Story by Ian Guerin
PAWLEYS ISLAND, S.C. | Up the way some at Myrtle Beach National’s King’s North, a risk-reward hole has given countless golfers memories galore since 1996.
The Gambler - a par-5 No. 6 complete with an island fairway that allows those fortunate enough to go for the green in two and a plaque displaying Kenny Rogers’ famed song lyrics - is frequently mentioned alongside the best South Carolina’s Grand Strand has to offer. And while Arnold Palmer’s re-design there is worth all the love it receives, there’s a hole and a course on the south end of the area that continues to prove it deserves more of our interest.
River Club, a Tom Jackson Signature Course, is a crisp test of the game that features a finishing hole awfully similar to The Gambler. In fact, lay King’s North’s signature hole atop River Club’s, and the biggest difference is that River Club’s 493-yard, par-5 No. 18 exchanges the aforementioned island fairway for a peninsula version of the same. Visually, think of a barb on a fish hook. Reach that sliver of green jutting into the oversized pond up the left side, and the opportunity to go for broke presents itself unlike so few other courses in the area.
“That 18th hole, I never thought it would be reachable in two, but apparently (it is),” said Larry Brittingham, a Myrtle Beach National neighborhood resident who recently played River Club for the first time. “It was incredible.”
Brittingham went on to say that it was the perfect bow to a spectacular final four holes on the course. But he also added that overall, River Club challenged him more than he would have previously thought.
“This is very narrow; it’s very tight,” he said. “It’s not very forgiving. If you go right, or you pull or hook, it’s out of bounds. The par 4s were short, where it didn’t feel like you had to hit driver. I think a strong player, maybe a 10-handicapper or whatever, is going to hit a lot of long irons off the tee.”
At 6,240 yards from the white tees (6,677 from the championships, 5,084 from the ladies), River Club has long been known for much of what Brittingham discovered. Opened in 1985, the course never sought to be a big-hitter’s paradise, outside of a handful of holes. The give-and-take style includes a conglomerate of par 4s that measure no longer than 394 yards from the whites but allow less room for error than most are accustomed to.
DIABOLIC NO. 9 PROVES WORTHY OF ITS STATUS
During double-tee sessions at River Club, Jackson’s layout doesn’t leave those wrapping up on No. 9 with a let-down.
The longest of the course’s par 4s give players a straightforward tee shot before the final 130 or so yards craft something as visually stunning as it is wicked. Starting with the second strike, players must traverse three massive sand traps en route to a wide green. The run zone to the front right of the green is the only safe miss, as another oversized trap lies beyond.
Further mounding on the back side and a swath of palmettos almost make you forget that this is the hardest hole on the golf course.