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Myrtle Beach “Golf Capital of the World”

Myrtle Beach has long been one of my favorite golf destinations, and I try to visit the “Golf Capital of the World” whenever I can. I recently played three of the Grand Strand’s premier courses—Tidewater Golf Club, The Dye Club at Barefoot Resort, and Caledonia Golf & Fish Club—and thoroughly enjoyed the spectacular landscape and superior challenges. The sojourn’s downtime, what little I had, occurred in the luxury of the Marina Inn at Grande Dunes.

Innumerable Possibilities and Expert Guidance

Myrtle Beach has been a favorite because, within its confines of 60 miles of vacation and beach playgrounds, it offers nearly 100 courses, 51 of which have earned at least four stars of five in the Golf Digest  “Best Places to Play” guide. Myrtle Beach also offers most affordable and seemingly countless hotel, restaurant, entertainment, and ocean activity options for family, couples, and buddy trips.

When I plan my trips, I always confer with Chris King of Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, a non-profit trade association that includes 65 championship golf courses and 99 golf-package providers. It is currently celebrating 50 years of promoting the Grand Strand. Chris’s expertise always steers me, as he did this year, in directions I have not gone before. I take great pleasure not only in exploring the new territory but also in re-acquainting myself with the familiar surroundings of jaunts gone by.

Tidewater—a North Myrtle Beach Icon

Sitting high atop a peninsula overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, the setting of the Tidewater Golf Club, nicknamed “The Pebble Beach of the East,” is one of the most impressive on Myrtle Beach. Following the natural contours of the peninsula, the layout contains an assortment of elevation changes not often found in seaside South Carolina The course, designed by Ken Tomlinson, sits between the Intracoastal Waterway and the Cherry Grove inlet that, from the 13th hole—appropriately named “Ocean Isle”—gives you an excellent view of the Atlantic. A saltwater marsh and another ocean inlet adjoin the course as well. The layout also wends its way through a high-end residential area, but the homes do not come into play.

Myrtle Beach

After the intimidating par-3 “Stranded,” the fourth hole at Tidewater, “Futch Site,” is also a site to behold.

When Tidewater opened in 1990, it was dubbed “Best New Course” by both Golf Digest and Golf Magazine. Both have continued to agree on Tidewater’s prominence by annually placing it in their “Top 100” public courses list. The six sets of tees that range from 7044 yards from the tips to 4648 yards from the forwards provide ease of use for all skill levels. The White/Green combo tees at 6031 yards proved just right for our Senior group. The cart’s GPS to the pin makes club selection a snap.

The lush, manicured fairways, in general, are wide but are almost always flanked by thick stands of hardwoods. The greens of MiniVerde Bermudagrass are large, gently undulating, quick, and true. Each hole has a special name. The first, for example, is “The Big Easy,” a par 5. And “Never Ending,” “Swamp Fox,” “Bridge Abutment,” and “Wicked Wind” suggest the tests that await.

My two holes of choice, in a course abundant with choice holes, are the two par-3 beauties that sit along the Cherry Grove inlet, with tees that back up to the other. The third is only about 150 yards, but the large, undulating green slopes wickedly toward the inlet and is well bunkered all around. Hit the green, or you’ll be “Stranded.” Its sister hole, the twelfth—which is the feature photo for this review—can play from 150 to 180 yards, but the tee and the green are the only solid ground you’ll find, and the green appears to sneaking into the inlet. Standing on the tee, the golfer can only smile ironically at the “Wishing Well.” And, I would be remiss, if I did not mention that the follow-up holes, the par-4 fourth, “Futch Site,” and the par-5 thirteenth, Ocean Isle,” are remarkable in their own right.

The Dye Club—Yes, To Dye For at Barefoot

Also in North Myrtle Beach and located close to the shopping and restaurants of Barefoot Landing and the extraordinary Alabama Theater is The Dye Club at Barefoot Resort and Golf. Pete Dye has made his mark at Barefoot along with three other renowned architects, Tom Fazio, Davis Love, and Greg Norman, and the Barefoot Resort is one of the most popular on the Grand Strand. The International Association of Golf Tour Operators (IAGTO) named Barefoot the 2017 “North America Golf Resort of the Year.”

Myrtle Beach

The par-3 15th on the Dye Course at Barefoot is visually stunning, of course, but equally treacherous, of course. Therein lies Pete Dye

And, yes, Dye’s Barefoot endeavor lives up to all your hopes and fears! As usual, it is visually stunning with huge waste areas and bunkers, severely undulating fairways and green complexes, cruel water hazards, and those signature railroad ties. The website takes pride in reminding all golfers that the course is “filled with infamous pitfalls for wayward shots,” as if Pete never did that before. When you stand on that first tee and survey all the possible entrapments, you just can’t wait to hit that first drive. And, really, the fairways and greens are generous enough—just don’t miss them.

So, of course, The Dye Club, as Dye-abolical as you would imagine it to be, is an adventure that you must undertake and shouldn’t miss. What’s more, you’ll be able to recall each hole afterward, because each one is different and memorable. Golf Magazine ranked The Dye as #14 in the “Best Courses You Can Play in South Carolina”; Golfweek similarly regarded it in its “Best: State-by-State Courses You Can Play.”

