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Revisting the Golf Capital of the World: Myrtle Beach

Writer’s Note: This feature appeared online in 2002, and signaled the end of the the golf boom in Myrtle Beach. Over the following years courses would disappear, with land being turned into condos or developments. And while golf in Myrtle Beach is often considered as volume over quality, there are exceptions. This story was about the new courses that opened in the area. They aren’t quite so new now — but several, like the Barefoot Landing courses and River’s Edge (even with its goofy ninth hole), are among the better in the area.

By Robert Thompson

After more than 20 years of consistently building and unleashing new golf courses, it appears that even Myrtle Beach, S.C., has found a saturation point.

With about 110 courses in greater Myrtle Beach (which includes areas just over the North Carolina border), it appeared the boom that made the area the so-called “Golf Capital of the World” would never stop.

But for the first time in recent memory, there are no new course openings on the horizon. Shaftesbury Glen has the newest course in the area, having opened in the middle of 2001. According to Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, the organization that markets the sport in the area, few, if any, new courses are planned in the area any time soon.

Despite the slowdown in golf course development, there are still so many new clubs in the area that it is hard to decide where to start. Given that fact, it is worth taking a look at some of the best new courses to open in the Grand Strand in the last few years.

Tom Fazio's TPC at Myrtle Beach: A standout in the area

Tom Fazio's TPC at Myrtle Beach: A standout in the area

TPC at Myrtle Beach

One of the main changes in Myrtle Beach is the quality of golf in the area. Known for its inexpensive getaways, glitzy streetscapes, pancake houses and “gentlemen’s clubs,” the TPC at Myrtle Beach, which opened in February 1999, demonstrated a shifting focus for the area. High-end golf, like this Tom Fazio and Lanny Wadkins creation, has become the norm in the past three years. Though it was hard hit by a hurricane soon after opening, this classic-looking course set the standard for new golf developments in the area. Playing at 6,950 yards, the TPC at Myrtle Beach is no pushover. Tightish fairways and well-guarded greens are the norm, as is near-perfect conditioning.

Grande Dunes and Barefoot Landing

Designed by former Robert Trent Jones associate Roger Rulewich, Grande Dunes is clearly aimed at competing with Barefoot Landing, which is located nearby and sports courses created by Greg Norman, Davis Love III, Pete Dye and Tom Fazio.

At 7,618 yards from the tips, Grande Dunes is not a pushover, but it is also not an exceptionally attractive course either. Only the holes nearing the Intercoastal Waterway, a canal that separates the Grand Strand from inland South Carolina, have any elevation or true character (especially the terrific ninth hole, a 469-yard par 4 that plays to an elevated green.) Opened in 2001, Grande Dunes still has to mature and is likely to improve with time.

The four courses at Barefoot provide tough opposition. Four individual standouts, it is hard to differentiate which are the strongest layouts. Though Love’s creation garnered most of the attention when it opened in 2000, and Dye’s offering appears to be the most difficult, it is the Norman course that is the crown jewel. Using large rolling fairways and undulating greens, the Norman track is fair, challenging and occasionally awe-inspiring.

Interestingly, both Grande Dunes and Barefoot Landing feature impressive bridges created to allow cars to cross the Intercoastal Waterway. If further development occurs in the area, it will likely occur to the west of the waterway because most of the land on the Strand already houses courses, hotels, shops or restaurants.

Tiger’s Eye Golf Links

Part of the collection of “Big Cat” courses, Tiger’s Eye is the prettier sister to Lion’s Paw and Panther’s Run. Tiger’s Eye is a Tim Cate-creation, and the owners say they have spent $10 million building it. The results are strong, if unspectacular. It featuring a typical Carolina look, with a significant number of trees to make it challenging. The strongest features at Tiger’s Eye are the greens and Cate’s use of water. Both come into play on many of the par 5s, including 562-yard seventh hole, in which water looms along the entire right side of the fairway. The 592-yard closer is also impressive, forcing golfers to carry water from an elevated tee shot.

The 9th and 18th holes at River's Edge across the border in North Carolina

The 9th and 18th holes at Rivers Edge across the border in North Carolina

Rivers Edge Golf Club

Rivers Edge, an Arnold Palmer signature design located a half-hour’s drive north of Myrtle Beach in Shallotte, N.C., may be the most spectacular-looking new course to open in Myrtle Beach in recent memory.

Rivaling Tidewater Golf Club, which has a similar setting, Rivers Edge features several of the best, and most scenic holes in Myrtle Beach.

The course’s only flaw is the overly difficult ninth hole, a 570-yard par-5 in which golfers face a nearly blind tee shot with the marsh looming ominously along the left side. That’s followed by an exceptionally hard second shot in which players are forced to carry the wetlands or lay up, leaving a long third shot to a small green guarded on all sides by the ever-present marsh. But the questionable design decision on the ninth will be forgotten once players witness the final four holes along the marsh, including the majestic par-4 18th.

Shaftesbury Glen Golf and Fish Club

A sister course to the established Glen Dornoch and Heather Glen, Shaftesbury Glen is among the newest courses in Myrtle Beach.

A true second-shot course, Shaftesbury offers players wide fairways and heavily bunkered, elevated greens. Created by Clyde Johnston, the course has a look that is unique among Myrtle Beach’s many modern-styled creations.

But Johnston seems almost too comfortable with his bunkering and green work, which become a touch monotonous by the end of the round. Word has it that a few extra fairway bunkers and slight alterations may be made to spice up the course.

Others: Farmstead is garnering a lot of attention in the area, especially for its 780-yard par-6 hole. International World Tour offers the only replica-style course in the area, with knock-off holes imitating Augusta and the TPC at Sawgrass. The Fred Couples-designed Carolina National features 27 holes, the latest of which opened in 2000, has received raves and is affordable.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

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