Category Archives: Course Reviews

Boyne Highlands Review

 

In front of the clubhouse at Heather

The Resort

Our travel group visited Boyne Highlands Resort in Harbor Springs, MI from July 22 to July 27.  Until last year, I never knew of Boyne, but one of our Myrtle Beach golf partners suggested the location was to die for as far as quality golf went, so we decided to mix things up and booked it.  Boyne is about as far north as you can go without crossing into the upper peninsula and is on the west coast of the state just north of Little Traverse Bay.

Because of its remote location, travel to the resort is not simple.  We priced out flights and flight times from Washington and decided to drive it in two days, with a stop in Ohio.  Total driving time was about 11-12 hours.  Our playing partners booked flights from Phoenix that connected in Chicago and terminated in Grand Rapids.  They drove the remaining 3-4 hours in a rental car.  We are thinking of returning next year and will continue to research flight/rental car options.

View up the slopes from our condo

When you talk to the locals, you quickly learn that Boyne is a split season resort and caters to golfers in summer and skiers in winter.  I asked the reception agent about the popularity of the various sports and seasons and learned that ski season brought in about 25% more customers than golf did.  Our accommodations had the look and feel of a ski lodge.  The unit was in the Heather Highlands Inn and was at the base of the mountain with a ski lift right out back. It consisted of a bedroom, a loft with two queen beds, two full baths, a fireplace, and a pull-out sofa.  Perfect for four guys.  The resort was running that ski lift and let resort guests ride up and down the mountain for free – which I did.  You could just ride up and explore or bring your mountain bikes up and ride down the ski trails.

The resort coming down the lift

Boyne is a big resort and employs a large staff.  All the employees were super friendly and accommodating.  Interesting factoid:  I noticed that several of the golf courses had women staffing the bag drops.  A little unusual but a welcome site.  I was curious so I asked them about their story and found most were working the golf clubs in summer and at the ski resorts in winter, some as instructors.  In either case they handled the work with ease, and it was good to see them get the additional job opportunities.  Some of the wait staff told me they loved their jobs because they could play as much golf as they wanted for free at any of the Boyne courses.  Nice gigs.

Slopeside executive nine holes

The Golf Package

Boyne has 10 courses at multiple sites and I played nine rounds on seven of them over five days.  We played on the Great Escape package which ran from Sunday night through Thursday night and extended it an additional two days on the Unlimited Package.  The whole shebang included a welcome party on Sunday, full breakfast and dinner daily, unlimited golf every day, an $85 gift card to any of the pro shops, and a $25 casino voucher.  They threw in a Wednesday scramble tournament for package players, but we skipped that because we had 36 holes booked every day.  Our Arizona guys stayed through Sunday and I played Monday through Friday and left on Saturday.  My total package cost was around $1,100 plus gratuities.  We were eating filet, rib-eye, lobster tail every night and quality of dinner and breakfast choices was outstanding.  With the food, accommodations, and unlimited golf, this was an incredible value.

Extras

There were other activities such as zip line, horseback riding, and spa treatments that you can purchase.  At the end of the week, I was hurting from all the golf and could have used a spa treatment but passed.  Swimming pool, nine-hole natural mini-golf, tennis, fishing, and paddle-boating are also available and are free, and many families were present to take advantage of these amenities.

Course Summary

At the end of the day, we were there to play golf and the list of offerings was impressive.  At the resort center, there are four courses.  Heather plays out of a clubhouse across the parking lot from the main lodge.  A one mile drive gets you to the Donald Ross Golf Center where there are three courses:  Arthur Hills, Donald Ross, and Moor, and an extensive practice facility.

14 miles away in Bay Harbor is Crooked Tree where we played twice on Wednesday.  And 30 miles to the south in Boyne Falls are Monument and Alpine, that both play out of the same clubhouse.  We played both on Thursday.

Normally, I’ll do individual reviews for one or two courses, yet my experience was almost overwhelming playing seven new tracks in such a short period of time.  I just wanted to immerse and play rather than capture intricate details on each.  So, enjoy some photos and I’ll provide some memories of each course but not a comprehensive review.  At a high level, what impressed me most was the variety of layouts and awesome course conditions.  Due to the northern climate, all courses play on Bent grass and there was rarely a blade out of place.  Each of these courses is a must play but since we are a society of rankings, I’ll note them in my order of preference.

Warming up at the Donald Ross Center before a round on Arthur Hills

#1 Arthur Hills.  I have a bias for this outstanding layout because we played it first and were overwhelmed with its grandiose appearance and perfect conditions.  It’s a fabulous course to get your golf vacation started on.  No two holes are alike, and they give you ample room to hit your driver.  The par-5 #13 is the signature hole.  When played from the tips this monster measures 570 yards (see short video) and you need to carry a drive 250 yards (downhill) just to reach the fairway.  We played it once from the tips and once two sets up at 516 yards.  It was here that we learned we should not be playing this course from the tips.

As mentioned, I played my first and last round and the beast beat me up on the later, but I played it well on day one.  We observed ample wildlife as well, with many wild turkeys, and we actually saw deer in the middle of a lake on #17 feasting on aquatic plants.

Wild Turkey
Deer in the lake – #17 Arthur Hills
On #13 tee at Arthur Hills

#2 Donald Ross.  This track is a collection of classic holes designed by Donald Ross and is another outstanding conditioned golf course.  Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of rendition type courses and I couldn’t recognize any of the holes we were playing, but the layout and routing was incredible.  I was loving the holes I was playing whether the scorecard said, Pinehurst, Oakmont, or something else.  Many of the holes had extensive bunkering around the greens and you need to be a solid ball striker to score on this one.  My sand game got tested too.

Mike and Curtis at Crooked Tree
The range at Crooked Tree

#3 Crooked Tree.   This course runs along the south shore of Little Traverse Bay.  You enjoy great elevation changes on some of these holes starting with #1 where you have a huge drop on a downhill dogleg right par-4.  #2 is a par-3 with a giant hump in a two-tier green.  If you miss this one left you can forget about keeping a chip shot on the green with bogey not a bad score.

Jim on #7 at Crooked Tree

The par-4 16th is the signature hole and plays 389 from the tips and has tremendous lake views.  The tee shot drops down a huge hill and if hit well, can leave you with a flip wedge in, but you can just as easily lose your ball if you’re not straight.

Par-4 10th at Crooked Tree

I had my best round here in the morning but ran out of gas in the afternoon which was my 6th round in three days.  My ball striking began to falter as I became fatigued, but I was in love with the greens and managed to go around in only 25 putts (10 on the back nine) despite shooting an 11-over 82.  Crooked Tree is a great course.  My only ding was that the snack bar was small with only about five tables.  It got very crowded in there as we were hit by a rain shower between rounds and several golfers came in and packed the place.

Next to the scenic #16 green at Crooked Tree
Curtis before teeing off at Monument

#4 Monument.  Monument and Alpine play out of the same clubhouse and required the longest road trip from the resort area.  The practice area is awesome for a 36 hole facility.  They boast a large driving range, full pitching and bunker green, separate chipping green, and another green for putting only.  I could definitely spend a full day here working on all aspects of my game.

Both courses start at the top of the ski slope and the cart ride is about a mile up the mountain and takes about 10 minutes.  Monument was the toughest of all the courses we played with the front nine weaving its way through the mountain with tight tee shots, elevation changes, dog legs, and incredibly fast / undulating greens.  One of my playing partners equated the putting experience to rolling a ball on a Pringles potato chip.

#1 tee at Monument

You get hit right out of the chute on #1 with a big downhill dogleg right par-5 with a beautiful approach to a green protected in front by a bunker framed with railroad ties.