The course is skillfully groomed from the tees and fairways of hybrid Bermudagrass, through the tough Centipede and Zoysia roughs, to the TifDwarf Bermudagrass approaches, and to the extensive and demanding Champion UltraDwarf greens. The five sets of tees and yardage from 7,343 to 5,021 yards give you the chance to find your comfort zone in distance, but Pete will try to take you out of your comfort zone as much as possible. The GPS cart takes you through the private-gated Dye Estates homes

Caledonia—From Rice to Golf on Pawleys Island

Located on Pawley’s Island at the very south end of Myrtle Beach, Caledonia Golf & Fish Club reflects a rich historical tradition and a treasured current reputation. From a massive rice plantation in its earliest days to a private fishing and duck hunting preserve since 1971, Caledonia is, quite simply, one of the best courses on the East Coast. A consensus “Top 100” courses you can play nationally by Golf Digest, Golf Magazine, and Golf Channel, Caledonia has been ranked #3 in that category in South Carolina by Golf Magazine.

Myrtle Beach

The Signature 18th hole at Caledonia requires an accurate second shot to avoid both the water and the clubhouse’s patio.

Architect Mike Strantz, who also designed the sister course True Blue just down the road, has cut his course through huge 150-year-old oaks that come into play far too often, has guarded his charitable fairways and intricate green complexes with oversized bunkers, lagoons, and/or streams, and is a master at using the elevation changes to create doglegs and “hidden” greens. Strantz did not have to work around houses or condos because the habitat from beginning to end is strictly Lowcountry nature.

The duck hunting motif continues on the golf course as the four sets of decoy tees are the Pintail (6,526 yards), the Mallard (6,121), the Wood Duck (5,710), and the Redhead (4957). Although the course would appear to be shorter than expected, the distance is secondary to the execution. As in real estate, what counts here is location, location, location, and if your ball isn’t in the right location, your pencil will need an eraser.

The Senior contingent played the Mallard and had no trouble with the carries off the tee or with having enough club to reach the greens. We just had plenty of trouble with the trouble! The difficult par-4 fourth (357 yards) and fifth (387) holes and the whimsical par-3 ninth (110) were most memorable front side offerings. The back nine had two acute dogleg lefts, the par-4’s thirteenth (380) and the fifteenth (441) that demanded great precision off the tee and into the green. The par-3 seventeenth (156) was straight downhill to a sand-girt green—it was bring either your putter or your sand wedge.

The Signature Hole is the scenic 377-yard par-4 18th. The fairway borders the old rice field on the left and the large lake along the right. The drive needs to be a lay-up of not more than around 200 yards because the second shot is a forced carry over the marsh and water to a well-trapped, long, slender green that sits close to the clubhouse patio and the rocking-chair quarterbacks, who are monitoring the play. Caledonia Golf & Fish Club provides the classic Lowcountry hunt for par.

All three courses have well-stocked pro shops, excellent practice facilities, first-rate in-house restaurants, and service-oriented staffs. Each club is a pleasure to visit and to play.

The Marina Inn—Comfort and Pampering on the Intracoastal

When I had to call it a day and return for a little R&R, the Marina Inn at Grande Dunes Resort was a perfect spot. One of the leading luxury hotels located on the Grand Strand, The Marina Inn is centrally located just off the Highway 17 Bypass between North and South Myrtle Beach and just minutes away from all the area attractions. All 200 of the oversized guest rooms and suites have large terraces and unobstructed views of the Intracoastal Waterway. Depending upon the room category and number of bedrooms, the first-class amenities include mini-kitchens to full kitchens.

Myrtle Beach

The Marina Inn at Grande Dunes is one of Myrtle Beach’s most luxurious resorts and sits in one of the area’s most attractive settings. Courtesy of Marina Inn

The Marina Inn provides a five-minute shuttle ride to its private beach, where guests receive chairs, towels, umbrellas, and other personal extras. At the marina itself, you can rent some jet skis for a dolphin tour or a pontoon boat for an Intracoastal excursion. A championship golf course, a tennis facility, an indoor/outdoor pool, saunas and Jacuzzis, and an exercise room are all available. The WaterScapes Restaurant, the Reflections Lobby Bar, the locals’ choice Anchor Café, and Ruth’s Chris Steak House took care of all my gustatory and beverage desires.

The Marina Inn has deservedly earned top recognition such as the AAA Four Diamond Award, the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence, the Family Vacation Critic’s “Top Hotel” rating, and Orbitz’s “Best in Stay Elite.”

Myrtle Beach—One Last Thought

A final reason why Myrtle Beach is one of my favorite golf/vacation destinations it that it is readily accessible. Both its short distance from I-95 and its non-stop flights from Logan Airport and other major cities to Myrtle Beach International Airport (MYR) make the Grand Strand easy and convenient to reach.

For more information, please refer to these websites: http://tidewatergolf.com/; http://barefootgolf.com/gallery-item/dye-course-barefoot/; http://www.caledoniagolfandfishclub.com; www.marinainnatgrandedunes.com/; http://www.myrtlebeachgolfholiday.com/

(Golf Photography by Vicky MacKay)

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