Story by Ian Guerin
The 1990s were a time of economic prosperity, and that didn’t just mean in places like Silicon Valley.
What could be described as the modern era of golf course architecture took the game to new heights, and South Carolina’s Grand Strand was frequently looked upon as the harbinger. From 1990-1999, a total of 19 new courses opened in the Myrtle Beach area, not including several more just across the border in North Carolina.
The boon made picking the best courses of this decade harder than any portion of this five-part series. It also ensured that they were going to offer something above and beyond what players had available to them earlier in the golf timeline.
TIDEWATER GOLF (1990)
You don’t get a nickname like the “Pebble Beach of the East” without earning it. The beauty of Tidewater didn’t take long for anyone to see, either. Within days of Ken Tomlinson’s only golf course design opening, players were starstruck. Golfweek and Golf Digest each named it as America’s Best New Course, a distinction Tidewater alone can claim.
With views of the Intracoastal Waterway on one side of the property and the Cherry Grove Inlet marshes lining the other, the area between is nothing short of brilliant. Tidewater employees and outsiders have spent more than two decades debating which of any number of holes here can be described as the signature one.
CALEDONIA GOLF & FISH CLUB (1994)
Among the true big boys of golf in all of South Carolina
and the Southeast, Caledonia launched a new-age design philosophy crafted by Mike Strantz. The then-first-time architect was frequently lauded as more of an artist than a golf man, and his hand-drawn sketches aimed to play off the land instead of move it around.
The clarity Strantz had would be seen again locally very soon (more on that in a moment), but with Caledonia, he delivered what some have deemed a perfect layout. He topped it off with a majestic 18th hole highlighted by an oversized pond, the adjoining marsh grasses, a water-protected green and the lead in to the iconic clubhouse.
TRUE BLUE GOLF PLANTATION (1998)
The owners at Caledonia were playing with house money when they elected to bring Strantz back for another crack at golf in the area. The relatively low-level investment turned out to be another lottery hit. In True Blue, some of the same visual elements that made his previous endeavor successful were utilized again.
Amidst the rolling fairways, Strantz once again instilled the land he was given en route to another national top-100 course. The course is slightly harder than its neighbor, and even though it was patterned after Pinehurst and Pine Valley, it stands out as an individual masterpiece.
TPC OF MYRTLE BEACH (1999)
Sneaking in just under the decade wire, TPC added its brand to the market in a big way. Within months of its first rounds, it was under contract to host a PGA Champions Tour event and later became the only Grand Strand course to even earn a full five-star rating from Golf Digest. Environmentally protected wetlands provide the backdrop here, and the upkeep of the playing surfaces still finds a way to accent the Tom Fazio layout.
Doglegs, marsh and water carries and strategically placed bunkering emphatically challenge players of all levels. Its why, in an area so rich with options, TPC elevated itself to such high regard.