Unless you’re in Miami or San Diego, it’s either snowing where you are, there’s snow still on the ground or it’s about to snow. Which makes it a good time to daydream about your golf vacation. You’ve surfed the ‘net, cranked the printer up and spread the potential suspects out on the dining room table.
Let’s review: There’s Bandon Dunes, Pinehurst, Scottsdale, Pebble Beach, South Florida and Myrtle Beach. Wait … Myrtle Beach? Does it really belong on this A-list?
It’s also true that if you want a golf buddies getaway for a long weekend or more to play 36 a day, consume adult beverages, gorge yourselves with seafood, and attend the local version of the ballet, there is no better value for the dollar than Myrtle Beach.
While it’s true that Myrtle Beach is guilty as charged on the preceding counts, that’s not the sum total of the resort area. If your mission is not to go on the cheap, Myrtle Beach has golf, lodging and dining right out of the top drawer. The high-rent part of the beach is little known and underappreciated.
But first, you have to know a little of the history. Myrtle Beach proper is just a part of the South Carolina strip of coastline called the Grand Strand, which spans from Southport, N.C. to Pawleys Island, S.C. Along that stretch is 60 miles of white sand beaches, some of the best beach area in the country.
It began its life in the 1940s as a working-class retreat, dotted with mom-and-pop motels and small restaurants, rolling up its beaches and sidewalks on Labor Day to shut down for the winter. Pine Lakes International was Myrtle Beach’s first golf course, built in 1927. The Dunes Club didn’t come along until 1948 and the Surf Club was built in 1960.
The area grew modestly during the next three decades, but in the go-go 1980s and ‘90s, when the golf boom was hitting its stride, high-rise hotels and golf courses sprang up in Myrtle Beach with alarming regularity. Along with the rapid growth in hotel rooms was an explosion in golf. By the mid-‘90s, the Grand Strand had hit the century mark in golf properties. Today, there are 425 hotels and 89,000 rooms along with 102 golf courses in the Myrtle Beach area.
Still, for all but a few, the hotels are no more than two-to-three stars and the golf courses are mostly three stars, while some are four stars. Myrtle Beach is, for the most part, a working class resort and the hotels and golf courses reflect the clientele. Almost all of the hotels, even the biggest, are not full service, with restaurants, room service or concierge service. The big chain hotels stayed away from Myrtle Beach for years and only a handful are in the area today.
That said, the best of the beach is five-stars plus and the Grand Strand is well worth a trip if you’re traveling without a budget. If you want a packager to put together a trip, Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday – www.golfholiday.com – is the master clearinghouse for all things Myrtle Beach. Regardless, here’s a sampler of upscale offerings on the South Carolina shore.Golf
True Blue – While True Blue is Caledonia’s sister property, you won’t mistake them for twins. Strantz designed True Blue as the accomplished artist he was. True Blue, once a working indigo and rice plantation, was built with broad and dramatic brush strokes. It is a big ballpark, with wide fairways, sweeping vistas and elevation changes, expansive bunkers and plenty of movement in the greens. Although untraditional, True Blue has the type of personality that makes it different every time you play it. www.fishclub.com/true-blue/
Dunes Golf & Beach Club – Long considered the best of the beach, the Dunes Club was designed by Robert Trent Jones and stands as one of his best efforts. As is the case with Jones designs, the Dunes Club features elevated greens and yawning bunkers. The greens have been renovated a couple of times, the most recent work by Jones’ son Rees in 2003. The Dunes Club’s 13th hole, a par-5 that wraps around Lake Singleton, is one of the most famous holes in golf. The difficulty of the 13th contributes to the Dunes Club’s course rating (75.7) from the back tees. You might want to move up a set of tees before you take it on. The Dunes is ostensibly a private club, but outside play is available, particularly in association with the Caravelle Hotel. www.thedunesclub.net
