MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. - Two noteworthy Myrtle Beach golf courses - Farmstead Golf Links and The Witch Golf Links - will host their last rounds between now and Thanksgiving.
I used to live and work in the Myrtle Beach golf industry, and I will never forget one particular statistic I heard during my time there.
In 1986, there were 38 golf courses in the region. In 2011, there were more than 110. The aggregate total annual numbers of rounds in both those years were nearly identical.
Three times as many golf courses, the same number of total rounds. You don't need an economics degree to sense there was a bit of a supply/demand imbalance. Over the past decade, the flock of courses has been culled by more than 20 closures.
The region remains stocked with dozens of golf courses (it's #11 on our list of the world's top 100 golf destinations for good reason), including famous standouts and several underrated layouts, whose operators may now find their task of attracting and retaining golfers a little less daunting, given both the spate of recent area closures and the game's newfound popularity amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Now's the perfect time to take stock of what's been lost with a list of the 12 of the best courses to close since the boom times on the Grand Strand.
The latest Myrtle Beach golf courses to close
Opened in 2000, Farmstead was designed by Willard Byrd and David Johnson. In a crowded market, Farmstead stood out by marketing itself as doubly intriguing: 1) its layout straddles the North Carolina/South Carolina border, crossing it four times, the final time coming at the 2) 767-yard, par-6 finishing hole, the only such hole in the area.
Best course conditions I have played in months. Wish this course was not closing. Great layout and best putting greens.
Having played it several times in the years my family used to visit the area, I always thought it was quite underrated, with the marketing gimmicks distracting from a course that had a pleasant open feel, often played firm and fast (and breezy) and, unlike many nearby courses, didn't have houses around it.
But houses - likely by the hundreds - are Farmstead's future, as owner W.J. McLamb sold the land to a real estate developer earlier this year. The course will close on October 31.
McLamb's family also owns nearby Meadowlands Golf Course, which is set to continue as a golf course under the stewardship of grandson Jakob.
Meanwhile, November 21 has been pegged as the last day in the lifespan of The Witch Golf Links, a Dan Maples design that opened in 1989. Visitors know the unusually-named course - a sibling of the nearby Wizard Golf Club and Man O'War Golf Course - as a tale of two nines.
Maples routed the front side of The Witch through an expansive cypress swamp, with more than 4,000 feet of wooden bridges connecting tees to fairways to greens and distinct holes to one another. The back nine, situated closer to the clubhouse, is compact and awkward at times, sitting in full view of a stretch of Rt. 544 that has seen some of the area's most significant real estate development in the last decade.
This course is a hidden gem - too bad it has been sold and will not be around after Nov. Play it while you can.
Like Farmstead, The Witch is set to be turned over to homebuilders. Owner Claude Pardue has cited flooding problems as part of the reason for selling.
I will miss both Farmstead and The Witch; rounds at both courses have been part of my lifelong love affair with the game, both as a kid vacationing in the area with his family and as an adult living there from 2011 to 2014.
10 more notable Myrtle Beach golf course closures
Locals and visitors to the Myrtle Beach area are no strangers to seeing courses they've enjoyed - for decades, in some cases - reclaimed by developers. Overall the contraction has made the destination healthier as a whole, but any nostalgic longtime visitor could be forgiven for feeling a bit sad at the loss of courses where many happy memories have been made.
This list is by no means exhaustive (please add your comments on any that go unmentioned), but for reasons of history, scenery or their role in the devlopment of Myrtle Beach as a golf destination, these courses' sunsets seem to stand out.
Bay Tree Golf Plantation (1972 to 2006)
All at once, Bay Tree's 54 holes - the Green, Silver and Golf Courses - shuttered, ostensibly to clear the way for housing in its advantageous North Myrtle Beach location. But the Great Recession happened, and the property sat untouched until 2017, when homes began to be built there in earnest.
Gator Hole Golf Course (1980 to 1999)
This relatively short-lived course, laid out by Rees Jones, was owned by the Tilghman family, namely North Myrtle Beach mayor Phil Tilghman, who served the city from 1988 to 2001. His daughter, Kelly, was a longtime Golf Channel correspondent.
Heather Glen Golf Links (1988 to 2017)
Considered one of the Myrtle Beach area's premium courses, with peak-season rates topping $100, it was a surprise when this 27-hole Clyde Johnston layout near the North Carolina/South Carolina border shuttered. As its name suggested, the design was meant to be a nod to British heathland golf.
Indian Wells Golf Club (1984 to 2019)
Anyone driving up the southern part of the Grand Strand would have passed by Indian Wells repeatedly, with its large sign advertising always-reasonable morning and afternoon rates. Even though the course boasted water in play on 16 of 18 holes, it was surprisingly playable and not overly long. The short par 5 on the back nine with a tree in the landing area was an exciting hole.
Marsh Harbour Golf Club (1980 to 2005)
This Dan Maples design had one of the best natural settings of any Myrtle Beach-area golf course: a large, unspoiled tract with hundreds of yards of marsh frontage, straddling the border between the Carolinas. No homes have been built on the land, which, if somehow revived for golfing purposes, could be turned into an outstanding new layout by the right architect.
Possum Trot Golf Course (1968 to 2019)
One of the original 20 or so courses developed in the Myrtle Beach area, Possum Trot closed up after 51 years, over which time it built a reputation as one of the region's more playable and friendly golf courses.
Waterway Hills Golf Club (1975 to 2015)
This 27-hole Robert Trent Jones, Sr. design, originally called Skyway Golf Club, delighted golfers for decades with a not-too-onerous challenge and some scenic holes along the Intracoastal Waterway. Its main claim to fame, however, was its unique method of conveyance from the parking lot, across the Waterway to the clubhouse: a suspended gondola.
Wicked Stick Golf Links (1995 to 2015)
Advertised as having been designed by John Daly, one would think this course might have been more memorable than it proved to be, but its enduring image for most golfers is of the vast driving range containment nets visible when driving north on Rt. 17. The decaying husk of those nets remained visible long after the course was plowed under for housing.
Wild Wing Plantation - Falcon Course (1994 to 2006)
In short order, Wild Wing contracted from 72 holes down to 27, with both the Wood Stork and Falcon layouts falling victim in their entirety (a modified 9 holes of the original Hummingbird course still remain, in addition to the entire Avocet layout). The Falcon was a Rees Jones layout with dramatic mounding, typical of the architect's 1990s work, surrounding the holes. One Falcon feature that appeared in magazine spreads was the epic 500-yard-long sculpted sandy waste area that sat between two of the holes.
Winyah Bay Golf Club (1955/1998 to 2005)
Situated way down south of quaint and quiet Georgetown, Winyah Bay had the distinction of being the southernmost golf course that was considered part of the Grand Strand until it was closed and cleared away for housing. With an original nine opened in the 1950s and a redesign and expansion overseen by superintendent Matt Sapochak, who helped build courses for Pete and P.B. Dye, it became a sporty 6,000-yarder in a pretty natural setting, overlooking wetlands on many holes. Short-lived though it was, it will always have a special place in my heart because it was the first course where I broke 100.