Story by Ian Guerin
PAWLEYS ISLAND, S.C. | The billboard heading down U.S. 17 toward the southern end of the Myrtle Beach area wasn’t a haphazard addition. The signage steers golfers to Pawleys Plantation Golf & Country Club. More importantly, it proudly boasts its ties to Jack Nicklaus. Thirty years since it opened for business, Pawleys Plantation is going back to one of the main reasons it became so popular in the first place.
“I think what’s happened recently, we’ve been using his brand a lot more, to let people know this is a Jack Nicklaus signature golf course,” Head Golf Professional Brian Lewis said. “People that have come here prior would come in and say ‘I didn’t realize this was one of his courses.’ We’re trying to brand it more with his signature and Golden Bear. We’ve got a new fleet of carts coming that will have his signature on the front. I mean, he’s arguably the greatest golfer, to not use his name would be kind of crazy. To me, it just seems like something you have to do.”
Being one of just two courses along South Carolina’s Grand Strand golfing mecca to hold that distinction gave Lewis and his cohorts all the reason to put Nicklaus’ name front-and-center again. And while most local players have since figured it out and tried their hand at the difficult design, they’ve come back time and again, even if the number on the scorecard wasn’t what they’d hoped.
Pawleys Island resident Shane Bowen said he plays the course more frequently than any of the other 15 or so within 10 minutes of his house. “You’re always looking for the house on the back nine. Everybody talks about it. ‘Jack lived there,’” Bowen said after a recent round. “It is kind of cool to think that he put this together. He is one of, if not the greatest golfer of all time. He was out here designing this and you’re playing it. I don’t know too many places around the country where you have that in your back yard.”
Out-of-area visitors have had their share of rounds, here, too, and Pawleys Plantation has ushered many of them from one end of the Myrtle Beach area to the other without hesitation. That’s not simply because of the Nicklaus claim.
Pawleys Plantation is a total package: top-tier playing surface, creatively laid out holes that keep you thinking, and a chance to experience the south-end wetlands off the Atlantic Ocean unlike anywhere else. “You can’t beat the back nine when you go out on the marsh,” Bowen said. “The view, it’s picturesque out here. It’s just beautiful. That’s the allure of the course, the beauty of it.”
The par-3 No. 13 is the highlight of that. Playing at just 69 yards from the white tees, the tee box is surrounded on both sides by marsh. The green, effectively an island adjoining the rest of dry land by only a sliver connected to the No. 16 green, is too. Along with the other 17 holes, it is nearly identical to the original plan. There were really only two notable changes in those first three decades. A massive oak tree on the final yards of fairway on the par-5, 542-yard No. 11 was removed at the end of 2013. It allowed for more room to attack the green on approach shots.
Multiple fairway and rough bunkers were also converted to waste areas. That also took some of the bite out of those holes while defining the true bunkers closer to greens. “The course looks pretty much like it did 30 years ago,” Lewis said. “They’ve changed the greens once [Bentgrass to Bermuda]. It tells me that the design was good and people come back to play without any major redesign to the golf course.”