Story by Ian Guerin
The slightly more selective of the South Carolina Golf Course Ratings Panel’s two bi-annual rankings is loaded with Grand Strand options.
In total, 13 of the 31 Best You Can Play Public Access Courses in the state fall inside the Myrtle Beach area, and they are a regular who’s who of the regularly awarded tracks.
Caledonia Golf & Fish Club, Mike Strantz’s elegant (and first) design leads the pack, recognized by the ratings panel as the top course along the Grand Strand. Joining Caledonia were: Barefoot Resort’s Dye, Fazio and Love courses; Grande Dunes Resort Course, Heritage Club; Pawleys Plantation Golf & Country Club, Pine Lakes Country Club; Prestwick Country Club; The Dunes Golf & Beach Club; Tidewater Golf Club; TPC of Myrtle Beach and True Blue Plantation.
Traditionally, 30 total courses are selected for this honor - compared with 50 the panel chooses among South Carolina’s 50 Best Courses (even years). However, an unbreakable tie led to the extra selection this time around.
Mike Whitaker, the Executive Director of the South Carolina Golf Course Ratings Panel, pointed out an almost silent new dynamic creeping into the rankings. The panel still judges courses on aspects like variety, memorability, aesthetics and overall experience, among others, but which courses are doing that now have leveled out some after a rush of tougher or newer designs in the late 1990s.
“We don’t have a lot of new courses coming online anymore. That doesn’t happen anywhere,” Whitaker said. “When we first started the panel, there would be several new courses every year. There was always that anticipation of how they would look.
“Golf is changing. Fifteen to 16 years ago, courses were being built to challenge golfers. They were built with an architect creating a big ‘wow’ factor, especially in the resort areas, where people weren’t going to see them but once or twice in their lifetimes. A lot of these courses were built, they were just too hard. Now, we’re learning that it had a detrimental effect on golf. A lot of people quit the game. Now, a lot of those courses are being remodeled to be more user friendly, more fun.”
With a lack of new courses and their “wow” factor, many of the Myrtle Beach courses who made the cut are benefitting from touch-up projects or simply by focusing on what they do so well.
Pine Lakes Country Club, which became Myrtle Beach’s first course in 1927, went through a renovation project in 2008 to return much of the feel from its original design. The Dunes Golf & Beach Club added distance to its back tees, backing those up to 7,450 yards. But while those two mainstays in the markets bolstered their resumes, the majority of the rest are just starting to prove their potential for staying power.
None of the other 11 are more than 31 years old, and six are still inside their second decade. The Grande Dunes Resort Course and the trio of Barefoot Resort selections, for instance, all opened in 2000 and are the relative youngsters of the group. Regardless, they forced their way into the panel’s final list.
“If someone is in South Carolina and they’re going to be in one of these areas, they should go to one of those courses,” Whitaker said. “Its not that a course is [bad] if it’s not on our list. But these are the best of the best. There are so many great courses in South Carolina. We’re just splitting hairs.”