MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. | The old Tom Jackson joke on South Carolina Grand Strand is based in reality. If a golf course has “River” in the name, there’s a good chance the designer had something to do with it. River Oaks, River Hills, River Club. That first word says it all when it comes to Jackson’s architectural style.
“He likes to outline things with water,” said David Spoone, the head golf professional and general manager at River Hills Golf Club. “Now, that’s just to get into your head. It will come into play, but that’s just part of it.”
In total, Jackson designed six Myrtle Beach-area courses in a 10-year window. In addition to the aforementioned River trio, there was also Aberdeen Country Club, Arrowhead Country Club and Black Bear Golf Club, which closed in 2016.
With or without the water moniker, though, Jackson never changed his approach. Much like River Oaks, River Hills and River Club, the other two existing courses found creative ways to wrap fairways around ponds, streams and even the Intracoastal Waterway, which Jackson and Raymond Floyd teamed up to lay out in 1995. That was his last local effort, ending a run that was so fruitful for him that for a time he kept an office in Little River, just a few blocks away from River Hills Golf Club. He has since retired and lives on the other side of the state in Greenville.
That hasn’t stopped the majority of his work from keeping his footprint embedded in the market. After all, 117 of the holes along the Strand can be considered Jackson’s, at least in part. Translation, if you’ve booked through a provider, simple odds dictate you’re likely going to touch one of his courses.
“You book a golf package and you can put a Grande Dunes or TPC or Caledonia with a great mid-level priced course like Aberdeen or River Hills or River Club,” said Corey Bowers, the head golf professional at Aberdeen. “You can package them in and have a great opportunity to play very good golf courses at an affordable rate. Without that, we’re not the industry that we are today. If it’s a four-round golf package, you’re going to see one of those courses.”
TOM JACKSON’S GRAND STRAND DESIGNS
Course: River Club Golf Course
City: Pawleys Island
Year opened: 1985
Notable: River Club isn’t long - measuring at just 6,700 yards from the back tees - but it forces players to navigate mostly tight fairways and water of various degrees on 14 of the 18 holes, including the eye-popping No. 18 that bends around a large pond.
Course: River Oaks Golf Plantation
City: Myrtle Beach
Year opened: 1987
Notable: Although the joint effort with Gene Hamm is nestled amid a relatively loaded stretch of courses just west of city limits, it is one of only two 27-hole options in a 10-mile radius. It improves pace of play while adding variety for repeat visitors.
Course: River Hills Golf Club
City: Little River
Year opened: 1989
Notable: Once set as a private course, smaller greens and elevation changes set River Hills apart from so many of the 90 or so other local courses, as River Hills feeds off the rolling hills in the northern tip of Horry County.
Course: Aberdeen Country Club
Year opened: 1989
Notable: A recent renovation updated a 4,000-square-foot clubhouse to include a sports-bar themed restaurant and cleaned up the pro shop some while still letting the 27-hole course do most of the talking.
Course: Arrowhead Country Club
City: Myrtle Beach
Year opened: 1995
Notable: Along with Raymond Floyd, Jackson helped lay out three distinct nines just west of the Intracoastal Waterway. The course was named the 1998 South Carolina Golf Course of the Year by the National Golf Course Owners Association.