Tidewater Golf Club – Course owner Ken Tomlinson tried his hand at golf course architecture for the first time when he created Tidewater 20 years ago. Tomlinson said he was inspired by top-rated venues like Pine Valley and Merion when he built the course. And it opened to rave reviews, counted among the country’s best new courses by major publications in 1990. Tidewater is a classic design, straightforward and a challenge to all handicap levels. Tidewater has held up over the years and still makes some top 100 lists. Clearly it is one of the best on the Grand Strand. www.tidewatergolf.com
Barefoot Resort Love Course – When the developers of Barefoot Resort gathered a Who’s Who of golf course architecture to the project – Tom Fazio, Pete Dye and Greg Norman – it was Norman who suggested that Davis Love III be added to the lineup. Love was little known as a designer when he signed on but his effort is the most memorable of the four courses at the resort. And that’s saying something when up against the other designers. Love’s design is minimalist, but classically strong, and some of the holes wind through plantation ruins that have been incorporated into the layout of the course. www.barefootgolf.com
TPC Myrtle Beach – Fazio left his mark at the beach with his design at TPC Myrtle Beach. And it’s classic Fazio. The course is dramatic in its scope, with sweeping shapes to the fairways and bunkers and with large, undulating greens. The TPC Myrtle Beach was built around and through tidal marshes and wetlands and through corridors of towering pines. It was so good when it opened that the Champions Tour played its Tour Championship there in 1999 and 2000. www.tpcmyrtlebeach.com
Inlet Sports Lodge – This is a brand new property that goes beyond a typical full-service hotel and beyond the ordinary golf experience. The concierge will arrange your tee times at Caledonia and True Blue, but if you want more than golf, you can arrange fishing or hunting excursions at Inlet Sports Lodge. If you choose fishing, you can have your catch prepared for your dinner in front of you by the restaurant staff. If you choose golf, you can have a gourmet breakfast brought to your room before you venture out on the course. The Lodge’s restaurant, called Bliss, concentrates on local seafood and fresh vegetables. Fractional ownership is available along with rentals. www.inletsportslodge.com
Marriott Resort And Spa at Grande Dunes – Of the big hotel chains, Marriott has the largest presence in Myrtle Beach. Many of the 405 rooms are oceanfront and each room has the Marriott signature of consistently high quality, which include spacious work areas and Wi-Fi Internet service. The Hibiscus Spa is full-service and offers specials and packages. Fine dining is offered at Ocean’s on 82nd.
Marina Inn – Located in the Grande Dunes Resort on the north end of the beach, the Marina Inn is full-service in every sense of the word, from valet parking to Wi-Fi Internet access to a fine-dining restaurant. In-room spa services are available and the hotel staff will even do grocery shopping for you, if you are so inclined. Where golf is concerned, the concierge will make starting times for you at both Grande Dunes courses, the Members Course and the Resort Course. Rooms range from a standard hotel room to a four-bedroom suite. Waterscapes is the Marina Inn’s evening restaurant, while Reflections offers tapas along with signature cocktails. www.marinainnatgrandedunes.comDining
Collector’s Café – One of the truly unexpected surprises in Myrtle Beach is Collector’s Café, owned and operated by Thomas Davis. Tucked away in a strip mall, both the paintings on the wall and the menu items are works of art. The combination art gallery and restaurant scores points on both counts. Davis is a noted local artist and by his own estimates has sold 200 or more paintings out of the restaurant over the years. Executive chef Carlos McGrigor crafts exquisite dishes with Mediterranean influences. From grilled veal fillet medallions to grilled grouper with fennel marmalade, the Collector’s Café menu is an even better find than the restaurant itself. www.collectorscafeandgallery.com
Greg Norman’s Australian Grille – At first blush, you wouldn’t think that a restaurant with a pro golfer’s name on it to be classified as fine dining. But most things Greg Norman has touched have turned to gold and this restaurant is no different. Norman’s Australian Grille is one of the best restaurants in Myrtle Beach and that’s not because it’s a weak field. Norman’s would be among the best in most big cities. The fare is wide-ranging from Atlantic salmon blackened with Tasmanian spices to Brisbane seasoned filet mignon. And the wine list, which features Greg Norman Wines, is extensive. www.gregnormansaustraliangrille.com