by John Torsiello, for The Grain
With the Summer Olympiad unfolding in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the world of golf has gone a bit nutty for torches, medals, five-ring logos and all that good Olympic stuff. To put a cherry on top of it all, we’ve decided to present this whiz-bang Myrtle Beach travel article with, you guessed it, an Olympic theme.
We put the courses up against one another in highly subjective judging - just like they do for gymnastics and diving! A number of worthy courses were eliminated during qualifying heats, leaving a field of 10 elite competitors to square off for gold, silver and bronze medals. So, it’s time to gather up our competitors and let the games begin.
One of the principal traits of an Olympian is the ability to go the distance. And our 10th-place finisher can do just that in the form of one of the longest holes you will encounter anywhere. Farmstead Golf Links
is routed on a spectacular piece of land and boasts one of the most memorable holes in the region - its 767-yard, par-six 18th. The finisher actually begins in South Carolina and concludes on a large undulating green in North Carolina. Hit three great shots to get yourself to 100 yards for an approach and then wedge on in four, which is regulation for this whopper.
Perseverance is another hallmark of a champion and our ninth-place finisher came back from some tough times this past year to make the finals. Damaged in 2015 by historic flooding that swept through the Palmetto State, a revamped and rehabilitated Shaftesbury Glen Golf & Fish Club
has a sparkling look. The layout is greatly enhanced by new native areas and redesigned bunkers. There are also new senior tees, mounding to enhance the visual appeal on five holes, and opened-up approaches to the greens on eight holes for easier playability. Shaftesbury Glen was named 2009 Golf Course of the Year by Myrtle Beach area golf course owners.
We consider longevity another trait of great athletes, and it’s also a distinction for golf courses. Pine Lakes Country Club, our eighth-place finisher, was built in 1927 and lays claim to being the oldest course in the Myrtle Beach area, which is very cool in and of itself. Part of a $15 million renovation project in 2009 was the creation of the Robert White Pub, named for the architect of Pine Lakes. White was also the first president of the Professional Golfers’ Association of America and a co-founder of the American Society of Golf Course Architects. There’s a panoramic view of the golf course that is as sweet as pecan pie, with large glass doors and windows giving guests a full view of the course.
We have a knowledgeable fan’s respect for our seventh-place finisher, the name of which evokes championship pedigree. True Blue Golf Club, which features spacious fairways and subtle elevations within the rolling terrain and native vegetation of a once-thriving indigo and rice plantation, enjoys a spectacular setting. True Blue is a stern test from the back markers, measuring 7,126 yards with a par of 72. There is a unique arrangement of five par-fives, five par-threes and eight par-fours. The number one handicap hole hits you right out of the box, the 624-yard par-five first, which bends left with sand all over and a creek that fronts the putting surface.
Coming in a number six is the only Gary Player Signature golf course on the Grand Strand, Blackmoor Golf Club, which was built on the grounds of the historic Longwood Plantation, a parcel that elegantly parallels the Waccamaw River. Player applied his experience studying golf courses to craft 18 holes that test the capable golfer and intrigue the higher handicapper without being overly punishing. The best of the bunch is the split-fairway, par-four eighth, where bold drivers can aim a heroic swing at the green for the chance at an eagle putt.
The race now really heats up and the final five jostle one another for position during our stretch run. Giving it a good effort but coming up a bit short in fifth place is a favorite of the women, Willbrook Plantation Golf Club, which sits on a varied, scenic tract of land in the Litchfield area of Pawleys Island. A quintessential Lowcountry golf course, it takes visitors on a journey through moss-draped live oaks, coastal wetlands and tall pines. That journey, though not without its peril, is very manageable for all levels of player. Once ranked number 25 on Golf For Women Magazine’s “Top 50 Courses for Women” list, Willbrook is known for its dedicated staff, which takes particular pride in the exceptional playability of their course.
And then narrowly missing out on the medal stand is Litchfield Country Club. The club has a thoroughly warm, old-school feeling that transports golfers to a simpler time, while still delivering modern, high quality conditioning and customer service. Mature tree-lined fairways wind amid giant, Spanish moss-draped oaks and sparkling lakes on the grounds of a former rice plantation. The course dates to 1966 and has held up due to its fair demands on ball-striking.
It’s Going to Be a Photo Finish and The Final Three All Deserve to Medal
Taking home the bronze is the only Grand Strand golf course to be awarded five stars on Golf Digest’s “Places to Play” list, Tom Fazio’s masterpiece, TPC Myrtle Beach, beloved by locals, visitors and professionals alike. It hosted the Senior Tour Championship in recent years and is maintained in Tour-quality condition year-round for guests. Holes wind through tall pines, over wetlands and around serene ponds. Multi-fingered bunkers call to mind Fazio’s work at Augusta National Golf Club. All these elements place TPC Myrtle Beach in the upper echelon of golf courses in the South.
Just a whisker away from the golf, but still a champion with silver draped around its clubhouse, is Pawleys Plantation Golf & Country Club, a Jack Nicklaus Signature course that has been rated number 49 on the South Carolina Golf Ratings Panel’s 2012 list of the best courses - public, private and resort - in the state. The short par-three 13th, with its green nearly completely surrounded by salt marsh, is one of the Grand Strand’s most iconic holes. It shares a tee area with the par-three 17th, the restored structure of a dike from the site’s days as a working plantation. The sweet salt air, constant breeze, and challenges the course presents combine to create a first class golf experience.
And wearing the gold medal with style, class and distinction is Caledonia Golf & Fish Club, which immediately established itself among the top resort courses in America when it opened in 1994. Today, it remains ranked by Golf Digest among the “100 Greatest Public Courses in America,” and Golfweek has included it among “America’s 100 Best Modern Courses” since 1995. From your initial approach down the avenue of ancient oaks leading to the clubhouse to your final approach into the 18th green, you will enjoy Mike Strantz’ ingenious design, the impeccable conditions and the unparalleled beauty of this layout. Caledonia deserves to be on every golfer’s list of “must play” courses.
There they are, our Top 10, champions all, although only one can take home the gold, so congrats to Caledonia Golf & Fish Club. Cue the national anthem, and raise the Stars & Stripes proudly over the Grand Strand.
To read the Olympic Games 2016 Edition of The Grain, click here.