#1 green at Monument

Oddly enough, I was the only one in the group that didn’t struggle on the greens and managed to take 29 putts with no three jacks – that’s the good news.  Unfortunately, I was playing with some serious pain in my left neck / shoulder area as this was round seven in day four.  It prevented me from making a full swing, but on a golf trip and you gotta play through it.  Monument chewed me up and spit me out because I could not control my golf ball and I shot 90.

Curtis keeping his spine angle
#12 tee Monument

#5 Alpine.  We welcomed the warmest temperatures of the golf trip Thursday afternoon as the thermometer hit 80 degrees and after nine Advil, my neck finally loosened up and I played much better on Alpine.  Alpine is the sister course of Monument and was a little wider open off the tee and the greens were just as fast but were not as undulating.  In the morning, everyone was a little shell shocked from our experience on Monument and found Alpine more playable / more score-able.  As it was, I found Monument slightly more scenic.  Both were fantastic plays.

Mike rips one at Heather

#6 Heather.  Heather has won several regional and national awards for course of the year.  The clubhouse was walking distance from the main lodge and our accommodations.  If you feel like taking a few putts on an off day, just stroll over and enjoy.

#1 green at Heather

The pro gave us the preview and set expectations that we would see a lot of doglegs and that if we hit our tee shots at the 150 yard poles, we’d be fine.

Jim at Heather
Mike sends one on the way

Of course, I tried to cut too many of the doglegs in the bend and got in trouble off the tee.  The course was in excellent condition and was another enjoyable play, but I learned after playing that I favor holes where you can see the flag from the tee.  If I can’t, for some reason, it’s a struggle to concentrate on my tee shots.  Along with the collection of doglegs, Heather has a stunning par-4 finishing hole with a forced carry over water.

Tee shot on the daunting 18th at Heather

I was thrilled to flush a 4-iron and carry the beast only to three-putt.  Oh well.  I got several pictures from the tee and from the lift going down the mountain.  When we finished up, I was pleasantly surprised to see the pro come out and assist the bag staff in unloading our clubs.  Excellent customers service bonus points there.  Finally, the driving range at Heather is a short drive from the clubhouse and plays up the mountain on one of the slopes which I thought was an excellent use of real estate.

The range/ski slope at Heather

#7 Moor.   We played Moor on Monday afternoon after Arthur Hills in the morning.  The front nine presented tight tee shots with lateral penalty areas in seemingly every landing spot.  Conditions on the front were good but not great.  The back nine was much stronger and our mood was re-elevated as the quality of layout and conditions improved markedly.  I’m not sure of the reason for the change, but I relaxed and played much better on the inward half.

Game Summary:

The consistency of course conditions made for some of the best quality golf I’ve ever experienced on a trip.  All week I putted exceptionally well on the smooth fast Bent greens.  The extensive work I had done in the previous month paid off.  My short game was sharp, and I was particularly pleased with my bunker game.  It was clear that as the week wore on, I became more fatigued and my ball striking was affected.  Woods, irons, and wedges were off after my 5th round.  The last four were a struggle and I only played 18 on Friday because the tank had run completely dry.  On future trips, I need to find a way to conserve energy over the course of the whole week and that will probably involve only 18 per day in the early rounds.  Getting old sucks 😊

Hope you enjoyed the review!  Play well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hampshire Greens – Course Review

Summary

We played Hampshire Greens, in Silver Spring, MD, on Monday, October 8, 2018.  Of the nine courses in the Montgomery County Golf (MCG) rotation, this Lisa Maki design is considered the high-end play.  They boast a country club level atmosphere and service level at a daily fee price point.  While it’s been open since 1999, this was my first time on the course.  I’ll usually play between 15-20 rounds per year on the MCG courses, but have not included Hampshire Greens as there are lower cost options that provide an equal level golf experience.

There are four sets of tees on this par-72 track and I found it a very enjoyable play.  We played one up at the blues and I felt that this was a course I could score on.  They put all the length into the par-5s and don’t kill you on distance or forced carries on the 3s and 4s.  If the strength of your game is driving, you’re going to love the looks they give you with neatly framed fairways, superb conditioning, and fairly generous landing areas.  Hit your drive solid and in the fairway, and you’re usually left with a medium to short iron in.  The course’s main defense is well bunkered raised greens with a decent amount of slope and quickness to them.  I found you needed an extra club hitting into these raised greens.  Also, the reputation is for lightning quick speed on the putts but we found them medium fast.  Perhaps it was because of our early afternoon tee time, but either way, the bentgrass surfaces were in excellent condition and rolling smooth.

Playing notes:

  • They had positioned some pins in difficult spots either right in front or on the sides of some greens.  I left thinking it was best to just play for the middle of these greens rather than go flag hunting and missing into some tough up-and-down spots, which I did.
  • Pay attention to the aiming sticks they have in some of the fairways, especially on the second shot for the par-fives.  Each of the fives has a similar design where the landing areas are squeezed down to very narrow corridors the closer you get to the greens.  We thought this was a bit awkward and felt like the par-5 2nd hole was a little unfair.  I lost my ball into the hazard left on a well struck medium iron layup.  You must hit it right of the aiming stick there to keep it in play.

    Marie on the 2nd tee

 

  • With these narrow corridors on the fives, for long hitters, it felt like you needed to approach with supreme accuracy, else you were taking an unnecessary risk going for the green in two.  This was my only bone to pick with the layout.

    Look down #2 fairway. Par-5, 563 yards
  • From the blue tees, none of the par-4s were short enough to try and drive close to the green, but you need to pay attention on where to land your ball.  #10 is a downhill tee shot and an uphill approach.  The hole is only 362 yards but everything bounces hard left to right in the fairway.  You must keep your tee shot out of the fairway bunker left, which is about 220 yards from the tee, or you could be looking at a big number.

    #4. Par-3, 182 yards

Facilities (3.25 out of 5.0)

This course is designed for cart play.  You cannot walk.  Actually, you may be permitted to walk but your greens fee includes a cart and for good reason.  Some of the distances between greens and tees are huge.  I like to walk but couldn’t imagine playing this one on foot.

Patio at Hampshire Greens

The course has a smallish clubhouse and grill with a patio that overlooks the fairway of the 9th hole.  The 9th finishes up going away from the clubhouse, which I found a little strange, and if you need to stop, you have to backtrack for half a hole.  We didn’t and just continued on to the inward half.

The driving range

They have a grass driving range but the grass tee was closed on this day and we were hitting from one of 13 driving mats.  Balls are $5 for a bucket of about 40-50 and are purchased in the pro-shop.

Staging area and putting green

There is a single practice green next to the clubhouse and while you are permitted to chip, it feels a little squeezed to make this an actual short game practice area, especially when golfers are warming up their pre-round putting.  I came out the day before just to practice and didn’t feel right hitting chips and pitches in, and just putted.  If you want to seriously work short game, I’d seek another venue.

Value (3.5 out of 5.0)

We played on a Monday after 12 noon rate of $39.99.  At this price, the value is superb because of the quality of the course.  Pre-noon, the cost is $49.99 which is still good.  The normal weekend morning rate is $74.99 and after noon it falls to $59.99 which brings a lot of the other area courses into play if you are budget conscious.

The quality of the golf course is the main allure.  An equivalent area play for layout and conditions would be Blue Mash.  I’ve picked up a 30 round membership there which works out to $47/round for afternoon weekend play and that appears to be a better value.

Lining up a tee shot on #15

Customer Experience (3.5 out of 5.0)

Monday was Columbus Day, a federal holiday.  The course was busy and the bag drop guy doubled as the starter.  While friendly and helpful enough when it came time to get us paired up and out on time, when I arrived he did not unload my bag.  This was of no inconvenience to me.  However, if they boast a country club experience, folks may expect more than one person working the bag drop on a busy holiday or weekend, and some assistance with their clubs.

The fellow manning the golf shop processed my check in with a “business as usual” attitude and while he wasn’t rude, didn’t go out of his way with a warm or friendly greeting.  The guy at the snack bar provided snappy service and the hotdog with sauerkraut graded out pretty good on the taste test.

