Once upon a time, I spent nearly two years living in Myrtle Beach. While there, living at an apartment complex in Myrtlewood, I played some of my best rounds since my high school golf team days. I didn't have a boat, and didn't want to bring sand home from the beach, so what else was there to do besides play golf?
I didn't play all the 100 or so courses around, but came pretty close. Maybe one day I'll return and fill in some last holes like Thistle and World Tour (even Possum Trot intrigues me).
The golf scene has gone through some contraction, management and ownership shuffles since I last visited, but I'm happy to report all of my favorite courses remain in business. When the herd is culled, the best stuff often grows stronger. There may be fewer courses in Myrtle Beach these days, but there is still more variety than just about anywhere on the coast coast.
Before I go on to my personal Top 10, here is a foursome of essential tips for your Myrtle Beach trip:
- A la carte green fees are a good way to pay double (or more) than you should for golf. Golf packages are the way to go, unless you're not picky at all with courses. Then you can look for last-minute specials.
- The best season to save money on both golf and lodging is between Thanksgiving and New Years. Golf may be cheaper in the summer but lodging is at a premium.
- If you'd rather avoid the riff-raff, stay in Murrells Inlet or Pawley's Island. If you ARE the riff-raff, Myrtle Beach to North Myrtle Beach is your spot.
- If you're like me and hate slow golf, ask for courses that don't double-tee in the winter and early spring, or play private courses with hotel affiliations.
With that out of the way, it's time to share my Top 10.
I have great fondness for Willbrook Plantation, perhaps because it always seems to fly under the radar among Myrtle Beach's best courses. Truth is, the Dan Maples design isn't showy, it's just consistent and fair. That said, the narrow, long par-4 first hole is one of the toughest openers around. Mossy oaks drape tee boxes and fairways throughout. It's such a gorgeous setting with a complete facility and can be booked for less than others in the pricier Pawleys Island-Murrells Inlet area. I played here a few times, and it seemed like the starters had better control of the tee sheet than others.
Heritage Club has a seriously scenic layout full of lowcountry mossy oaks and marshy vistas along the Waccamaw River. It's a fun design with plenty of teeth for better players with plenty of water to navigate and some stout forced carries, too. Some reviewers on Golf Advisor bemoan the pace of play, and come to think of it, my rounds there were slow. That said, Myrtle Beach rounds in peak season tend to crawl.
I've always felt the Pawleys Plantation setting is one of the better ones in Myrtle Beach, and the green fees here are traditionally a little lower versus other top-shelfers. 1980s Nicklaus courses, with their small, penal greens aren't my favorite era, but this course is nevertheless pretty playable. It also helps that it's price tag checks in a little lower than south strand neighbors like TPC and Caledonia.
Unquestionably one of the better waterfront settings on the Grand Strand, North Myrtle Beach's Tidewater is a real visual stunner with holes along the waterway holes on both nines, not to mention a good bit of elevation change uncommon to its neighbors. Excruciating pace of play took some of the enjoyment out of my round there (a shame given its premium price tag), but fortunately it's a scenic place.
6. True Blue
Would I make True Blue my home course? Not likely. But when you're on vacation, you want something you don't see every day, and True Blue delivers 18 extraordinarily memorable looks from Mike Strantz. He took his clout from his effort at Caledonia and went a little overboard here (it's since been dialed back a little bit). Of all the courses in Myrtle Beach, this is the one that will likely drum up the most 19th hole debate.
The Love Course at Barefoot tends to fare a little better in ratings panels, but I'm a sucker for Fazio's consistently gorgeous shaping (besides, the faux ruins of the Love course are bizarre). Big playing corridors, not to mention massive waste bunkers and artful green contours give the course a premium look that justifies the price tag.
The peace of mind that comes with the TPC brand — tour-worthy facilities, course conditions and amenities — is welcomed in a place like Myrtle where other operations are more hit-and-miss. But what impressed me most about this Tom Fazio layout was how naturally scenic it was, despite also blending into a residential community. The round came full of wonderful birdlife in particular.
I played this course the most during my time in Myrtle and with familiarity came an appreciation for Arnold Palmer's risk-reward layout full of holes you'll remember for a long time. It's simply an exciting routing from start-to-finish on a palette void of real estate despite being pretty close to the heart of town. There are a ton of driver holes (dogleg lefts, especially) and chances to be aggressive (like the stellar, drivable par-4 3rd). I know there are architecture buffs out there who may bemoan the 40-plus bunkers on 18, or the island fairway on the par-5 "Gambler," but you're in Myrtle, my dude. Embrace it!
The first solo design by Mike Strantz, Caledonia is more toned down compared to the late-architect's wilder stuff that came later. Ownership ensured the then-unproven Strantz didn't go off the deep end, and the result is an artistically shaped course through some of the South Strand's best terrain. It's more pleasant and traditional than some of his more jarring works like True Blue or Tobacco Road. The oak-lined entrance is as good as it gets in golf, and the boisterous 19th hole patio is one of the more famous in the south as well.
There isn't a more significant course in Myrtle Beach than its second course, the historic Dunes, which opened in 1949 and put Myrtle on the map. The post-World War II courses by Jones into the 1950s are considered by many to be the best stuff in the architect's portfolio that spans from the Great Depression until 2000. The Dunes had the added benefit of more site visits from Jones than virtually any other project of his. It's a fabulous routing, particularly the first half of the back nine that play along Singleton Swash. Waterloo is the signature hole of the entire destination and personifies Jones' "Heroic" hole design. It's walkable, marvelously conditioned and just oozes class. Given that it's not a daily-fee and public access is more limited, your round shouldn't be as slow as other popular courses.
Honorable Mentions: Barefoot Love, Oyster Bay, Tiger's Eye, Prestwick, Legends Heathland, River's Edge, River Hills (for value)
You can view the top 10 courses according to user reviews on the Myrtle Beach destination guide page. Did any of these courses miss the mark for your group? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.