Story by Ian Guerin
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. | When the golfing boon of the 1980s and 1990s hit South Carolina’s northern coastline, there was an existing theory for designers to ease into their products. Get players comfortable, then throw the kitchen sinks at them later. Some architects decided to get rid of conventional wisdom and put a considerable challenge right there on hole No. 1. Even when the course as a whole wasn’t considered all that tough, hitting players with a stout test right off the bat could work, as the following five courses have proved for upwards of the last four decades.
Pete Dye got creative with his namesake design at Barefoot; the first hole showed that raw power has nothing with how to successfully navigate it. From the tee box, views of the fairway (and green) are obstructed by extensive mounding that leaves players focusing on a massive waste bunker up the left hand side. Repeat visitors know to use the inside edge as a guide to the deepest portions of the fairway. Getting the ball to land there is a different story. Miss that sliver of a line, and you’re set up poorly for a final third that includes waste areas, varying levels of native grasses and a couple unfriendly bunkers.
You remember how your grade school P.E. teacher stressed how important it was to stretch before getting into any rigorous activity? We can only assume he was ultimately preparing you for the opening hole at Burning Ridge. Playing as long as 571 yards - and even a stout 424 from the ladies tees - No. 1 is pure, unadulterated length at its finest. And while you can muscle up some off the tee, those who aren’t driving into the 300-yard category have little choice but to lay up in advance of a half-pond, half stream that cuts off the final yards of the fairway to a green nestled by hefty bunkers on either side.
Visitors to the three-course Legends property go back and forth on whether the Parkland Course is more difficult than Moorland. But what isn’t to be debated is that Heathland’s opening hole is the most difficult starter of the bunch. Tom Doak didn’t hammer players from start to finish here. No. 1, though, isn’t as free-flowing as the rest. A catch bunker early into the fairway messes with some; others are tripped up by another one placed near the end. Anyone who veers to the left or the right also has to contend with dueling tree placements.
Tom Jackson got right into his idea with River Club, which as the name suggests, would have plenty of water. The 354-yard (from the whites) par 4 is hugged all the way up the left by a pond. It’s not really in play, barring a mega hook, but it disguises the corridor leading up to the fairway. Most players can reach that, but if you don’t get far enough onto the ideal zone, you’re left with a bend around a large oak toward the green. That’s where Jackson got a bit diabolical for this early in the round. He decided not to fill in the part of that pond that cuts in front of the putting surface.
A few years back, MyrtleBeachGolfTrips.com joined forces with the South Carolina Golf Course Ratings Panel to determine the best 18 holes up and down the Grand Strand. Of those selected, only one was a respective course’s opener. Much of that respect for the hole stems from Dan Maples’ aggressive approach. More than half of the 400 yards from the whites comes after a dogleg bend around a grouping of trees, and just across the fairway lies a singular oak causing its share of problems for those that drive through the target area.