There was ample cold drinking water on the course and we were serviced several times by the beverage cart which was appreciated.

Par 4 18th. 418 yards.

Overall Rating (3.5 out of 5.0)

On this day, we played from the blue tees at 6,512 yards (71.6/129) and I carded a five-over par 77.  I enjoyed my round at Hampshire Greens and wouldn’t hesitate to return, but would only play on the weekday rate.  If you are a walker or are serious about practicing your short game, you may want to try out another close-by venue like Blue Mash or Northwest.

The Links at Gettysburg – Course Review

Summary

We played The Links at Gettysburg on Sunday, August 26, 2018.  The course is a one hour drive from Montgomery County, MD, and a couple of miles east of the famous Pennsylvania battlefield.  There are six sets of tees that make this a fun and playable experience for golfers of all abilities.  We challenged ourselves from the whites which play at 6,277 yards with a rating/slope of 70.5/136.

This course is known for its beautiful scenery and excellent conditioning and did not disappoint. The architect did a great job fashioning several holes out of the local red rock and presenting them as mini-cathedrals surrounding the greens.  They use a lot of hard red sand in their bunkers, which looks a bit unusual but is fine to play from.  As the course is located in the rolling countryside, there are many elevation changes but none too severe, and we didn’t find any holes that were tricked up or unfair.  The course is also bordered by some very large and beautiful homes, but you don’t feel as if they are on top of you.

Downhill par-3 third hole.

From the whites, most of the par-4s are under 400 yards and if you are hitting your driver well, you can score.  Greens are bent-grass and were rolling medium fast and very true.  There is significant mounding and sloping on the putting surfaces that make chipping and putting from above the hole ill-advised.  The rough was cut at medium height and didn’t kill your chances to recover from a stray shot.

Property overlooking #7 fairway
Jim from the fairway on #7
On the 9th tee

From a ball striking perspective the front nine plays fairly easy with the reachable par-5 4th hole offering a great scoring opportunity at 457 yards.  The back is more difficult.  On this day, I was fortunate enough to hit #4 with a six-iron and drain my eagle putt.  After going out in 1-under 35, I managed a birdie on the par-4 10th hole and followed with a couple of pars.  Just when I thought I was rolling, I ran into the buzz saw at 13, 14, and 15.  These three straight holes bring water into play all down the left side – on every shot.  If you fight a hook, you are in trouble.  My big miss is a pull hook and I had not seen one all day.  But with all that water left, and a strong wind blowing in my face, #13 got in my head and I pushed a drive into trouble and carded a triple.  The par-5 14th was playing 531 yards into the same wind and I left a couple more shots right but managed to salvage par.  The par-3 15th finally gobbled up one of my big misses into its leftward watery grave and left me with a deflating double on the card.

Jim on the bridge at the par-3 12th

With no water left on the remaining three holes, I managed to right the ship and finish strong with a par-birdie-par run for a 2-over 74.

Playing notes:

  • #1 tee shot.  We got a lot of conflicting advise on what to hit at this blind downhill short par 4.  From the white tees, you need about 210 yards on your shot.  Don’t take more else you will go through the fairway into trouble.  I didn’t take enough club and left myself with a longer approach into this green that is protected in front by a steep stone wall.
  • #4 tee shot on the short 457 yard par 5.  Hit it over the pine tree on the left, closest to the fairway.  My tee shot was aimed at the middle of the fairway and I pulled it a bit only to see it roll to the extreme right side of the fairway.  Everything bounces and rolls right.
  • #8 tee shot is a precision placement play.  The hole has trouble short and an elongated fairway bunker long that abuts a rock cliff.  Hit it 180 yards from the white tees and you’ll have something between 80 and 110 yards in from the middle of the fairway.
  • #11 tee is a 345 yard gentle dogleg right.  The wind was blowing left to right and I took 3wd which was a good play.  Looks like driver may be too much here.
  • #13-15, as previously mentioned, try to block out the water left 🙂
  • #18 is another short par-5 but has water in front challenging you to go for it.  On the tee shot, aim slightly to the right of the pump house.  There is ample room past the water to land your shot but it’s mostly rough.  If you can fade one in, you can follow the contour of the fairway, which you cannot see well on your second shot.  If you don’t have a good yardage, layup left for an easy wedge shot third.
18 green seen from the clubhouse

Value (4.0 out of 5.0)

The regular weekend rate to play is $79 before 11 a.m.  We played between 11:00 and 2:00 p.m. when the rate drops to $59.  They offer a senior discount of $44 which we played on.  This includes your cart but range balls $5.00 are extra.  At the regular rates, the quality of this course justifies the price.  At the senior rate, the value is outstanding.

Facilities (3.5 out of 5.0)

There is a 16 station driving range with mats and grass tees.  Next to the range is a small practice area for chipping and bunker work.  Back by the clubhouse are two medium small putting greens.  The surfaces are beautiful, but if the course gets busy, crowding might be a small issue.  Behind the clubhouse and pro shop, and overlooking the 18th green, there is a grill where the attendant fixes your burgers and drinks.  There was some music going softly and a bit of a festive atmosphere when we finished our round.  Seemed like a great 19th hole spot.

Practice putting green

Customer Experience (4.0 out of 5.0)

There was one club attendant at the bag drop and he took our bags and loaded us promptly upon our arrival.  The pro shop staff was very professional and got us checked in quickly and our starter and on course marshal were friendly and helpful, although we could have used some better advice on the first tee on how to play the hole.  They tell you to hit it 160-190 yards, but take 210, as I have indicated above.  There was ample cold drinking water on the course and the beverage cart hit us up two or three times during the round.  We played as a twosome and while going off at 11:12 a.m. didn’t have to wait on any shots, nor did we get pushed by anyone from behind.  It was a truly relaxing and delightful day on the course.

Overall Rating (3.75 out of 5.0)

The Links at Gettysburg provided excellent conditioning, value, and a fun day.  The one-hour drive from the Washington D.C. area is well worth the trip.  I will be back.

 

Crow Creek – Course Review

Summary:

Our Myrtle Beach travel group played Crow Creek in Calabash, NC on Saturday, June 2, 2018.  This Rick Robbins design held up extremely well during the 2018 harsh winter and we were met with immaculate playing conditions which was a pleasant surprise.  Tropical Storm Alberto had soaked the area earlier in the week and every course we played on was wet and slow except for this beauty.  I had an 8-iron approach on the first hole, caught it fairly well and watched it bounce hard from the front of the green to the back.  The course’s website advertises V8 bentgrass greens, and these were clearly new, beautiful, and held up very well after the winter.

If you can drive it you can score here but if you are crooked, you’re going to struggle with the ample forced carries over water, troubling sucker pins, and loads of bunkers.  After playing a couple holes, the course reminded me of Thistle from a conditioning standpoint, and the visuals on the tee shots, but didn’t have Thistle’s share of wooded parkland routing that they boast on on one of their nines.

Gazebo overlooking the 16th tee at Crow Creek

Value: (4.25 out of 5.0)

Crow Creek would be considered a middle end play but provides excellent bang for the buck.  The combination of perfect conditions and a very reasonable replay rate ($35) make this a must play for your northern end golf packages.  We got paired up with one of the local senior players and he indicated the word was out on this course.  It was popular with all levels of players (five sets of tees make it playable for everyone) and that became evident when we tried unsuccessfully to book a replay in the afternoon.

Mike working on his swing

Facilities: (4.25 out of 5.0)

The course has a nice clubhouse and full service grill and is serviced by an all grass driving range and two beautiful manicured putting greens.  Once on your cart, you travel under a tunnel to the other side of the road where the practice range, large chipping/putting green, and first tee all reside in a nice orderly distance from each other.  You buy your range balls ($5.00 for a small bag) at the shed adjacent to the range.  The layout makes sense because once golfers are staged in the cart area, they are moved to the other side of the road for warmup and front nine play which reduces cart traffic around the clubhouse.  You travel back under the tunnel to play the back closer to the clubhouse.

