In the 20+ years that I have been traveling to the Grand Strand for golf, it’s always been in the summer. This year, I was invited to play in a February family and friends 5-day match play tournament staged across the four Barefoot courses and Grand Dunes. We had a fabulous outting. If you have not tried Myrtle Beach as a winter golf destination, it’s about time.
Many in the group of 20 players scheduled their travel to arrive and depart on the first and last days of the competition. I elected to pad a travel day on both ends which worked out well. Going into the event, I had been playing or practicing every weekend and that turned out to be a huge boon for my game. I played well the entire week and generally felt in mid-season form. The on-site day of practice beforehand was very helpful for getting accommodated to the playing conditions and green speeds.
Our accommodations were condos located in the Yacht Club and North Tower on the Barefoot property. These were huge and well-appointed three- and four-bedroom units that housed us very comfortably. I would definitely recommend them for a trip in the North Myrtle Beach area. On a previous trip, we stayed in 3-bedroom condos on the Norman course which were nice but much smaller.
We were grouped as A, B, C, and D players by handicap and a blind draw assigned us into two 10-man teams for a Ryder Cup style competition. I was told that on paper, our team looked very strong. Not having played any golf with any of these fellows, I made up my mind to just go play and not try to over-analyze anything. On days 1 through 4 we would play four ball matches (you and your partner’s better ball against your opponent’s ball) at 80% of handicap. On the fifth day, we’d play 10 singles matches – again at 80% handicap. Every match had one available point, with a total of 30 points available, 15 ½ were required to win the Cup. The team captains met each morning to make pairings and select who would play whom. An excellent requirement was added to promote player interaction. You could not be paired with the same teammate more than once. I greatly appreciated the opportunity to play with a new teammate every day because I only knew four of the other 19 players going into the week. After playing with different teammates and opponents and dining with everyone on a nightly basis, I’m thankful to have met so many great guys.
Day One: Barefoot Love Course.
Weather was cloudy in the mid-50s. This was the first time I had played the Love course and I enjoyed the layout. Course was in great condition and the over-seeded greens were rolling medium speed and smooth. There was a little hidden water off some of the tee shots but the holes were nicely framed and fit my eye. I played with Ken and our opponents were Bruce and Tim. I drove it really well and struck some good irons close. Lost my concentration a bit around the greens on the back nine but Ken and I had pretty good control of the match and won 3 and 1.
Day Two: Barefoot Norman Course.
Weather again cloudy in the mid-50s. Norman is the Barefoot course I’ve logged the most rounds on, but I struggled on the greens. Joe and I played Nick and Ed and we were behind all the way around. Down 2 with 4 to play, our opponents let us back into the match with some loose driving and Joe made a 4-footer for par to win the match on 18. About 2/3 of the guys went out for a nine-hole replay but not me. My new strategy was to conserve energy.
Day Three: Grand Dunes.
One of my favorite courses, Grand Dunes did not disappoint. Temps were in the low 60s and the course was in fabulous condition. I was super excited because I was stripping it on the driving range which is always a good leading indicator for my game. Greens were running faster than the previous two days at Barefoot and the day’s match was Glenn and I vs. Marc and Ed. I had my best ball striking day and carried my partner on the front nine. Glenn ordered a fast-action Bloody Mary from the cart girl on the 6th or 7th hole and his game suddenly caught fire. I relaxed afterwards and we coasted in this one 7 and 5. The last four or five holes were played in the rain which was a harbinger of things to come.
Day Four: Barefoot Dye.
It had rained heavily overnight and there was still precipitation in the area. Dye was playing cart path only and giant puddles and ruts were the order of the day in the cart paths. The paths at Dye are all sand/waste areas which made for a sloppy round. It basically rained medium hard all day. The driving range was closed beforehand and swings were obviously affected. In this match, Ron and I played Nick and Tim. Nobody hit it that well. However, my chipping and putting were getting it done and we prevailed 5 and 4. I found Dye the most difficult driving course because there are few good sight lines. You stand on the tees and confront a world of bunkers. Where to hit it? At the end of the day, our team was up 15 to 5 and needed only a half point to secure the Cup making the outcome all but decided. I guess all the pre-tournament prognostications were correct.
Day Five: Barefoot Fazio.
Temps were in the low 40s, rain was falling, and winds were building from the west. We were on the leading edge of a winter storm that dumped four inches of snow just north of us in Virginia and North Carolina. I was paired against Dan in singles and was playing with my teammate Ted who was matched up with Steve. Surprisingly, the greens were rolling fast and pure despite the weather. Dan and I got off to a rough start and halved the first hole with 7s. He took a 1-up lead on the second but I came back to take a string of holes and was three up at the turn. Ted was leading Steve 7-up and it was raining and blowing sideways. We called it quits. A couple of the boys did complete their games and a few reported that they had played well. I didn’t get the final points total, but it was clear that our side had prevailed. While we didn’t play the back nine, we had to drive in along it and I was impressed by some of the routing and conditioning. It would be great to come back and play Fazio in good weather.
- When in a match play format, don’t get distracted by your individual score. Several players asked me what I shot for the day and I told them that I didn’t know. It was true. If I was out of a hole, I’d put my ball in my pocket and let my partner play for our side. I think it’s beneficial to NOT play out a ball on a hole you messed up because making a bigger mess can form negative mental pictures in your head. When you have a bad hole pick up and forget about it. Your gross score doesn’t matter – it’s not the game you are playing. I get that many of the guys just want to play for practice or measure themselves, and that’s fine, but not my preference.
- Play to your strength in match play and don’t alter your game based on the way your opponent(s) play. My strengths are accuracy off the tee and attacking with wedges. My weaknesses are playing from fairway bunkers, and there were a lot at these venues. I often hit a long iron or 3wd off the tee for position. If you have strengths like mine, you’ll find that ego-based players may become frustrated playing you. While they like to bomb tee shots, your accurate tee shots and their wayward driving often puts significant pressure on their game.
- Around the greens, work the ground game. Courses at Myrtle Beach do not have significant greenside rough and don’t require high lofted pitch shots. Don’t get too enamored with your lofted wedges and try chipping and pitching with more straight-faced clubs. Putt when you can and keep the shots low whenever possible because roll is easier to judge distance on than flight.
This trip was about camaraderie. We played with lots of different players which was great. We were also able to make dinner reservations every night for our party of 20 at a different restaurant. You could never pull this off on a summer trip to Myrtle Beach; it’s just too crowded.
The course conditioning was excellent everywhere. Of course, the dominant playing surfaces (Bermuda) were dormant, but they were very playable and framed the over seeded fairways nicely on all the courses.
The value was tremendous. We paid about $550 for five days of golf and four nights in excellent accommodations.
I’ve been invited to the 2021 version of this tournament and am eagerly looking forward to it. That’s it for now.