April 25, 2008
There are a few benefits to being a middle-aged golfer who has played in Myrtle Beach several times.
For example, the inability to remember much from the first time playing a golf course eliminates any sense of boredom from revisiting it.
If your memory’s not that far gone, on the other hand, you can see if your game improved since the last visit.
This year’s Conlon brothers outing returned to a few courses we played previously, some on more than one occasion, as well as a couple newcomers.
For our initial round of this year, our three foursomes met at Sandpiper Bay Golf & Country Club, in Sunset Beach, North Carolina (800-356-5827). Our group played this pleasant little layout about fifteen years ago. None of us remembered that it is actually three sets of nine holes.
Thankfully, the bustling course attendants did not share our initial confusion, sending us out to play the Sand and Piper nines for a par-72. Maybe on the next visit we’ll play the Bay nines. If those holes are anything like the other eighteen, we’ll enjoy it.
Our set was a nice mix of open and treed, with water at the edges of ten holes. The greens were quite a bit faster than what we’ve been playing in the Cape Region’s early spring conditions, so our scores were less than thrilling on the front nine. My scores improved on the back nine, when I finally figured out how to avoid giving myself 8-10 foot second putts for par or bogey.
We then played a course that was new to us, the par-72 Farmstead Golf Links in Calabash, NC (866-SIX-PARR). The phone number refers to the club’s six-par, a 679-yard finishing hole on this wide-open layout. For low-handicap masochists, that hole stretches out to 767 yards, which is just goofy.
This Willard Byrd/Dave Johnson design uses striped poles centered at the 150-yard mark to guide golfers on most holes. The poles come in really handy for several holes, where a drop-off forces a blind carry. It’s possible to hit into trouble, with swing mistakes that would be also trouble for heavily treed courses.
The fairways are generously proportioned, but with the two-to-three club winds that day were just wide enough. The greens were in great shape, but we all had a much easier time with their fast pace.
And yes, I did make a par on the eighteenth, with a green in regulation and routine two-putt.
Our third round was another return trip to one of our favorites, the Tiger’s Eye Golf Links in Ocean Isle Beach, NC (800-233-1801). This par-72 Tim Cate design mixes open space and tree-lined fairways, with twelve holes adding a water hazard to the usual challenges.
I managed to play to my handicap, despite two ugly triple-bogeys, but I admit that prior playing experience on Tiger’s Eye helps quite a bit.
We then played a new course for our group, the Long Bay Club in Longs, South Carolina (800-344-5590). This Jack Nicklaus signature design has been the site of many tournaments, including service as one of the U.S. Senior Open qualifying events in 1994.
Like many early Nicklaus designs, it features raised greens, lots of mounding, and plenty of traps and waste areas. I managed to find at least ten bunkers during a less-than-stellar performance.
Our final round took place at a course we hadn’t played in many years, the Dan Maples Course at Sea Trail Resort, in Sunset Beach, NC (800-546-5748). I’d forgotten how much I liked it.
If you can keep your ball out of the trees, it rewards steady play. On the other hand, the 150-yard third hole features a large tree potentially blocking tee shots toward the left side of the green. It’s a bit like a dogleg left par three, which isn’t supposed to happen.
An intense session with a chain saw would clear up that problem in no time.
The recent reduction in golf courses nationwide is well in evidence at Myrtle Beach. Fortunately, many fine layouts remain in the Grand Strand, with most well worth a return visit.