Lou warming up his short game

 

 

 

Customer Experience: (3.75 out of 5.0)

We pulled up to the bag drop and there were a lot of players arriving simultaneously.  The cart guys got us unloaded reasonably well but seemed a little harried trying to get everyone saddled up and across the road, with ample time to warm up.  A special thanks goes to the gentleman manning the pro-shop counter in the afternoon.  After our round we inquired about a replay and he had nothing for a couple hours, but made a call to Sea Trail Dan Maples course and got us on there for the reduced price replay rate of $29.  This was a well appreciated effort.  The only ding I’ve got is an important one.  There were only two fresh water stops on the course.  Every track in the Myrtle Beach area should have at least two per nine because of the frequent hot and humid conditions.  So carry plenty of water with you from the start.

#1 tee
Taking on the sucker pin at the 169 yard par-3 13th.

Overall Rating: (4.0 out of 5.0)

If you are staying in the north at Sea Trail or the Glens Village, you could add this course to a package that included Thistle, and Perl East and West courses.  You’d be playing some great tracks on some excellent conditions.  Don’t miss out on playing Crow Creek!

183 yard par-3 16th at Crow Creek
The boys having a cold one in the grill after their round.

Great Golf In Myrtle Beach

At the baby gator hatchery. Pawleys Plantation, SC

Your humble servant has just returned from a trip to the Grand Strand for nine rounds over eight courses, in five days.  There is some great golf to be played in Myrtle Beach but some courses to be avoided at all costs.  Along with playing some awesome venues, we managed to visit with as many golf shops as possible to get an accurate picture of playing conditions across the region.  The following trip report has first hand accounts, photos, and snippets of knowledge picked up by conversations with key people.  Hopefully you’ll find it valuable and interesting.

On Monday, we made the hour drive from our condo at Sea Trail to TPC of Myrtle Beach only to get dumped on by Tropical Storm Alberto and completely washed out after three holes.  We grabbed our rain checks and went shopping.  Off to a poor start.

Practice Green at Kings North.  Notice the winter kill on the left.

Tuesday we ventured out to Myrtle Beach National for a round on Kings North.  Much to our surprise, the greens were rolling okay on this Arnold Palmer gem, but were in very poor shape with significant browning caused by the winter freeze/kill that affected the area.  After the round, the pro explained that the Champion 327 strain of Bermuda was on the Kings course and that another strain of Bermuda was on the West and South courses and they were playing much better, so we replayed on the West and had a very enjoyable round on lush conditions.  Only one or two greens were in questionable shape.  The North is still an awesome layout with tees and fairways in great condition, and is still playable but temper your expectations.

8th green at Glen Dornoch along the intercoastal waterway

On Wednesday we hit Glen Dornoch for 36 holes and encountered lush full greens that were rolling rather slow.  Admittedly it had rained the previous two days, and we got dumped on again for about five holes but the surfaces were in good shape.  We asked the pro how they managed to keep their greens in order and he indicated they had overseeded with Rye, which was essentially what we were putting on.  It had filled in nicely but you could see the spotty Bermuda and our thoughts were that after another month of heat, if that Bermuda didn’t come back, they’d be in trouble when the cool season grass became stressed from the summer bake.

Back down to the southern end we went on Thursday to Willbrook Plantation.  The course was wet from the previous deluge but in otherwise great condition except for a lot of clumpy grass in the fairway since they had just mowed for the first time that week.  For the third straight day we were playing cart path only and getting plenty of exercise toting clubs from buggy to ball and back.  The greens were in good shape and were another overseed job similar to Glen Dornoch.  We had a nice round and elected to forgo a replay in order to save our strength for a head smacking big day on Friday.

The morning round on Friday was at Pawley’s Plantation and we left the condo at 5:45 a.m. to make our 7:48 tee time.  We found Pawleys in great shape and we were finally allowed to ride the fairways.  17 of the 18 greens were perfect, except for the memorable island 13th, which was very stressed.

Lou and Mike sizing up the tee shot at Pawleys #13
13th at Pawleys

I love this golf course and its killer par threes and it took every ounce of skill for me to muster an 8-over 80 from the blue tees which were playing at 6,549/73.7/144.  Finally the heat and humidity had returned.  These were conditions were were more accustomed to playing in.

173 yards of marsh carry to the 17th at Pawleys

In the afternoon, we made our way up the coast to Murrells Inlet and TPC of Myrtle Beach to cash in our rain checks.  TPC had dried out but for some reason they were still playing cart path only.  This is a big golf course with wide holes loaded with tons of sand and water.  The course was in excellent shape and the greens were rolling medium fast but again were primarily on overseeded Rye.  You could see the Bermuda was very spotty and we were glad we were playing it now before conditions deteriorated.   We were tired from the 36 holes, the heat, and playing from the cart paths in the afternoon.  But there was one more day to go.

10 foot friend guarding the banks of the 17th at TPC

Our last play day was Saturday and in the morning we tried out Crow Creek in the north.  Course review is coming but in short, conditions were pure on this all Bermuda track.  It’s a must play.

Dennis warming up at Crow Creek

We wanted to replay in the afternoon but they were booked.  They called over to the Sea Trail resort and got us a time on the Maples course right after lunch.  Sea Trail has three courses and had been brutalized by the winter kill.  Two of the courses, Jones, and Byrd had totally lost their Bermuda greens.  Maples had lost everything but their greens because they were bentgrass.  We learned that they close Maples in the summer so as not to stress their greens.  The Maples tee boxes were very scratchy and there wasn’t much turf in the fairways, although you could play on it.  We were just glad to be playing our final round of golf on a course next to our condo.  After all the driving to the south, it was nice to sink your final putt and collapse in your bed in five minutes.  Oddly enough, despite the conditions, I had my best round of the trip (3-over 75) on Maples.  I suppose if you’re going to play on a scratchy course, the one thing you want is playable greens.

#18 Green on Sea Trail Jones course

We did a great job moving our venues off courses with known winter kill and generally played on very good conditions during the week.  Sunday, I had a late flight and decided to visit some of the area courses for intelligence gathering.  Here’s what I learned:

Oyster Bay:  I adore this layout but the greens are shot.  Avoid it.

The sad practice green at Oyster Bay

 

 

 

Big Cats in Ocean Ridge Plantation:  Tigers Eye’s greens are slowly coming back.  They are letting them grow out, and they looked kind of spotty and shaggy.  Lions Paw is closed for two weeks and Panthers Run is closed for six weeks.  Those two courses totally lost their greens.  Leopard’s Chase is still reportedly playable as they have bentgrass on the surfaces, but I didn’t get a visual.  I’d stay away from these courses as a package.

The Legends:  According to the pro in the shop, Moreland has the Champion 327 Bermuda and lost seven greens.  They are giving discounts to play it.  Steer clear.  Heathland is in great shape and Parkland has a few spots on a couple greens.  I checked the practice green and it looked fine.  Play here at your own risk.

Thistle:  The practice green had a couple damage spots but I examined a green on the course and spoke to the pro who told me the greens keeper did a great job and the course was in excellent condition.  I rolled a few balls on the putting green and it seemed fine.  I’d play here as the layout is awesome and the operation first class.

9th at Thistle. Looking good.

Then I drove across the street to Perl (East and West courses).  Their greens were Bermuda and looked immaculate.  I went inside and learned that Perl had covered their greens during the winter, off and on and especially during the one week stretch that had killed everyone else.  This was the key, and I had received earlier reports that both courses were in great shape.  Passed the eye test, get yourself out on both of these!

