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The Always Adaptable Myrtle Beach

Hole #9, Heritage Golf Club
Hole #9, Heritage Golf Club

Like a lot of you, I have been to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina almost too many times to count.  For those golfers who have not made the trek you surely have become familiar with the place courtesy of the stories told by your fellow golfers.  Myrtle Beach, “The Grand Strand”, is synonymous with golf after all.

Even so, sometimes this 100 km stretch of beach that spans parts of North and South Carolina gets a bad rap.  Critics say it is too commercial, or remark about how they’ve “been there and done that” after just one trip. I would argue that those people have not looked at this destination as close as they should.

To me Myrtle Beach may not be the most glamorous of locales, at first glance, but I compare the place to a good special teams player in football.  Adept at a variety of skills, it delivers the goods on many levels.  And for golfers, that means you can get pretty much anything you want out of the place.  You just have to know where to look.

Blessed by a golfing history that dates back more than seven decades, Myrtle Beach came into its own for golfers in the 1970’s when the burgeoning tourist trade began to spill on to many new golf courses.  With it the area’s reputation grew as a golf capital, one of the first to earn such a designation.  With the proliferation of layouts it became THE place to play, especially for foursomes of guys from further north looking to kick-off or stretch their golfing season.

In my passes through the area I have played a wide swath of the courses available.  From low priced tracks to the north to the elite fairways of Barefoot Resort and Oyster Bay.  In the end, each has their own flavour but in most cases they simply served up a place for me to swing the sticks with friends who share a common golfing affliction.

Two Hours to Golf Paradise

On my most recent foray to “The Beach” (say that term to any golfer and they will know of what you speak) I undertook a slightly different approach.  It started with a more civil approach to the most hated part of the trip – the travel.

The traditional “road trip” is not always as fun as expected.  You know the routine, you pile in to a vehicle with your friends and alternate drivers as you wander 15+ hours from home to golf nirvana.  Sometimes it works out, at other times nerves are frayed and friendships are tested.

But there is an alternative.  Golfers in Ontario and Quebec can choose to take flights by DirectAir from Plattsburgh and Niagara Falls, New York.  The direct flights out of easy-to-use small airports take less than 2 hours.  The best part is that you can golf the same day you travel and there are no arguments over what radio station to play.  A simple, effective, and very affordable solution.

I took such a flight last fall and found the DirectAir staff to be (understandably) in touch with the needs of golfers.  A morning flight put me and my group of eager golf scribes on the driving range by early afternoon.  Too bad it was the last time we would see the sun that week.

Ida…Hurricane Ida

Sadly our trip would coincide with the arrival of the after-effects of Hurricane Ida.  It rained, rained and rained some more for the three days we intended to play.  But surprisingly, it taught me a few new things about Myrtle Beach.

Scheduled to play 54 holes of golf over three days my group would manage to still play 48, despite a foot of water that fell from the sky and ample winds to accompany it.

Camaraderie is always the centre-piece of a Myrtle Beach trip and the adversity of challenging weather either creates it or tests it.  For us the weather created a common bond and stories that will be told for years to come.  There IS always a bright side; you just have to find it.

Game On

In the face of said weather we set off the visit with a visit to Glen Dornoch Waterway Links.  Part of The Glens Golf Group of courses, this layout was new to me.  I had been told of its attributes, including its serious slope rating of 145, but was happy that it offered up more than all out punishment.

Sprawling over 270 acres Glen Dornoch demands your best shots.  Most notably this Clyde Johnson sports a number of very distinct holes, obviously created with the intent to get the most out of the property.  The finishing trio of holes might be the toughest I have ever played.  We all cringed to think what might happen here as the pressure of a golf tournament mounted.

Soaked to the bone we retreated to our home for the week, the Marina Inn at Grande Dunes Resort.  They are a premium accommodation option, one that quickly dispels the thought that the area only offers moderately priced and aging hotels on the ocean-side strip.  Unlike many years ago, there are places here now that will suit every taste and budget whether you are travelling with your golf gang, your family, or spouse. As one our party said, “This is not your dad’s Myrtle Beach.”

The versatility also extends to the golf courses.  If you want a low priced itinerary or a full-out luxury golf buffet, 104 golf courses makes that a possibility.  “That’s how we like to think of it,” says Health Carter of Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, regarding the adaptable nature of the area for golfers.  “If you just want good value, we have that, but if you want to go all out and stay at the best places and play all the top end courses we can deliver that as well.”

Our own itinerary only served to reiterate that.  Dinners at The Sea Captain’s House (She crab soup – highly recommended), Greg Norman’s Australian Grille (meat – any kind), Rioz Brazilian Steakhouse (all the meat you can eat), and Frank’s Out Back ran a wide gamut of budget, taste and location.  They spanned the length of the Grand Strand.

Hole #6, Caledonia Golf & Fish Club
Hole #6, Caledonia Golf & Fish Club

On the golf side, Glen Dornoch was our most northern course, while the very next day we headed south to Pawley’s Island and True Blue, a Mike Strantz masterpiece.  The excessive rain halted our advance on this sand-strewn layout but after a belly-filling lunch there and a visit to their sister course, Caledonia Golf & Fish Club, we found open fairways at The Heritage Club.

I say open but I should also say very wet.  Torrents of water greeted us but the staff was happy to accommodate our unusual request to play.  Unfamiliar with the course our group was left in awe of its beauty.  Tree-lined fairways and thoughtful use of water in the design gave it a strong lasting impression on all of us.  We played just the back nine but were happy at the chance to swing the clubs.

With just one day to go we all wanted to get in as much golf as we could for the final day so the consensus was to play our morning round (Moorland at Legends Resort) and then follow it up with as many holes as possible at the course we had scheduled but missed playing, True Blue.

More precipitation greeted us the next morning as did cooler temperatures (you can usually golf in Myrtle Beach all year long without much discomfort) and burgeoning winds.  No matter, Canadians that we were, we braved all and squeezed in the full 18 at the massive Legends Resort golf complex – four sweetheart courses that could make up a golf trip of their own.

We then sprinted south to True Blue to finish out 13 holes, ending in darkness but satisfied at the day’s accomplishments.  True Blue lived up to the expectations most of our group had.  Having played it before I knew what to anticipate but was interested to see the reaction of my peers.

Just as I had, they appreciated the unique approach that Strantz had taken with the course.  As tough as it can be play somehow Strantz involved so many brilliant elements that your focus falls on factors outside your score.  Bunkers, waste areas, water and trees all abound in seemingly random fashion but somehow work in unison to be a compelling place to play.  Paired with Caledonia they make for a must play pair.

And before we knew it – with the passing of time lost in the joy of golfing (even in trying conditions) and the comradeship of peers, it came to a close.

True to form with past trips The Grand Strand acted as the canvas for a memorable golf trip.  Sure the weather could have been better but what control do we have over that, really?  In the end golf was played, laughs abounded, and the building blocks were created for the stories that a group of golfers will tell incessantly for years to come.

The logistics of travel, golf, and accommodations continues to progress but one big thing remains the same.  With so many golf courses and a culture built around golf and beach life Myrtle Beach still has few equals.

And with the ability to provide a diverse itinerary with each subsequent visit, the legacy of The Grand Strand as the Golf Capital of the World seems quite secure.

It just might time to make that return trip and discover what the “new” and versatile now has to offer.

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