Buddy Tripping: Myrtle Beach

05 11, 2011

Published in Toro Magazine

Golf getaway prissies of the “I played Ballybunion AND Carnoustie last summer, and have the signed scorecards to prove it” variety often dismiss Myrtle Beach as a tourist sand trap crawling with Suburban driving dudes who go by two first names and amble into the tee box along with their 40+ BMI. While the Grand Strand’s sheer breadth of course offerings does emphasize quantity — the golf capital of the world is home to more holes than a Tim Hortons franchise — there are plenty of widely lauded masterpieces among the 102 spreads, sure to spoil even the most accomplished weekend warrior’s good walk.

And for those looking for a flatstick workout, there are over 50 putt putts with exploding volcanoes and gape-mouthed dinos that’ll titillate tots and pin-seeking miniature golf nuts alike (the Masters of Pro Minigolf are held here).

On a whim my pal J.P. and I decided to give South Carolina’s golfing playground a whirl. So we saddled up our golf bags and hit the road. On arrival as we got the lay of the land cruising along the 60-mile coastal stretch of endless tchotchke shops, all-you-can stomach buffets, and big box gentlemen’s clubs with "welcome golfers" signs on the marquees, we got the feeling of being in Vegas, only the casinos were manicured green lawns and the betting games of choice: Bingo Bango Bongo, Nassau and Trees (hit a branch & cough up ten dollars).

DAY 1 - TPC Myrtle Beach

“Uhh…We’re gonna hit from the whites”

When you drive into this Tom Fazio treat, you know you’ve arrived at one elegant golf course. Its curves are simply Scarlett Johansson fine. After chunking a bunch of haphazard wallops on the range, striking mortal fear into adjacent duffers with a few horizontal flying shanks, we air-vomited to rid ourselves of the yips and made a myrtleinset1.jpgbeeline for the starter. On the first hole J.P. and I were greeted by gassy Larry and big Matt, a couple of sailor-mouthed yucksters from Cambridge, Ontario, who alternately poked fun at each other’s wide frame and bald pate between holes and beers. The Marshall seemed to get as much of a kick out of their jovial banter as we did. He often rode up to us over the course of our round, and not to rag on us over our slothful pace of play, but to regale us with stories of class act PGA stud and homegrown hero Dustin Johnson, who owns a place nearby.

“I think I’m going to buy a boat that’s too big to drag behind my truck,” he recalls Johnson quipping during their last conversation. We all marvelled at how long Johnson waited to allow himself such an extravagance. (In case you’re wondering how Larry earned his lofty prefix, it was due to his laissez fair live-and-let burp attitude. But his airy ways seemed to give my golf game a lift, and I ended up schooling J.P. by eight strokes to score a Day 1 victory).

DAY 2 - Caledonia Golf & Fish Club

“Holy Mackerel…somebody pinch me!”

The ‘when in Myrtle’ lifestyle of grippin’ it and rippin’ it on the fairway, then downing a couple of shooters at the rippers before passing out in the hotel room, only to be roused by a wakeup call a few hours later to make your tee time, may be a slice of duffing nirvana but it takes a little getting used to. The drive into this Pawley’s Island paradise, a frequent entrant in the first quartile of the top 100 courses in the world lists, certainly does the trick. Sweeping live oaks and bountiful heathers give this course, set on a two-centuries-old rice plantation, the feel of a secret garden. A lush bed of pansies almost magically appears in the minute it takes to enter and exit the antebellum pro-shop. A few members of the nimble armies of gardeners who maintain the place later appear out of nowhere and J.P. can’t help but compliment them on their ninja-like plant and vanish agility. The Land of the Lost calibre otherworldliness heightens on the back nine when I spy a six-foot gator who seems to be daring me to hit my ball anywhere near his reptile ass. Drawn up by the late Mike Strantz, who passed away five years back at 50 years young, the course seems bent on taking your breath away on each and every hole. Skills-wise J.P. and I are easily shown up by Phil, a scratch golfer we have the privilege of playing with, but by gleaning tips from his suave swing we were able to shave some strokes off our games. We finished knotted up at 108 apiece, which for a couple of shot-flubbing knuckleheads is not too shabby.

DAY 3 & 4 Course - The Dunes and Myrtle Beach National: Kings North

“Facing up to Waterloo & The Gambler”

myrtleinset2.jpgStill stuffed after chowing down at Rioz, a Brazilian Steakhouse where you flip over a coaster to the green side and are immediately swarmed by skewer-wielding waiters ready to pile your plate high with savoury meats the previous night, we waddled to the starter. Though a private course, visiting golfers can score a tee time at the Dunes via a Myrtle Beach package provider. This elevation-changing Robert Trent Jones dazzler has played host to six Senior Tour Championships, a U.S. Women’s Open and the Finals of the PGA Tour Q-School which all goes to say she’s no walk in the park. Relatives had forewarned us of the infamous 13th hole Waterloo, an impossible looking 590-yard par-5 which takes a NASCAR looking right turn around Lake Singleton. But if you avoid lake clearing heroics you should do alright.

Before calling it a trip and heading back to the grind, we got in one last round at Myrtle Beach National’s King’s North Course, mainly to see how we’d fair on another legendary hole. Another par-5 doozy, “The Gambler” ups the ante with an optional island fairway that makes reaching the green in two a possibility. While I was the lone man in our foursome to successfully land the ballsy play, I didn’t hit far enough onto the island. Well aware of my fairway wood distance limitations, I was forced to hit back to the safer fairway instead of going for the green, negating the benefit of the wager.

The 19th Hole

It’s really only a matter of time before Myrtle Beach is renamed Ontario South —the Canucks per capita ratio already is on par with Veradero, Cuba. On average over the course of the trip I heard 12 “eh’s” per round. Direct-hop options have expanded big time in the last couple years with Porter recently adding a Toronto-to-Myrtle Beach flight and plenty more flights are available out of Niagara Falls, New York, which is expanding existing service in May when Spirit will begin offering three non-stop flights a week. This accessible and budget friendly golfing mecca will be even easier to reach down the road once plans to extend I-73 will make Sault St. Marie, Michigan to Myrtle Beach a 900-mile dog leg left come to fruition.

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