Beautiful greens at Perl

Finally, I struck up a conversation with my seatmate on the flight home who was wearing a Caledonia shirt.  He reportedly had played and said the course was in fabulous shape.  So there you have it.  If you are making your way down to the Grand Strand, I’d do it sooner rather than later when all the Rye overseed on some of these good courses is going to get stressed.  If you have any other first hand accounts on Myrtle Beach course conditions, please share!

Play well.

Emergency PSA – Myrtle Beach – Course Conditions!

Travelers/golfers going to the Grand Strand:  Red Alert! Check with the golf courses you are booked at regarding course conditions.  About 3/4 of the golf courses in Myrtle Beach have lost their greens due to the abnormally cold winter, and you may not be auto re-booked by your tour operator.  Tripadvisor and Golfadvisor have the gory details and I’d recommend you read the latest reviews.  Courses with Bermuda putting surfaces have been hit extremely hard.  Nothing is exempt, even the great courses like Grand Dunes, Thistle, Tidewater, and Oyster Bay.  Most have had their greens reduced to dirt or dead grass with patches of dirt; and some have been dyed green.  These conditions are deplorable and are creating significant angst among the traveling public.

We were booked on four of the Big Cats, Oyster Bay, and Thistle and have moved off all of them.  Three of the Cats were reported as dead with the lone exception being Leopard’s Chase which has bent grass on the putting surfaces.  Area courses with cool season grasses came through the winter in better shape, but the vast majority of courses have Bermuda, which holds up better in the summer heat, but needs to be covered in extended periods of freezing temperatures.  This was not done and there is a local symposium being held for greens keepers to understand how to better handle such an emergency in the future, but that has not solved for this season’s problems.  June and July could be rough in the area if the Bermuda surfaces haven’t recovered and the bent greens become stressed from heat and over play.

I’ve verified playing conditions are good to excellent on the following courses and aeration schedules will not impact play the week of Memorial Day.  We are re-booked on:  TPC of Myrtle Beach, Myrtle Beach National – Kings North, Pawleys Plantation, Willbrook, Glen Dornoch, and Crow Creek.  We’re staying in Sunset Beach, NC at Sea Trail and as a result of all the re-bookings in the south, will be doing some extended driving, but at least we’ll be playing on good surfaces.

Perl East and Perl West are also reported in excellent condition but are being aerated right before Memorial Day.  If anyone has information about more courses that are in good condition please share and thank you!

Play well.

On a better day at Tidewater – North Myrtle Beach, SC

Wild Wing Avocet – Course Review

Summary

The practice putting green

On Tuesday, May 30, 2017, our travel group teed it up at the Wild Wing Plantation (Avocet course) in Conway, SC.  Wild Wing used to host a magnificent 72 hole facility.  There was Avocet, Hummingbird, Woodstock, and Falcon.  But alas in 2006, Woodstock and Falcon closed as did nine holes on Hummingbird.  The huge clubhouse that was previously servicing this golf factory is still there but is sparsely outfitted and looks like it’s more utilized for banquets.  In the last ten years, the Grand Strand has lost about 25 golf courses, mostly to housing development, and Wild Wing is certainly a top casualty.

When you enter the grounds, you are confronted with a parking lot the size of the Myrtle Beach International Airport, which is also a leftover from the previous decade of vibrancy.  The bad drop was staffed by a single guy who did the unloading, fetching of carts from the barn, and staging of groups for play.  Clearly they could have used more help, and we felt something was a little off kilter.

Cary ordering at the Players Pub

Facilities (2.5 out of 5.0)

The driving range; wet and closed

Our day started off rough because the driving range was closed.  I asked the bag guy if I could borrow a cart to go take pictures of the range and he was kind enough to grant that request.  The range is actually quite large and beautiful, and is all grass but it was soaking.  Balls are sold in the pro shop for $4.00 a bag and it appeared to be a good decision to keep it closed.  Playing a strange course with no warm-up and cart path only for the first four holes was rough.  Most of the guys were hacking and trying to get loose.  The course was wet and played fairly long from the blue tees (6,658/72.7/131).

Now, the Good, Bad, and Ugly.

The Good:

The golf course is a great play.  The greens used to be bent grass but were redone in Mini-Verde Bermuda after the brutal summer of 2011.  They were beautiful and rolling true with a medium fast pace despite the moisture.  The course has a mixture of parkland routing framing a lot of the par 4s and 5s, and links style architecture around the greens with big undulations on the surfaces, tall mounds protecting the approaches, water in play on tee shots and approaches, and deep penal green side bunkering.  You will struggle to get it up and down if your ball striking is off but I thought this was an awesomely interesting mixture of holes with many being unique and memorable.  Several of the par-4s are long.  #6 at 451 yards with water all down the left, was playing into a stiff breeze.  I knew I couldn’t reach and played it like a short par-5.  #7, a par-5 at 553 yards was playing in the same direction and took two massive hits to have a shot to reach.  #14 is a cool short par-4 with so many bunkers it looked like the face of the moon.  Even with rangefinder in hand, it was a bit of guesswork as to where to hit it first time through.

The Bad:

The green part of the golf course was the allure at Wild Wing, with the excellent layout and conditioning.  The rest of the grounds needed serious work.  Several holes played adjacent in a back and forth direction which is fine, but there were shared cart paths which left you  dangerously close to the ball flight of opposing groups and occasionally left you playing a game of chicken with the carts.  A lot of the cart paths were crumbling and in a state of disrepair.  There were only two water coolers on the entire course, which is a major ding, and one ran dry around 3:00 p.m.  This can be dangerous in the summer time heat, as most courses take care to ensure you have fresh water every 3-5 holes.  And finally, the on course restrooms were filthy.

The Ugly:

Mike and I were the only ones to replay in the afternoon.  We were parked by the par-5 15th green and as we were preparing to exit our golf cart, the beverage cart rammed into our golf cart.  Mike was holding the steering wheel and the impact jerked our front tires and wrenched Mike’s hand.  The cart lady didn’t even apologize and insisted on blaming us for the collision.  This left a very sour taste in our mouths and some pain in Mike’s hand and wrist for the rest of the afternoon.  As we drove up the 18th hole, we saw the cart lady parked in the rough with her head down.  Couldn’t tell if she was texting someone or sleeping off a hangover from sampling her own wares, but she was parked in the same spot for several minutes – very unprofessional.

Mike on #3 tee. Par-4, 424 yards

Value (3.5 out of 5.0)

 

Chris sizing up his tee shot on #5. Par-3, 157 yards

Avocet isn’t a bad value for just pure golf.  Our greens fee on the Founders package was the lowest of any course at $56 and we replayed for $40.  This course seems to be a low budget affair with regard to facilities, maintenance, number of staff, and they sink their available funds into keeping the golf course in as good as shape as it’s in.  As a traveler and avid player, the whole experience was a bit of a disappointment.  There is also some previous day bias because Monday we had opened our trip at Grand Dunes Resort and everything there is first class.

Customer Experience (3.0 out of 5.0)

Dual green for #6 and #17 (foreground)

What’s odd is that everyone working at Avocet was very accommodating, kind, and professional, except for the beverage cart operator.  A special thank you goes out to Meagan, who operated the Players Pub and assisted Mike with some ice for his hand after our on course accident.  The starter was very flexible and helpful in getting us out for the afternoon.  He suggested we start on the 2nd tee to avoid a foursome that had just teed off #1.  We appreciated that and played #1 as our final hole after zipping around in 3.5 hours.

Overall Rating (3.0 out of 5.0)

You need some local knowledge to score on this golf course.  I shot 88 in the morning and followed that up with a 79 after I was suitably warmed up and knew where to hit it.  Again, the course is a fun play but only if you don’t mind the marginal facilities and low budget feel of the place.  I’m mixed on a return trip to Avocet.

