Story by Ian Guerin
PAWLEYS ISLAND | Thirty years ago, one of golf’s household names took aim at Willbrook Plantation, navigated the first hole and immediately knew the course had something special setting it apart.
“Lee Trevino played here with a corporate outing the first year we opened. He stated it was one of the toughest opening holes he ever played,” Willbrook Head Golf Professional Kevin McGuire said. “We have lost man, many trees throughout the years that have softened the hole, but even so, it remains a daunting first hole.”
It’s difficult not to address the actual golf at Willbrook without properly setting up exactly how Dan Maples did something so different right off the bat. The opener, recently named to the Perfect Round Series as one of the top 18 holes in all of Myrtle Beach by the South Carolina Golf Course Ratings Panel, is a constant draw three decades in the making.
Measuring no more than 400 yards from the back tees, a small marsh carry, a 60-degree bend midway up the fairway and plenty of remaining trees leave No. 1 as both beauty and the beast without so much as a few holes to warm up on first.
“Obviously, No. 1 is a beautiful hole,” Pawleys Island resident Shane Bowen said after a recent round. “It’s probably my favorite hole. I know it’s popular.”
It creates a popular argument, too.
If Maples’ eye-popping signature hole is front and center at Willbrook, how could the next 17 holes possibly meet the early expectations?
That’s where the steady hand of the man who had as many designs in and around South Carolina’s Grand Strand golfing mecca in the 1970s and 1980s as anyone else comes into play. He blended in visual gems like No. 5’s peninsula fairway, the island green at No. 6 and some nifty doglegs (probably no more than on No. 8) around the centuries-live oaks and their hanging moss. And there is even more reason why many consider this part of the state the doorway to the Lowcountry of Charleston and Hilton Head.
Dotting the property are six historical markers that identify more than three centuries of life, death, enslavement and freedom. One memorializes the Outland Slave Cemetery and another points out a 1985 excavation project that cleared the way for the land to be declared on the National Register of Historic Places.
“The historical aspect is nice here. It’s just a wonderful course the way it winds through the neighborhood and the historical markers,” Bowen said. “I think it’s one of the prettier courses on the Grand Strand. There are a lot of nice courses down here, but this is one of the nicest around.”
As for added measure?
“The beauty of the property and the amount of wildlife that can be seen is a constant theme from visiting guests,” McGuire said. “We currently have three to four bald eagles that have nested on course. Guests have been excited to see them, as well as the alligators that always amaze guests from Northern destinations.”
Altogether, those bragging rights have established Willbrook’s place as not only one of the senior members of the now-famed Waccamaw Golf Trail, but also as a golf course that is much more than just its amazing first few hundred yards.