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At the Big Beach
by Jonathan Gibbins

 

Ask American golfers where the hottest destination is for travelling golfers is, and the typical answer would probably be Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. This area is renowned for having a stretch of golf courses and a stretch of land built especially for the purpose of sizzling the golfing senses.

It all started two decades ago when course developer Larry Young arrived in Myrtle Beach to build a golf course in an area called the Grand Strand. The course triggered interest with many designers and investors and exploded into the creation of many upscale layouts. Since then, anybody whoís anybody in the golf designing business has left their mark on the area.

The majority of courses are easy accessible from the main thoroughfare US 17 that runs all the way through to the North Carolina border and the longest drive from this road to a golf course is 20 minutes. Another great thing about the area is the range of golf that still remains because Larry Young wanted to build courses that appealed to retirees and bargain hunters, and big companies want to build exclusive clubs, so you have both.


Oyster Bay
The first course I tackled was the one that started it all. Marsh Harbour Golf Club was designed by Dan Maples and opened in 1980 with rave reviews from everyone that travelled the extra 10 minutes over the state line. The layout is a challenging one with some holes weaving through marshland and others plotting their way around the Intracoastal Waterway. While I enjoyed the challenge, I tried to imagine the excitement of arriving at a property
like this and plotting out a golf course on your mind. For anyone who loves the serenity of the golf course, that feeling must be remarkable. The nearby Oyster Bay was the next course to be built two years later and boasts an even better challenge which is still seen as a must for the area.

After hanging around the courses which started all this golfing pleasure for so many visitors, I decide to head to a development which is quite the opposite. Imagine this- four great designers (Pete Dye, Tom Fazio, Greg Norman and Davis Love), a generous expanse of land (2,300 acres) and plenty of cash to take care of all the expenses. The result is the Barefoot Resort, the biggest and most lucrative project to ever hit the area which opened this year. The most interesting course seems to be the Love course which trundles itís way around castle ruins (some of them coming into play) and seems to have adopted a links course influence.

The Norman course looks a lot like Augusta with pines, wide fairways and sloping greens and the Dye course is the toughest with itís length of over 7,500 being the main reason. This resort is the latest in series of developments designed to create even more interest in this part of the world, and should add nicely to the other 300 or so other courses that make up the Myrtle Beach golf experience.

The next stop is away from the coast and out to a lovely resort and residential island which held a little event called the Ryder Cup in 1991. This of course is Kiawah Island, where itís Ocean Course blends and swirls around the sand dunes with a man made touch
from master designer Pete Dye. There are many courses on offer here and range in character from isolated links to lush swampland. Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus both offer layouts here and Osprey Point and Turtle Point are little gems in every sense, but because of obvious reasons, the Ocean Course is the pick of the crop.

Nature really shows off in some places and it is definitely the case in this part of the world. The morning sky is a wonderful pink glow and changes throughout the day as you mingle with herons, alligators and egrets amongst the marsh.

To round off the South Carolina experience properly, a visit to Charleston (the capital) should not be ruled out. Charlestonians have been playing the game since the 1700ís when it was all taking shape in Scotland, and with 20 private and public courses in the area, there is game for everyone.


Charleston National
This area has many gems to choose from like Charleston National, Dunes West and Wild Dunes in the Isle of Palms to name only three. I choose to play a course which presents a challenge that feels very close to home Ė namely the Links course at the Wild Dunes resort. The name stays fantastically true to form with sand dunes
and carpet fairways linking together in scenic, and challenging fashion. A real treat.

After a complete overload of the golfing senses with carries over alligators, drives hanging against an ocean backdrop and triple breaking putts on lovely surfaces, the time is right for a quiet walk on the beach or good meal with friends. South Carolina offers all the sweet things in life, in great abundance.

Information:

Oyster Bay- (£40-65) 001 803 530 1875

Barefoot Resort- (£55-80) 001 843 361 3145

Kiawah Island- (£40-80) 001 803 768 2121

Wild Dunes- (£30-50) 001 803 856 9000

Charleston National (£40-70) 001 803 884 7799