Mike bunkered on #1

Willbrook Plantation – Course Review

Summary

On Thursday, June 1st, 2017, our travel group teed it up at the Willbrook Plantation in Pawleys Island, SC.  The plantation was established in 1798 and a visit here provides a mix of lovely old southern charm with a humbling history lesson.  The place is beautiful with large live oaks framing the clubhouse, course, and surrounding residential areas, but you also can find historical markers noting the location of slave quarters and burial grounds that remind you of our 18th and 19th century culture and lifestyle.  Everything is done tastefully and the atmosphere is welcoming to all.

Our group has played Willbrook on several previous trips and unfortunately most of those visits were spent in the clubhouse watching doppler radar and sitting on the porch in stately rocking chairs waiting out torrential rain storms.  No problem with the weather on this day as we enjoyed broken clouds and temperatures in the 80s, but we had our full rain gear packed.

The staging area at Willbrook

Facilities (3.5 out of 5.0)

Spent many hours in these rocking chairs during previous visits

You’ll notice as you first enter the facility that everything is on the small size, from the parking lot, to the clubhouse, to the grill area, to the driving range.  The range was all grass and was in wonderful shape but only had about seven hitting stations.  Balls were $4.00 per bag and were sold in the pro shop.  There were two medium sized putting greens; one between the range and clubhouse and the other conveniently located between the clubhouse and first tee.  Traffic flowed nicely around the staging area.

Willbrook has Bermuda grass through the green and on this day, the putting surfaces were rolling true and at medium speed but had a light layer of sand applied.  The course conditioning was very good with all the tee boxes, fringes, and bunkers neatly manicured.  I only remembered a few of the holes, probably because the last time through, we were so focused on keeping ourselves and our equipment dry, the course play-ability and routing were not at the forefront of our minds.

At 6,292 yards from the white tees (70.3 / 129), the course is not an overly stern test.  It has a mixture of short to medium length par-4s with all the par-5s playing over 500 yards.  If you are driving it straight you can score.  As it was, they had many of the pins cut on small crowns and slopes, and while I hit 11 greens, I couldn’t make any putts, but managed to avoid any three-putts, and carded a solid 4-over 76.  I recall a much tougher time playing in the rain from the blue tees at 6,722 yards.

A few playing notes:

  • #1 tee shot is tight (pictured below).  You have a big tree on the right to contend with and water on the left.  Drive it straight 🙂
  • #10 is a par-4 that only plays 356 yards but a large oak tree guards the right side of the green.  Shots right center in the fairway may be blocked from coming in high, even with a short iron.  There’s plenty of room left even though it doesn’t look like it on the tee.  Take it.
  • #18 is a hard dogleg right par-5 and is super tight.  There’s a bunker at the end of the fairway 250 yards from the tee.  Long hitters should lay up.  There’s a big tree on the right guarding the dogleg so you have to get it far enough out there to avoid.  Up by the green, there are more large oaks that block the left side of the approach.  If you can get it to 100 yards, you can get over them with a wedge, otherwise, you are blocked.  Try to keep it right.  I felt this hole was a smidgen unfair, as did others in my group.
Jim and Cary before the round

 Value (4.0 out of 5.0)

The look from #1 tee

Willbrook was $71 on our Founders package.  The replay rate was $40, which is a good value, and the beauty of the package is that it included a $100 gift card to use at all 21 of the Founders courses.  We also learned that the replay rate at Willbrook could be applied at a higher end course, which is exactly what we did.  We booked a replay at Willbrook and decided not to use it but called Myrtle Beach National – Kings North, and they let us play the afternoon for the Willbrook price, which was $22 less than the Kings North price.  As long as you played your first round on a Founders group course, you can leverage this benefit and I would take advantage of that again.

Pat in a bit of trouble on #5

Customer Experience (3.75 out of 5.0)

Me before teeing off on #10, a tricky par-4

The bag drop guys provided snappy service as soon as we pulled in.  The pro only had a single replay time when we inquired so we grabbed it.  The tee sheet evidently fills up quite fast at this course and I was glad we had the opportunity to replay, but there’s a chance we could have got shut out.  We also figured with one replay time, the course would be full and slow.  When we replay, we usually enjoy a quicker pace because most courses in the area are empty.  It pays to look for courses with more than 18 holes when you consider replaying.  Our decision to play at Kings North was a good one, as they have 54 holes and we flew around in under four hours.

On the course, the marshals kept play moving and were friendly and helpful.  The pace was good as we were in threesomes and were never pushed and did not have to wait on any shots.

The grill area is small and has a limited selection of food items.  After the morning round, I settled for a chili dog, chips and soda that cost me $6.00.

Overall Rating (3.75 out of 5.0)

Pat tees off on #15, par-5, 538 yards

I enjoy playing this course and will come back to Willbrook on future trips.  If you want a medium end course that’s not too difficult or expensive, add it to your playlist.

At the final hole, sharp dogleg right par-5

TPC of Myrtle Beach – Course Review

Summary

On Saturday, June 3rd, 2017, our travel group had the pleasure of playing TPC of Myrtle Beach in Murrells Inlet, SC.  For visitors to the southern end of the Grand Strand, this Tom Fazio design is in the the top tier of courses along with True Blue, Caledonia, and Pawleys Plantation.  Most golf courses have one defensive feature whether it be fast greens, narrow fairways, or whatever.  TPC has them all.  The course is lined with tall pines and strategically placed fairway bunkers that frame long difficult tee shots.  There are deep green side bunkers, plenty of water, and fast Bermuda greens.  An outing here is not for the faint of heart or those with crooked drivers.  Bring your A-game, plenty of golf balls, and prepare for one heckuva challenge!

Facilities (4.5 out of 5.0)

Team Myrtle Beach 2017. From left to right: Pat, Mike, Ronnie, Jim, Cary, and Brian

TPC was built in 1999 and has a prestigious history.  The course hosted the 2000 Senior PGA Tour Championship (won by Tom Watson) and is the present day home to the Dustin Johnson School of Golf.  Inside the clubhouse are several cases smartly displaying DJ’s memorabilia, and the presentation reminded me of the Payne Stewart display at Pinehurst.

After checking in, we started the morning by warming up at the fabulous short game area.  The bunkering and approaches were neatly manicured and there were ample spots to set up for all kinds of shots without getting in your neighbor’s way.  I don’t usually take sand shots before a round, but the bunkers were beautiful and inviting, and the prospects of visiting sand during the round were high.

When you check in, the bag drop guys get you on a cart immediately which allows you to drive to the range.  The grass stations were beautiful, the balls complimentary, and everything was in top shape.  At the end of the driving range was a medium sized putting green.  If I had a minor pet peeve it was that you couldn’t easily walk to the putting green from the clubhouse and staging area.  It seems like it was designed to have players putt last, and right up to the time before they teed off.  Again, minor issue, but if I just wanted to come out and putt, the jaunt to the area would be a little inconvenient.

Dustin Johnson display case in the clubhouse

The course was double teeing and we were sent off #10.  I find the back nine here more difficult than the front and #10 is a tough hole to start on.  While only 360 yards from the blue tees, the tee shot is tight and water comes right up to the front of the green.  Sure enough, I rinsed my approach, but manage to get up and down from 100 yards and was thrilled with my bogey 5.  We started our afternoon round on #1 which is a par-4 of roughly the same length but has a little more room off the tee and no water guarding.  For some reason my eye doesn’t fit #10 and I recall struggling there in previous rounds.  Given my druthers, I’d start on #1 every time.

