Myrtle Beach a Golf Paradise for Top Pros and Average Joes

Photo courtesy of Tidewater Golf Club
Photo courtesy of Grande Dunes
Photo courtesy of Barefoot Resort
By Terry Massey, Myrtle Beach Local Expert

What started as a golf destination for the rich and famous has been transformed into a place where the common man can play championship-caliber golf at a reasonable price. With more than 100 courses on the Grand Strand, the Myrtle Beach golf industry offers something for everyone, regardless of handicap.

The first golf course in Myrtle Beach, Pine Lakes International, was founded in 1927 as a private club for visitors staying at the nearby Ocean Forest Hotel, the first major resort on the Grand Strand. Then came the historic Dunes Club, which has since become semi-private and is still considered the premiere layout in Myrtle Beach.

But during the 1970s and '80s, the Grand Strand underwent a transformation that saw courses spring up and spread like kudzu. The explosion of supply assures that middle-class visitors can pack their clubs and play for a fraction of what it costs to join or guest at a private club. Scratch golfers and weekend hacks alike can find a layout that suits their skill level.

The 1990s and 2000s may have seen the numbers of new courses decline, but some of the best designs on the Grand Strand have opened over the past two decades, including the TPC Myrtle Beach, the Grande Dunes, Barefoot Resort and Rivers Edge.

10. Tidewater Golf Club
Photo courtesy of Tidewater Golf Club

As the third of more than 100 courses to open on the Grand Strand, Tidewater is a historic treasure. Designed by Ken Tomlinson, a native South Carolinian, Tidewater pays homage to the courses of the early 20th century – that is to say, his intent was that this course fit the landscape and natural beauty of the area. Based on the accolades Tidewater has received over the years, it's easy to guess that Tomlinson's idea was a success. The 500-acre tract looks out over various landscapes, including coastal bluffs, Lowcountry forests, saltwater marshes, and even the banks of the Intracoastal Waterway.

9. Big Cats of Ocean Ridge Plantation
Photo courtesy of Big Cats of Ocean Ridge Plantation

Ocean Ridge Plantation offers golf so good that it makes the 30-minute drive up Highway 17 seem well worth the effort. Designed by Willard Byrd, Lion's Paw appeals to all skill levels with its forgiving fairways and contoured greens. One of two courses here designed by Tom Cate, Panther's Run poses a different set of challenges than those offered by the former - en lieu of long shots, this course requires accuracy and, perhaps, a little daring. Pinehurst inspired Cate's Tiger's Eye, whose traditional design was carved out of Sunset Isle's pine and hardwood forests as well as scenic wetlands.

8. Heritage Club
Photo courtesy of Heritage Club

After playing a few holes at the Heritage Club, you may just find yourself wishing that you'd brought your camera instead of your driver. Constructed on tracts that once made up the True Blue and Midway Plantations, this exquisite course enjoys an overwhelming array of scenery, from giant magnolias and oaks that date back three centuries to natural lakes and wetlands. Yes, this par-71 is as beautiful as they come, and it wastes no time letting you know how tough it can be - the second hole (and the No. 1 handicap) is a long, narrow par-5 whose green is guarded by trees, traps and water.

7. Rivers Edge Golf Club

An Arnold Palmer signature course, Rivers Edge sits on the banks of the Shallotte River and offers an outstanding arsenal of breathtaking views and championship-caliber holes. Six fairways stretch across bluffs that overlook the river as it winds through the marshes. Measuring just over 6900 from the back tees, Rivers Edge will not overwhelm you with long distances, but it does make full use of the landscape. Take for example the ninth hole: The par-five forces a second shot that must clear the water in order to land on a peninsula-like sliver of fairway extending into the marsh. Bring your accuracy ... or plenty of balls.

6. Grand Dunes: The Resort Course
Photo courtesy of Grande Dunes

Enjoy all the modern conveniences of golf as well as two excellent courses at the Grande Dunes. Laid out along the Intracoastal Waterway, the attractive Resort Course appeals to golfers of all skill levels. Designed by Roger Rulewich, the course measures 7618 from the back-tees, and the back nine includes a consecutive run of four of the course's toughest holes, only to "reward" players with the par-5 No. 17. The private Members Course is a tough, classic par-71 set against a backdrop of scenic woodlands and wetlands. The Grande Dunes also features a golf academy and great training and practice facilities for those needing a little work on their swings.

5. True Blue Plantation
Photo courtesy of True Blue Plantation

Widely regarded as one of the Strand's - even one of South Carolina's - top golf courses, True Blue features wide, immaculate fairways, rolling terrain and an abundance of beauty that also serves as potential trouble. Wetlands and woodlands serve as scenic but nerve-racking obstacles. As the sister course to adjoining Caledonia, True Blue offers the perfect opportunity to play 36 holes in the Pawleys Island countryside. The course sits on what was once an indigo plantation and blends in well with the natural landscape. The course, which plays 7062 yards from the back tees, is indeed one of the treasures of the Grand Strand.

4. TPC Myrtle Beach

Untamed wetlands and rugged pine forests characterize this scenic course, designed by the legendary Tom Fazio. Indeed, Fazio's aim was to create a course that would not take away from the features of the landscape, and each fairway seems to brandish a different natural hazard, whether it's a water feature or an expanse of wetland that must be carried. Elevated tee boxes and open fairways give golfers the illusion of advantage, but this quickly fades once they encounter one of 70 bunkers Fazio incorporated into his design. The Senior PGA Tour Championship was held here in 2000 and many pro events come to this Murrells Inlet layout.

3. Barefoot Golf Resort
Photo courtesy of Barefoot Resort

Featuring four outstanding courses, the Barefoot Resort is truly a destination unto itself, especially for golfers. The Norman Course features striking holes along the Intracoastal Waterway and takes full advantage of the natural landscape. The course designed by Davis Love III is a traditional Lowcountry plantation course featuring wide fairways and ample landing areas. The third trek, by Tom Fazio, also features a classic Lowcountry design and is flanked by water and dense tree cover. The picturesque (and semi-private) Dye Course, meanwhile, is set against the Carolina Bays and features many of its designer's signature pitfalls, requiring that golfers avoid being distracted by the scenery.

2. Caledonia Golf & Fish Club
Photo courtesy of Caledonia Golf & Fish Club

Exoerience championship golf in a Lowcountry setting at this former rice plantation that has been converted into a golf masterpiece. Now for presenting golfers with a stiff challenge in a beautiful setting, Caledonia is as prestigious a public course as you'll find in the Myrtle Beach area, and it continues to receive award after award each year for its layout, location, scenery and service. Centered on a lovely antebellum-styled clubhouse, the rolling course is flanked by pines and hardwood forests and natural water hazards of salt marshes and tidal creeks. Even the most accurate hitters have trouble with the strategically placed sand traps and bunkers.

1. Dunes Golf & Beach Club
Photo courtesy of Dunes Golf & Beach Club

A Robert Trent Jones signature course (he oversaw its renovation in the 1970s and early '90s), The Dunes was completed in 1948 and stands today as one of the Strand's most respected – even revered – golf clubs. One of the course's most endearing qualities is that each hole has been individually named to give golfers a better idea of the challenges awaiting them. The signature hole is the par-5 #13, famously known as "Waterloo" thanks to the sharp dogleg it takes around crystalline Lake Singleton. The Senior PGA Tour Championship and other major tournaments have called the Dunes Club home.