MYRTLE BEACH: Ideal for swingers
Myrtle Beach used to be the place where four golf-deprived guy hackers headed for a week of 36 holes a day, fast food, and a fridge full of beer. Downtown “Myrtle” (as the locals call it) was an unpretentious mishmash of all-you-can-eat buffets, discount beach stores, mini-putts, and girlie joints – not exactly the vibe my friend Darlene and I were seeking on a recent gals’ golf getaway.
Women may be latecomers to the sport of kings, but we have high standards. A no-frills condo, a fridge full of beer, and a Big Mac for dinner are not for us. Along with remarkable golf, we want stylish digs, gourmet meals, theatre and maybe a martini or two.
I am happy to report that Myrtle has come a long way. The 96 km of South Carolina coastline, known as The Grand Strand, has grown up and expanded her charms. The areas north and south of “downtown” now offer fine dining, posh accommodations, and a remarkable variety of fantastic fairways.
No place on earth rivals the Myrtle Beach area for the sheer number of golf courses, quality, and affordability. Of the 80-plus award-winning courses, more than half have been ranked as outstanding, four-star or more in Golf Digest’s “Best Places to Play” guide. All of this healthy competition means that you won’t likely find a badly maintained or managed course amongst the lot.
But if you are having trouble choosing, here’s my “A” list, based on design, service, female-friendliness and variety.
Start your swinging spree at Pine Lakes. Known as the Granddaddy, it was Myrtle’s first course, opened in 1927. Originally known as Ocean Forest Country Club, the course survived the Great Depression and was renamed Pine Lakes in 1946, helping jump-start the area’s emergence into the game’s most popular destination.
Designed by Robert White, a native of St. Andrews, Scotland and the first president of the PGA of America, the par-70 plays in the shadow of the area’s beachfront skyline and tests golfers with an unforgettable collection of par-4s. In 2021 the course underwent an extensive green and bunker restoration.
Renowned southern hospitality lives on here as golfers are treated to complimentary mimosas in summer and seafood chowder in winter. The stately clubhouse, listed in National Registry of Historic Places, was the birthplace of Sports Illustrated magazine and the club is home to the Myrtle Beach Golf Hall of Fame. One could argue that Pine Lakes paved the way to Myrtle Beach being nicknamed ‘Golf Capital of the World.’
Resting high on bluffs overlooking saltwater marshes, the Intracoastal Waterway and Cherry Grove Inlet, Tidewater has earned its reputations as “the Pebble Beach of the East. Architect Ken Tomlinson named the par-5 first fairway ‘The Big Easy,’ and indeed it’s a gentle and wide handshake to the challenges ahead, especially on the back nine. Number 13 is a par-3 playing over a salt water marsh where wind factors into club selection. Number 16 rewards players at the green with a view of the Intercoastal Waterway.
Long Bay, a Jack Nicklaus Signature course, was next on our agenda. Known more for its sand than water, the course has more than 150 bunkers to be avoided. Most memorable are the 10th with fairway and green flanked by an enormous waste bunker and the 13th with its postage-stamp island green. The staff went out of its way to welcome us at Long Bay.
At the highly acclaimed Caledonia Golf & Fish Club an impressive avenue of live oaks laden with Spanish moss leads to the antebellum-style clubhouse. Mike Strantz’s brilliant design winds gracefully through what was a historic rice plantation. Pull up a rocking chair on the verandah and sip a mint julep after your round.
At True Blue Plantation, another masterpiece by architect Mike Strantz, everything is big and bold. Greens erupt out of sand barrens, fairways are 60 to 90 yards wide and holes take on the form of gigantic caterpillars.
Barefoot Resort & Golf
In North Myrtle, Barefoot Resort & Golf tempts with four 18-hole tracts by Pete Dye, Tom Fazio, Davis Love III and Greg Norman. Golf Digest ranked the latter, at 7,200 yards with seven holes along the Intracoastal Waterway, in the top 50 courses of Myrtle Beach.
At Willbrook Plantation in the Litchfield area, designer Dan Maples has carved a gentle tract out of two former plantations that has received numerous accolades from women’s golf magazines.
A Nicklaus Signature course, Pawleys Plantation is a classic Low Country design that aptly demonstrates the designer’s philosophy that “golf is a game of precision as well as power.”
Low Country dining
Meanwhile, for a post-round repast, the sheer number and variety of eateries in Myrtle Beach is mind-boggling. The portions served in most establishments are so generous that two adults can happily split a main course, order an extra soup or salad and still not be able to clean their plates.
Our favourite, the Hook & Barrel, always has a waiting list, so best make a reservation. Founder and chef Heidi Vukov’s menu is partial to seafood. From the Steam Galley, Heidi’s version of oysters on the half shell come with bacon, spinach, onions, and mascarpone with a Sambuca/tarragon sauce. Catch of the day might be pan-seared Carolina trout. If you’re more of a carnivore, try the espresso-rubbed New York strip. Be sure to leave room for Key Lime pie or maple bourbon crème brûlée.
Next door to the Hook & Barrel, Croissants, also run by Heidi and her team, offers a fantastic selection of breakfast items. The flaky/buttery croissants taste like they came right out of a Parisienne boulangerie.
At Greg Norman’s Australian Grille in Barefoot Landing, sink your teeth into tender prime rib washed down with a glass of the Shark’s own Shiraz. The wine list is vast and the décor is upscale without being stuffy.
Bovine’s in Murrells Inlet serves up succulent bourbon roasted ribs and that Southern staple, shrimps and grits. But if Bovine’s is full, no worries, this inlet is chock-full of casual eateries.
Situated just behind the dunes and overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, the historic Sea Captain’s House has won awards for its she-crab soup, a rich bisque with a dash of sherry.
Après golf diversions
Take a stroll through the lovely Brookgreen Gardens showcasing more than 2,000 works by American sculptors on the site of four former rice plantations, now a series of themed botanical gardens.
Okay, it’s not Mozart or Shakespeare, but Myrtle’s got plenty of theatre venues. Kenny Rogers and Billy Ray Cyrus are among the entertainers who have graced the stage of the plush 2,000-seat Alabama Theater. At the Carolina Opry, bluegrass, cowboy ballads, gospel, and hurtin’ songs come with about a zillion costume and set changes.
Where to stay
Headquarters for Darlene and I was a spacious two-bedroom suite at the Marina Inn at Grand Dunes, complete with kitchen, dining and living rooms, fireplace and balcony overlooking the Intercoastal Waterway. Amenities included an outdoor infinity pool and indoor pool and fitness centre. Next door was Ruth’s Chris steakhouse where we enjoyed happy hour at the bar with a couple of dry martinis and lamb lollipops on our first night.
To plan a grand golf trip to the Grand Strand, a one-stop resource, including stay-and-play packages, is www.PlayGolfMyrtleBeach.com.
First published at Travel Industry Today