Myrtle Beach and The Grand Strand

This blue collar stretch of South Carolina coast has a surprising stash of silk stockings in its wardrobe – especially when it comes to golf courses.

Hilton Head it is not. In fact, some golfers see that swank island resort to the south and Myrtle Beach as polar opposites: posh vs. gaudy, Pearlz vs. Hooters, The Inn at Harbour Town vs. Joe’s Motel. And frankly, there’s some truth to the view. But behind Myrtle Beach’s strip roads and fireworks stands are some of the best public access golf courses anywhere, many of them worthy of (indeed, found in) the toniest resorts. What else could explain the influx of golfers of every stripe – some 2 million of them a year – to The Grand Strand, the 60 mile long resort-o-rama with Myrtle Beach at its heart?

The more likely comparison for Myrtle Beach is Las Vegas, given the Strand’s plethora of blazing neon, gargantuan entertainment venues, all-you-can-eat buffets, and a dedication to excess. (Missing: desert, casinos, drive-through wedding chapels, Steve Wynn, Wayne Newton, and the Liberace Museum.) Truth be told, Myrtle Beach is more staid. Family-friendly local ordinances outlaw wearing thong bathing suits in public, and topless clubs have been exiled to an industrial park. (The Travel Channel didn’t vote the beach “Best Family Beach” for nothing.)

Come to think of it, why waste time drawing comparisons to other golf destinations when The Grand Strand boasts the country’s highest number of courses per capita? A certain cliché sums up the place quite nicely: “It is what it is.”

Golf Comes to Town

From the late 1800s to the 1960s, Myrtle Beach drew throngs from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and tourists still swim and sunbathe and fish and boat much as they always have. But change was in the wind.

In 1967, an enterprising group of local business leaders sought ways to lure vacationers off-season. Not surprisingly, golf was the natural choice. From a seasonal standpoint, the spring and fall weather that was too cold for swimming was temperate enough for golf; on the marketing side, golfers wouldn’t compete with beachgoers.

For seed money for what seemed a safe investment, the group members opened their wallets and came up with $43,000 (the equivalent of about half a million today) – enough to fund the building of seven courses. Some four decades later, Myrtle Beach/Grand Strand is home to 115 courses, with all but five of them open to the public. Even the most amateur of amateurs are catered to, with The Strand’s miniature golf courses almost too numerous to count.

The so-called granddaddy of Grand Strand courses has been in business since 1927: Pine Lakes, then called Ocean Forest Country Club, and so traditional that male staff wear kilts in honor of the Scottish origins of course architect Robert White, born in St. Andrews (!). White also happened to found the PGA, so it’s not as if Myrtle Beach hadn’t put down a stake in the golf world before the 1960s. Still, the town could have little imagined what was to come. In a demonstration of Myrtle Beach’s attractiveness to golfers, more than 4,000 amateurs arrive each year to compete in the world’s largest golf tournament: the amply-named PGA Tour Superstore Amateur Handicap Championship, played on 70 area courses.

A Strand Course Sampling

Our mini-tour of selected courses begins in Myrtle Beach proper at Grande Dunes, an upscale community with a Mediterranean aesthetic. The top-drawer Grand Dunes Golf Club sits on a high bluff with views of the Intracoastal Waterway, and seven holes play along the water. Next up is The Legends, a golf complex with villas and townhouses and three very different 18-hole courses: Heathland (Scottish links style); Parkland (traditional American country club style); and Moorland (target style). Moorland has been called one of the most challenging courses on the East Coast, with Hole 16 so encumbered by deep waste areas and pot bunkers that it’s nicknamed “Hell’s Half Acre.” Then there’s the Pine Lakes course, an institution in Myrtle Beach since 1927. Its Scottish heritage, Southern gentility, and gentleman’s club comfort nicely complement this handsome course– not too tough, but also not without its challenges.

In Myrtle Beach terms, a golf club that opened in 1966 counts as old – and that would be Myrtlewood, where two courses await your pleasure: PineHills, formerly known as the Pines but renamed for Arthur Hills, the architect who redesigned and improved the course in the early 90s; and Palmetto, a Grand Strand favorite because of its large fairways and greens and its splendid view of the Intracoastal Waterway. South of Myrtlewood is Wicked Stick, a links course designed by Clyde Johnston in consultation with golf champ John Daly. Here, golfers aren’t afraid to let it rip on the wide-open fairways, all bunker-free.

— Pages 28–30, GolfQuest: Find the Best Course for You (MapQuest/AOL, 2006)