By Larry Olmsted
The self-proclaimed “Golf Capital of the World,” greater Myrtle Beach also calls itself “Golftown, USA.” Both are pretty accurate, given that the region is home to more than 100 courses, all packed into an easily navigated 50-mile strip known as the Grand Strand. The area has long been synonymous with value, and many of these are bargains, but when it comes to golf, price and quality do not always go hand in hand. Some famous names are duds, and some lesser-known layouts are hidden gems. These are the best golf courses in and around Myrtle Beach:
There are four golf courses by big name designers at this complex, and among them Davis Love is the least famous – and did the best job. It is ranked in the Nation’s Top 100 by Golf Magazine and distinctly evokes Pinehurst Number Two –- currently ranked the third best U.S. course and among the finest on earth –- at less than half the price. An open parkland course with elevated, contoured putting surfaces surrounded by grassy collection areas, it is not at all penal, yet the tricky greens keep scores from going low. Everyone can enjoy it, but only good putters can tame it. The greens are the best in Myrtle Beach.
Myrtle’s most venerable golf course, this classic Robert Trent Jones, Sr., design was for decades the only regional course to crack the U.S. Top 100 list, and oddly, is one of only two area courses with oceanfront views of note. It has hosted two Majors, the Women’s U.S. Open and the Senior Tour Championship, and is the best example of classic golf architecture here. In fact, it is believed that the very concept of a “signature hole” was invented at the Dunes with the 13th, a horseshoe-shaped par-5 around a lake. Hit your drive as close as you dare to the water’s edge, and you have the chance of a heroic do-or-die approach, all carry, for one of the most memorable eagle putts in golf. The Dunes is technically private, but allows outside play through area golf packages and to members of other golf clubs.
The late Mike Strantz had his career cut woefully short by cancer, but the few golf course designs he did are almost all highly acclaimed, especially the Monterey Peninsula Club, California; Tobacco Road, North Carolina; and Caledonia, one of just three Myrtle Beach courses in the Top 100. Strantz was a painter who came into golf course design and built his courses to look like paintings. This masterpiece evokes the coastal Carolina “Lowcountry” with old live oaks, dripping Spanish moss, rugged contrasting waste bunkers and marshy wetlands. At less than 6,600 yards from the back tees, it is short on paper but tough for big hitters and perfect for shorter drivers or those who like hitting fairways woods and irons off the tee.
The Tournament Players Club (TPC) is a group of golf courses worldwide owned and operated by the Professional Golf Association (PGA) Tour. What they all have in common is first-rate operations and conditioning along with top architects, in this case Tom Fazio with consultation from Lanny Wadkins. An Audubon International-certified Sanctuary design, it is blissfully real estate free and sprawls through marshy wetlands teeming with herons and wild turkeys. Both fun and challenging, the main hazards are bunkers, which means few lost balls, and it offers a natural escapist day out for all abilities.
Grande Dunes has two 18-hole golf course, one public and one private, but it is the less-exclusive resort course that wows, set on high bluffs overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway, with the greatest elevation changes in a mostly flat region. Designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr.’s longtime right-hand man and protégé Roger Rulewich, it was named National Golf Course of the Year in 2009 by the National Golf Course Owners Association of America. This is a challenging course with water in play on most holes, plus high Scottish style rough, and is better suited to lower handicap golfers.
Twenty-six years ago, Tom Doak was an unknown when he built this Scottish style links course here, a nearly treeless and windswept oddity for Myrtle Beach. Now he is arguably the most renowned current architect, the designer of the No. 1 public course in the country, Oregon’s Pacific Dunes, and Scottish style links from Australia to New Zealand and even Scotland. If you want a taste of the Old Country -- golf the way it was invented -- this is it, but weigh the wind carefully when making your club selection.
For years, this golf course has carved out a reputation as the single best value golf in a bargain region, combining a solid design on a beautiful piece of property and consistently good maintenance with some of the lowest greens fees around. While many golf courses are built on 150 acres or less, the Witch has an unrivalled 500 acres of wetlands, its holes linked by three quarters of a mile of wooden boardwalk bridges. Almost everyone loses balls here, but it is one of the more fun places to suffer that indignity. Greens fees packages are even lower when paired with its two sibling designs, the Wizard and Man O’ War.
These two adjacent siblings to the Witch are both fun and well-maintained, and all three are sold in bargain package combinations. Man O’ War is built around a 100-acre lake and has a rare and memorable true island hole par-3 and first-rate bent-grass greens. It is especially appealing to big hitters. The Wizard is more open and links style, with substantial manmade elevation changes, and is suitable for all abilities. It earns a Four Star rating from Golf Digest.
Get your swing ready, and find a Myrtle Beach rental near the best golf courses.
A former Gold & Silver medal reviewer for Golf Magazine, and editor of “The Golf Insider” travel newsletter, Larry Olmsted has written on golf and travel topics for two decades.