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Golden Anniversary Present

To Celebrate Jack Nicklaus’ 1965 Masters Win, Why Not Take On a Pair of His Designs East of Augusta, in Myrtle Beach?

By David Gould

It’s been 50 golden years since Jack Nicklaus posted his runaway victory at the 1965 Masters, where as a 25-year-old he set the tournament scoring mark of 271 and tied the single-round record of 64. It wasn’t Jack’s first major title—it wasn’t even his first victory at Augusta—but by all accounts it was the turning point for his image with golf fans. Previously they had mistaken his grinding, grimacing manner between the ropes for a naturally ill temper and deemed the man unlikable. During Masters week of ’65 that all melted away as a self-confident Nicklaus showed up in good spirits and grinned all the way to Butler Cabin.

Coincidentally, it was at that point in his young playing career that Jack made his first forays into golf course design. The not-yet-famous Pete Dye asked Nicklaus to take a look at a project near his hometown of Columbus, Ohio and offer opinions. Known as The Golf Club, this course became an early Dye success and surely represents the first one laid out with any sort of Golden Bear input. Several years later, the friendship between the two men would lead to a collaboration on Hilton Head, S.C.’s landmark Harbour Town Golf Links, which opened in 1969.

About four hours east of Augusta, in and around Myrtle Beach— where golf architects like Willard Byrd and Clyde Johnston earned a long list of design credits— the Nicklaus name is attached to just two of the more than 100 solid courses, but both are well-loved by locals and visitors alike. The venues are located a short drive from downtown—Long Bay Club enjoys an inland location about 20 miles to the north in the town of Longs, S.C., while Pawleys Plantation Golf & Country Club lies about 40 minutes south, in the marshland of Pawleys Island.

Nicklaus took an aggressive approach to Long Bay Club’s creek-laced, woodland setting that guaranteed nobody would ever call the result a “resort course.” The resulting 18-hole ramble boasts British-style features like pot bunkers—some with wooden steps—and bulkheads around greens. They add character and difficulty in equal measure, thus the popularity of Long Bay with competitive and well-traveled players.

Looking today at a par-3 like No. 5, with one of those diagonally-set, wide-but-shallow greens Nicklaus courses are known for, it’s worth recalling how tough your club selection could be in the days before portable range finders. Arriving at the island-green par-3 13th, a player may well decide that this panoramic putting surface is also shallow front-to-back, but that’s a visual illusion—by this point in time the Bear was also skilled in the art of deception.

Jack’s courses actually call for the power game less often than some would imagine. But at Long Bay Club, which has hosted U.S. Senior Open qualifying as well as NCAA regional championships, the par-4 fourth hole does indeed reward length off the tee. From the tips this two-shotter plays 472 yards (at sea level, where you earn every inch) and introduces players to the ribbon-like sandy waste area as a design element. There’s plenty more of that to come, including at the short par-4 10th hole, where you’re surrounded by a U-shaped waste bunker.

Although designed and built in the same mid-1980s period as Long Bay, Jack’s seductive and meandering course at Pawleys Plantation is of a different genre—Lowcountry through and through. The romantic sweep of the tidelands is such that this course’s 142 slope rating from the back tees gets much more mention than the 137 back-tee slope over at Long Bay. The bunkering at Pawleys often shows a rippled or even squiggly silhouette when seen in those dramatic aerial photos. At eye level the sand hazards are glimpsed in partial views, often adding to their perceived threat.

When the garrulous gang of would-be tour stars from Golf Channel’s “Big Break Myrtle Beach” came to Pawleys Plantation not long ago, they filmed a long “knockout” sequence on the all-carry, marshland 17th, a heroic par-3 that plays from a bulkheaded causeway tee. Seeing so many quality pitch shots to the green Jack built, you understand how subtle his decisions were about how the putting surface would receive shots and how in-synch a golfer’s feel and depth perception have to be. That teeing ground is shared by the other back-nine one-shotter, No. 13, featuring an equally elusive peninsular green.

These are quiet times in the golf course architecture and course-building business, even for a marquee brand like Nicklaus Design. Few North American projects get greenlighted anymore, due to an oversupply problem that is only slowly correcting itself. As a result, the golfer who “collects courses” and has a goal of checking off as many tracks by a given designer as possible can play some catch-up. And if Jack Nicklaus is a designer on your list, the check marks that come from experiencing his two Grand Strand designs are well worth the trip.