By Tom Cundeff
Myrtle Beach is well known for great courses and stay-and-play deals. But did you know there are a lot of superior “learn-and-play” opportunities available, too? No one enjoys playing poorly on a golf vacation, so why not pick up a tip or two that will improve your scores? While just about every course has a teaching pro, here are four Grand Strand golf schools with instructors who can really help your game.
There’s only one place to get lessons from the guy who works with the No. 1 player in the world, and that’s at Dustin Johnson’s eponymous school in Murrells Inlet on the South Strand. It’s run and co-owned by Johnson’s college coach at Coastal Carolina University, Allen Terrell, who still works with the 2016 U.S. Open winner on a regular basis (Butch Harmon, who also works with Johnson, doesn’t really teach amateurs anymore).
“People think it’s a junior golf academy, but it’s for every skill level, from beginners to Tour professionals,” says Terrell, who holds a TrackMan master certification. “It’s a place to come and use cutting-edge technology, but also develop more ownership of how to improve. We really stress it’s not about the time during the lesson, but the plans we build for the clients when they leave. It’s more of a comprehensive training than just come and film your swing and do this and that.”
The immaculately maintained Tom Fazio-designed TPC Myrtle Beach is also one of the best courses in town. Set on rolling terrain, the layout is very Augusta-like with deep bunkers and balls running out into the pine straw under the tall pines. There’s a great collection of par-3s, too, particularly the peninsular-green 17th.
Playing Tip: “For better enjoyment, pick your tees wisely,” says Terrell. “Look at the course rating rather than the yardage. At TPC, the course rating is probably higher than the course you play at home at the same yardage. You want to add your handicap to the tee rating and if it’s close to what you shoot, then that’s your tee.”
A disciple of the great Phil Ritson, who taught the likes of Gary Player, among other pros back home in South Africa, Mel Sole went to work for Ritson after playing the South African PGA Tour.
“Phil’s teaching philosophy was to learn to swing the club with the big muscles and eliminate the small muscles,” says Sole, who moved to Myrtle Beach in 1988 to head up Ritson’s school before taking it over in 2013. “That’s been my philosophy as well. I like to focus on the torso and the body rotation, get those big muscles of your back and your thighs working and then the power comes much, much easier.”
At Pawleys since 1991, Sole offers everything from private lessons and afternoon senior schools to nine-hole playing lessons and three-day schools. The latter also includes a program on the mental aspects of the game, as well as a club fitting.
The challenging Jack Nicklaus course at Pawleys opened in 1988 and is routed through 200-year-old mossy oaks. The back nine on the marsh is especially memorable and demanding, particularly when the wind blows. The highlight comes at the 168-yard 13th with its island green. “It’s the hardest par-3 on the planet because the green is about half the size of the famous 17th at TPC Sawgrass and the tee shot is a lot longer,” says Sole. “We’re always happy when the ball lands on the green there.”
Playing Tip: “If it’s a windy day, I recommend widening your putting stance because stability is so important when you’re putting,” says Sole.
The newest school in Myrtle Beach opened this past April. Run by former Coastal Carolina University player Dale Ketola, the school has two hitting bays, one for instruction and one for club fitting. Both utilize FlightScope radar technology for club-path and ball-flight analysis. Ketola can also compare students’ swings to previous sessions or those of top pros, and then email the video and audio to the student.
“I don’t have a model or way I want someone to swing, just because there are so many different body types and age groups,” says Ketola. “If a student is having a problem, I’ve got to figure out what that issue is and be able to say, ‘Okay, this is what the issue is, this is what we need to change, and this is how we’re going to do it. But that’s what makes it so fun for me. It’s a lot of detective work.”
Few courses in Myrtle offer the elevated water views that are found at Grande Dunes. The layout first comes to the Intracoastal Waterway, filled with boaters cruising down below, on the par-3 eighth. The holes continue high above it on the next two long par-4s, before detouring inland again. Golfers return to the bluff one final time on the 244-yard 14th and 468-yard 15th for an epic finish.
Playing Tip: “The ball doesn’t travel as far in Myrtle Beach because you’re at sea level and the air is pretty thick,” notes Ketola, “Most people aren’t going to hit the ball as far and they wonder why, so take an extra club into the green.”
As a former standout junior golfer, Meredith Kirk specializes in teaching kids. But she also works individually with adults, offering nine-hole playing lessons.
“First, I have them hit some balls, get them on video, make a few tweaks, and then we go out on the course,” said Kirk, who’s going on her 20th year teaching. “It’s one thing instructing on the range, but it’s another thing to transition onto the course. I prefer that my students learn the game out on the course.”
Her teaching philosophy is really pretty simple: “I'm not out to make major swing changes and rebuild people’s golf swings, because everybody has a natural swing based on their anatomy,” she says. “I’m interested in finding the easiest way possible to make them feel a centeredness of contact at impact, so my primary focus is how can we get there with the square clubface on a straight path.”
Water and trees on the course at Indian Wells create a lot of challenges for golfers. “They really force my students to have solid course management, so I really like that as an instructor,” says Kirk, who attended high school and college in Myrtle Beach. “Every hole is unique and requires a certain strategy. It’s not one of those courses where you just grip it and rip it.”
Playing Tip: “Watch your grip pressure,” says Kirk. “Soften the hands a touch to help relax your body during the swing. It’s amazing how tightly you can grip the club without realizing it and throwing off your whole swing.”
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