Story by Ian Guerin
No matter how great the first 17 holes of a round might be, the memory of a course is often tied to the finisher.
A sketchy fairway or a patchy green can diminish everything in a hurry. But if that’s true, so too is the fact that a jaw-dropping No. 18 can put you in an emotional state that leaves you craving more.
Up and down South Carolina’s Grand Strand, five of the area’s courses are home to some fantastic finishers.
Even from the tee box, the view from the final hole of the Open 9 at World Tour is a photographer’s dream.
Inspired by St. Andrews’ No. 18, it begins with a nearby replica of the stone bridge crossing the famous Swilcan Burn. Beyond that is the Open’s first hole.
The shared fairway turns out to be a blessing, as the uphill design tends to promote a little extra pop off the tee. The green, which slopes right to left, is backed up by the clubhouse, complete with the flags of the countries the course stands to honor.
The crescent-shaped closer at River Club bends its fairway and green around a pond, forcing the tee shot to stay right while also avoiding an oversized sand trap between the water and the fairway. Success there, though, is only part of the intimidation of this 518-yard par 5 (pictured, above).
The fairway actually gets smaller closer to the green. On top of that, the pond juts in, creating a bit of a peninsula effect with the front side. The total package lends itself to plenty of eagles and birdies, but also tons of bogeys and doubles.
With the Intracoastal Waterway running down the left side, this 455-yard par 5 has a forced carry off the tee to avoid the wetlands. The first portion of the fairway can actually steer hitters away from the green.
For those with the strength and precision to clear a second batch of wetlands - or for those going from fairway to fairway via a more conventional route - the final yards of the hole are a mere feet from the Waterway.
Along with 10 small bunkers protecting the green.
Like the rest of this historic old rice plantation, power succumbs to finesse on the 383-yard No. 18.
A mid-range shot from the start must ride down a fairway that favors to the left. Fade right, and the first portion of a large pond comes into play. The second part of that water is where the excitement picks up.
On the other side lies the deep green, and behind it, the clubhouse where many of the residents are often sitting on the porch. No pressure; they’ve seen plenty of balls go into the drink.
In many ways, what stands at the end of Aberdeen’s Highlands nine is a pretty good microcosm of everything else preceding it: towering woods, marsh area along the left side, a rolling fairway with an 80-degree dogleg and a green virtually boxed in by even more trees. About the only thing missing is the water than adorns nearly all of the course’s other holes.
You won’t miss it with everything else that’s going on. After all, all those design quirks add up to create one of Aberdeen’s most difficult holes.
Ian Guerin is a DJ and freelance writer living in Myrtle Beach, S.C. His golf game ebbs and flows like the Atlantic, and he once did the worm after breaking 90 at a top-100 course. You can follow him on Twitter @iguerin.