned a home), Long Bay has a definitive selling point.
Visitors are frequently taking photos standing next the statue of Nicklaus located steps from the clubhouse’s front door.
Player’s Single Local Gem
While the other two have lent their architecture to multiple area courses, Gary Player’s lone design locally is Blackmoor Golf Club. Considering that his portfolio now boasts just shy of 300 tracks on five continents, the lack of Player-designed competition in and around Myrtle Beach has become in itself a bragging right.
“Gary Player is one of the icons of golf. He remains quite visible. People do frequently mention the name,” Blackmoor General Manager Bob Zuercher said. “From being one of the best players from bunkers to greens, he has his [touches].
“When a name is associated with the course, those who are familiar with that player will find parts of the course that relate to that player. You find shots, strategy, that relate to that player.”
The South African’s game, then, resonates here.
Opened on the site of the former Longwood Plantation in 1990, the course features some holes where a definitive tee shot is necessary while others are crafted around hazards that require strong iron play.
In winning more than 150 tournaments between different professional tours, Player was a true renaissance golfer. He was proficient with all of his clubs, and those taking on a round at Blackmoor should be willing to do the same.