Story by Ian Guerin
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. | The Litchfield Inn was a successful seaside hotel in the early 1960s, its owners taking advantage of prime real estate along the northern end of still unincorporated Georgetown County.
But they wanted more.
With so few courses available locally, and with the game’s Big Three starting to get beamed into more and more homes via television sets, Litchfield’s small group of controlling interests had an idea. Create the first stay-and-play option on the south end of the area known as the Grand Strand.
They arranged with regionally respected designer Willard Byrd to tackle the project. Now, the stay-and-plays are common; in the 1960s, they were basically unheard of. It was just one way that Byrd, who died in 2004, was ahead of his time in making the unthinkable work. Fifty-plus years after the course opened, it remains relatively unchanged.
“It speaks to the quality of the design,” said Christa Bodensteiner, the South Region Director for Founders Group International and the former general manager at Litchfield Country Club. “It’s still a design people want to play. He wanted to make a community around the golf course in this area. The way he had the vision to carve out the holes around the country club is amazing. Every hole there is interesting.”
Bodensteiner was referring to her former home course, but in many ways, she could have been talking about any of Byrd’s other local layouts. From Litchfield Country Club to Wild Wing Plantation’s Hummingbird course to Indigo Creek Golf Club to International Club (not to mention six others just across the state line in North Carolina), Byrd found interesting ways to make use of the land.
Frequently, he had little room to play with, so he went dogleg-heavy. “He was kind of known for those,” Bodensteiner said. “But some are left and some are right. There’s a couple hard and some soft doglegs. There are very few straight holes. But I think that’s what has kept everyone interested throughout the years.”
What’s more, the impression that he made with Litchfield Country Club kept course owners interested despite his lengthy absence in and around Myrtle Beach. In fact, it took 22 years for another owner in the Metropolitan area (which extends into North Carolina) to lock him down again. However, after Lockwood Folly Country Club, there was a veritable explosion of his work.
Between that opening in 1988 and Farmstead Golf Links’ opening in 2001, his Atlanta-based Willard C. Byrd & Associates was hired 10 times in this area alone. “He definitely got more modern throughout the years,” Bodensteiner said. “But every good designer is one who can make a course that looks really challenging but plays friendly. Willard Byrd made it more playable, but you’re going to see bunkers on the sides. The easier they can make it will make it more inviting. Everybody loves to be putting for par or possibly birdie. If the make it more playable but looks difficult, they remember that.”
WILLARD BYRD’S GRAND STRAND DESIGNS
Course: Litchfield Country Club
City: Pawleys Island
Year opened: 1966
Notable: Byrd was hired to craft Litchfield Country Club 10 years after he moved to Atlanta and founded his design group, Willard C. Byrd and Associates. Litchfield is recognized as the first stay-and-play option south of Myrtle Beach city limits.
Course: Indigo Creek Golf Club
City: Murrells Inlet
Year Opened: 1990
Notable: Indigo Creek staved off elimination in the late 2000s with a massive beautification project that improved fairways and putting surfaces while updating the clubhouse and practice areas.
Course: Wild Wing Plantation, Hummingbird Course
Year opened: 1992
Notable: Once part of a four-course mega facility, Hummingbird was scored back along with the former Wood Stork 18 into a nine-hole add-on or quick-play option. The current Hummingbird track features Byrd’s best holes from the original.
Course: International Club
City: Murrells Inlet
Year opened: 2000
Notable: Opened just four years prior to Byrd’s death, International takes advantage of underwater streams to keep water levels accurate year-round and allowing for its holes (named after 18 different countries) to hold top-notch conditions.