Dawn at the short game practice area

The front nine features three par-4s over 425 yards and #9 actually had the tees at the back markers and was playing 472 yards.  Oddly enough, I was more comfortable hitting driver and a fairway wood into these longer holes than some of the shorter par 4s that were tight and well bunkered.  The premium on the par-5s is the second shot.  You don’t need a fairway wood but MUST stay out of fairway bunkers and water.  In short, there’s a premium on excellent ball striking.  The greens are fast but are not tricked up.  You have to avoid some of the mounding that surround the approaches because pitches from these lies to fast greens are difficult.  A word of caution on the par-4 15th hole.  The fairway runs diagonal and you must carry a marsh on the left and avoid woods on the right.  Take your range finder and shoot a comfortable distance on the far bank of the marsh to aim for.  I didn’t measure, thought I hit a perfect drive, and ended up in the woods and with a seven on my scorecard.

We played the blue tees at 6,600 yards and normally that’s a comfortable distance for me.  Out here, I’d say if you have a handicap of 5 or less, those markers are suitable but if your iron game is off, as mine was, you’ll get punished.  You’ll have a better chance to score playing the whites at 6,193.  Next time I may just try them.

Value (4.0 out of 5.0)

Tee shot on #4. Par-4, 430 yards

As part of our Founders Group package, the cost to play TPC was $109.  Our replay was only $42 which was a genuine bargain for a course of this caliber.  After 27 holes, the lightning detection system went off and they had to clear the course.  It never rained but after a brief delay, we elected to call it quits and the course provided a 9-hole rain check which was good at any time.  At this price and the quality of operation and facility, this is a very good value.

Mike checks his yardage

Customer Experience (4.25 out of 5.0)

Looking down at #7. Par 3, 176 yards.

The bag drop staff were excellent and had us loaded literally as soon as we arrived.  There was no waiting around to get set up and the organization of the place was evident.  The marshals on the course were courteous and had supplies of cool drinking water on their carts.  There were ample supplies of water at rest rooms and rest stops which is important when it gets hot and the humidity is stifling.  The lady running the beverage cart seemed a bit disinterested in servicing the players and was more focused on just completing her rounds of the course.  She did stop in the afternoon when one of our players made a point to flag her down.

The boys enjoying a sweet tea after the round

Overall Rating (4.25 out of 5.0)

I will be back to TPC and try my luck again next time I’m in Myrtle Beach.  This is an awesome golf course from the point of layout, conditioning, and operation.  Everything about TPC is first class.  Good luck if you give it a try!

View of #18 from the clubhouse. Par 5, 515 yards

Thistle Golf Club – Course Review

Summary

Thistle Golf Club
Thistle Golf Club

On Friday, June 3rd, 2016, our travel group had the pleasure of playing Thistle Golf Club in Sunset Beach, NC.  Thistle had not been on our regular Myrtle Beach course rotation but it is now.  We last played it about 10 years ago and the course has only been open since 1999.  It has grown into a fabulous track and should be on your MUST play list of northern end courses.

I will usually poll my playing group at dinner on their likes and dislikes about the day’s course and the group was hard pressed to fine any negatives.  In short, we loved it.  Thistle is a straight forward superbly conditioned course with all Bermuda playing surfaces.  There are no trick holes on the two nines we played and if you drive it well, you can shorten some of the par-4s considerably and score.  If not, you’ll struggle because there is a lot of water on the tee shots.  Of the three nines (MacKay, Cameron, and Stewart), we played MacKay-Cameron as Stewart was closed for maintenance.

Right out of the gate on MacKay #1, you have hidden water on the left and an approach over water, so keep your tee shot right center.  Most other shots have a clear line of sight for the player to follow.  Trust your aiming points and if you’re hitting it solid, you’ll be in for an enjoyable round.

Facilities (4.5 out of 5.0)

Mike on the range
Mike on the range

We started off our day warming up on the beautiful driving range.  There are 12 all grass hitting stations and a bag of 40 balls costs $5.00.  Much to our surprise, all the range balls were brand new Titleist NXT Tours and were in excellent condition.  This added to the sense of class, and to the feeling that we were entering into the realm of a hidden gem.

The clubhouse is a modern well appointed beauty and the entire premises has that feel of a classic Scottish course.  There is an ample sized putting green and pitching area and all are located very conveniently to the starter’s station for efficient traffic control.  Out on the course, there are several rest stops with modern clean bathrooms, as well as water fountains and good supplies of divot mix replacement bottles for your golf cart.  This struck me as a good idea and probably helped keep the golf course in its great condition.

View of the putting green from the clubhouse
View of the putting green from the clubhouse

Value (4.25 out of 5.0)

Thistle is a high end play but doesn’t charge high end prices.  The replay rate was $45 (a steal for this caliber of course).  I suppose you could ding them for not including balls in your greens fee but that’s a nitpick when you figure the overvalue you are getting for the golf experience.

With Mike at the par-3, 4th hole, Cameron nine
With Mike at the par-3, 4th hole, Cameron nine

Customer Experience (4.5 out of 5.0)

The bag drop guys provided snappy service as soon as we pulled in and got us loaded and on our way promptly.  The gentleman manning the desk in the pro shop was courteous and helpful, but the lady in charge at mid-day went over and above.  Three of us badly wanted to replay and came in right after the a.m. round to inquire.  The lady said the tee sheet was full until 4:00 p.m. (it was 1:00 p.m.) but she could get us out again if we wanted to go in 10 minutes.  She made sure we had time to grab a lunch to go and a drink, and got us back out into a sweet spot that allowed us to play the afternoon in just under four hours.  We very much appreciated her flexibility and loved our afternoon round.

Then, our group leader found out he lost his car keys and the same lady let him come behind the desk to use the phone, call a tow, and take all the time he needed.  The cart guys helped search the premises for the missing keys which was also appreciated.  We found them locked in our car and resolved the situation with their help in 1/2 hour.

The course would get a perfect 5.0 except that each of the golf carts were equipped with two coolers and neither had any ice.  Virtually every course in Myrtle will provide ice in your coolers and hand towels, but there were none.  A very minor inconvenience but not perfect.

Mike sizing up the tee shot on the par-3, 3rd hole - MacKay nine
Mike sizing up the tee shot on the par-3, 3rd hole – MacKay nine

Overall Rating (4.5 out of 5.0)

I would love to come back and try the Stewart nine when it’s open.  As it was, we played the MacKay-Cameron combination from the blue tees (one up).  The course measured 6,495 and I carded an 8-over 80.  Thistle is a fabulous play.  I’ll be back and you should too on your next trip to Myrtle Beach!

Chris on the par-5 ninth, Cameron nine
Chris on the par-5 ninth, Cameron nine

Barefoot Norman – Course Review

Summary

Clubhouse at Barefoot Resort
Clubhouse at Barefoot Resort

Our travel group played the Barefoot Norman course in North Myrtle Beach, SC on Wednesday, June 1, 2016.  Barefoot Resort hosts three other courses named after their architects (Love, Fazio, and Dye) three of the courses play out of a single tremendous size clubhouse (Dye has its own).  What strikes you as you arrive at the main clubhouse is the level of organization and sophistication to the golf operation.  They have to be efficient with one central area servicing all three courses.

Make sure to get to the course an hour early if you like to warm up.  Barefoot has a beautiful all grass driving range facility with complimentary balls and ample hitting space, but it’s about half a mile down the main road and is only accessed by shuttle once you’ve parked and unloaded.  The bag attendants will call the shuttle when you’re ready to go hit but you do need about 15 minutes extra time for the transit.  Our group either warmed up on the range or putted, but didn’t have time for both and we arrived 45 minutes ahead of our time.  A special shout out goes to our shuttle driver who unloaded a golf bag for an elderly lady and took it out to the range to make sure she was set up with her clubs and balls at a hitting station.

The range shuttle at Barefoot.
The range shuttle at Barefoot.

On the course, Greg Norman’s layout is very playable for every handicap level.  The playing surfaces are Bermuda on the tees and through the green but the putting surfaces are Bent, which I was very comfortable on.  There are no tricked up holes or greens with buried elephants to frustrate you.  Just a classy straight forward well designed golf course with excellent conditioning.  The routing takes you through a mix of isolated holes in the natural landscape, gentle doglegs, with a few holes running through the community.  At no time did we feel any of the condos were intruding on our play.

