River Hills Golf & Country Club: An affordable Myrtle Beach sleeper

LITTLE RIVER, S.C. - The best aspect to the town of Little River isn't the river, unless you're playing golf courses like Glen Dornoch Waterway Golf Links or Tidewater Golf Club.

Or if you're a gambler, picking up one of the two casino riverboats that dock here daily.

No, the best thing about Little River, just 20 minutes north of Myrtle Beach, is the gently rolling hills. And River Hills Golf & Country Club takes full advantage of this undulating terrain that's such a coveted commodity along the Carolina coastline.

River Hills is a second-tier option in a neck of the woods that has a lot of premium North Strand golf courses like Glen Dornoch and Tidewater, not to mention the four Barefoot golf courses to the north. The course is also operated by the Burroughs & Chapin golf umbrella, which boasts several high-profile Myrtle Beach golf courses like Grande Dunes and its coveted "granddaddy," Pine Lakes Country Club, which has been getting some serious T.L.C. leading up to its reopening after extensive renovations in March, 2009.

It also opened in 1988, just before the droves of high-profile courses in the 1990s began sprouting up. So, River Hills Golf & Country Club falls under the radar a little in the Grand Strand. But that's a good thing. This is an over-achiever, a semi-private golf course that comes with solid facilities and beautifully maintained conditions, especially the greens.

It's also a Tom Jackson design, a regional architect who is quite underrated and has built another second-tier favorite down in Litchfield, River Club at Litchfield. You'll see some bunker shaping and green similarities between these two courses, though River Hills has those coveted au natural humps.

River Hills plays a modest 6,900 yards from the championship tees, and none of the par 4s are going to be horrifically long. The par 5s can also be chewed up if you're up for it, none more so than the double-dogleg 17th that features plenty of trouble.

The drive is one of the course's more awkward sets, with blind water down the left side and woods right. The second shot isn't any easier, especially because a stream cuts through the fairway that disturbs layup shots, and O.B. starts creeping in on the left, and water lies right.

And despite winding through a residential community, some of the holes here feel very secluded. The par-3 12th hole, framed tightly with woods and a large pond between the green and tee, is one of your more scenic holes. The par-4 16th that heads through dense forest and downhill to a monstrous green that sits in front of a river is another.

One of the most intimidating is the par-4 fourth hole, which plays through tight trees and then requires a long carry over water on the approach. Don't be surprised if you have more than 160 yards in pretty soon out of the gate for this knee-knocking shot.

But the hills yield some tough, uphill holes, too, that help make the course feel a little longer than its length at times. The par-4 18th is a sharp dogleg right and up a hill, with O.B. on the right side that seems like a magnet for balls trying to cut the corner. The par-5 seventh hole's approach shot is the most steeply uphill, over water to a putting surface that's entirely blind. This green isn't big, either, making it one of the more challenging approach shots.

River Hills Golf & Country Club: The verdict

River Hills is one of your better bang-for-your-buck courses on the Grand Strand, thanks to rolling, scenic terrain and a very fair Tom Jackson design that keeps things interesting around every turn, even if it's not as flashy as some of its more renowned (and expensive) neighbors in the North Strand.

And the fact it's kept in exceptional condition is a bonus. There are some three-figure courses in Myrtle Beach that aren't kept up as well. Facilities are also good enough to keep the many members happy here, including a couple large putting and chipping greens and a very big driving range, too. The clubhouse is also large and serves food all morning and afternoon.

Peak season rates are $85, though as with all Myrtle Beach golf courses, it can be booked cheaper with a golf package. In the off-season, it can be played for under $50, which makes it one of the best in its class locally.

Brandon Tucker is the Sr. Managing Editor for GolfPass and was the founding editor of Golf Advisor in 2014, he was the managing editor for Golf Channel Digital's Courses & Travel. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and nearly 600 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at @btuck34.

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River Hills Golf & Country Club: An affordable Myrtle Beach sleeper