Ronnie tees off on the par-4 fourth hole.
Ronnie tees off on the par-4 fourth hole.

The beauty in this course is in the par-3s.  #3 is long and narrow with water in front.  #7 (shown below) is a shorter hole protected by a large waste bunker, and #10 (also below) is the signature hole that plays about 180 yards and runs downhill along the Inter-coastal Waterway.  There’s always some party boat or jet ski navy cruising by to add entertainment value.

Par-3, 7th hole
Par-3, 7th hole
The author on the par-3 10th hole
The author on the par-3 10th hole

Value (3.25 out of 5.0)

We played on Wednesday when you get a $20 price break on your greens fees.  Ours was built into our package, but this is not an inexpensive play.  Barefoot is a high end resort and the Norman course is very nice, but we elected to forego the $60 replay charge and play in the afternoon for $45 back at The Legends Parkland course, where we were staying.  I’ve played the Fazio and Dye courses here which are also good plays, but I’d place all three a notch below other top end courses like True Blue, Grand Dunes, and Tidewater.

Facilities (3.5 out of 5.0)

Big plus is the size and amenities available in the clubhouse and driving range.  We dined after our round in the sit down restaurant and the food and service were excellent.  Unfortunately the staging area can get really crowded when they are setting up play for three courses.  For some inexplicable reason they located an outdoor bar right in the staging area where customers can drink or sit for a light meal.  Initially I thought this was a cool idea but after seeing the foot and cart traffic trying to share the same space, had to reconsider.  Barefoot also has a policy of trying to limit unnatural objects on the golf courses.  That means no water coolers or trash cans.  On this day, the weather was perfect but several years back, I had to quit from dehydration during a round on the Norman course.  I would have loved to have had regular water stops available and that negative experience is etched in my psyche, so I brought extra water in my golf bag that I didn’t need.  Still, the marshals brought coolers with water and beverage cart hit us up several times.  There is one rest stop servicing the 10th and 13th tee with a bathroom and water fountain.

Customer Experience (3.75 out of 5.0)

The shuttle driver and bag drop guys were top notch, as was the lady running the beverage cart.  Marshals were friendly and ready to assist.  But the golf carts are equipped with GPS units that bombard you with adds.  On every hole, you need to touch the screen to clear the adds and get back to the golf course map.  Everyone in our group found this as an irritant.  The rating here would have gone higher with time to practice my putting after hitting the range, but the shuttle time compressed everything.  Once we hit the course we were in for an excellent relaxing experience.

Overall Rating (3.5 out of 5.0)

Norman was a solid well maintained golf course and very fun to play.  We played the black tees (one set up) at 6,374 yards and I carded an 8-over par 79.

The bar in the staging area
The bar in the staging area

Possum Trot – Course Review

Putting green and cart barn at Possum Trot
Putting green and cart barn at Possum Trot

This is the fifth and final installment of course reviews from our 2015 Myrtle Beach trip.  We played Possum Trot in North Myrtle Beach, SC on Tuesday, June 9, 2015.  Possum Trot was the first course on the Glens package that included Shaftesbury Glen, Glen Dornoch, and Heather Glen.  The course has that muni look and feel and I would advise playing it first or last in your line-up depending on whether you like to ease into your week or finish on a soft note.  We had it second behind Tidewater and definitely felt the drop in class.  In retrospect, I probably would have scheduled Possum Trot last in a six day trip because the urge to replay at this course wasn’t that great, and after 11 rounds in six days, neither is your energy level.

The strength of Possum Trot is in the par threes.  There are some beauties and the 13th (last photo below) is the best and brings back an awesome memory because I hit my best shot of the trip here (4-iron from 199 yards to one foot).  The surfaces are all Bermuda and the greens were running smooth and medium slow except for #6, 7, and 8.  This group is in a low area on the front nine and had been under stress.  Aerated and chewed up, these three were barely playable and badly in need of better air circulation.  Playing conditions on the rest of the course were decent, but the concrete on the cart paths was crumbling in several spots and was in need of some serious repair.

In our morning round, we played the white tees,  If you are driving it well, it felt like you could overpower the course which I did, even though I’m not a big hitter.  I had a lot of wedges into the par-4s and counted numerous scoring opportunities on my way to a 1-over 73.  In the afternoon we replayed from the blue tees from 600+ yards back and got rained on a bit, and the course played considerably more difficult.

Value (3.0 out of 5.0)

Again, excellent value as part of the overall Glens package, but the conditions on this track were not up to snuff or at least to the other Glen courses standards.  Also, when we checked in, the pro shop gave us three baskets of balls to share between six golfers, which I thought was odd since balls were included as part of the package.  Couldn’t tell if this was a nickle and dime job or just an oversight.

Mark on the par-5 first hole
Mark on the par-5 first hole

Facilities (2.5 out of 5.0)

The course works from a no-frills very small clubhouse that’s essentially a pro-shop snack bar combo.  The bag drop area was a little cramped and chaotic when we arrived because the morning men’s group was arriving as well, and they didn’t seem to have enough staff to unload cars and load carts.  There is an all grass driving range and putting green with ample room to work on each, and a smaller putting green next to the first tee for those waiting in the queue.  The overall rating is reflective of a mid to lower class facility, across-the-board.

Customer Experience (3.0 out of 5.0)

Once we were loaded, the starter was organized and got us off without issue.  For those of us that replayed in the afternoon, we had our pick of tee times and the course emptied out fast after the men’s group had concluded play.

One of the guys in our group (Mike) is an ardent animal lover and was feeding a squirrel peanuts as we worked our way around the morning round.  This little guy followed us to the clubhouse and observed the pocket that Mike stored his peanuts in and actually chewed a hole in his golf bag to get at the stash while we were breaking for lunch.  We came out and Mike was not too pleased about the hole in his bag, and that one of the cart guys had witnessed the whole fiasco and not taken any steps to shoo the animal away, and was actually laughing with amusement.  Well, this was probably half Mike’s fault, but he didn’t appreciate the non-assistance from the staff member.

We played the white tees at 6,343 yards and par of 72 with a course rating of 70.4/118.  Possum Trot is best used as a warm-up course for your golf trip, or if you are into playing middle to top-tier courses, you could skip this one.  It was a fun day, but I’d hesitate to return because of the conditioning issues with greens 6-8, and there are several better alternatives on the north end of the Strand.

Overall Rating (2.75 out of 5.0)

Par-3 13th hole
Par-3 13th hole

Heather Glen – Course Review

Staging area in the morning at Heather Glen
Staging area in the morning at Heather Glen

We played the red, white, and blue target golf adventure that is Heather Glen, in Little River, SC on Saturday, June 13, 2015.  This golf course is tight off the tee, and coming from the wide open expanses of Shaftesbury Glen the previous day, required an urgent push of the mental reset button.  If you are wild with your driver, expect a long day.  I mixed in enough 3WDs  and was thinking well, and while I didn’t hit many greens, managed to keep it in play and out of trouble.

What we loved about Heather Glen is the total seclusion you enjoy on all three of the nines.  There are no houses on the property and none of the holes impose upon each other so you feel comfortable and spaced, even with the tightness of the layout.  I have played the White nine several years ago, but on this day we traversed the Red/Blue combination.

The playing surfaces are Bermuda through the green, and the greens were in good condition albeit rolling smooth and medium slow.  Big deep bunkers with good course sand adorn much of the course and since the greens are so small, unless you can thread it like Jim Furyk, you will be hitting your share of bunker shots and assorted wedges.  The green-side sand texture was similar to the courses we play in Maryland and I had a good comfortable feel in them and played my sand shots with excellent spin and distance control.

When you arrive at the course, they set you up with range balls and you traverse the one-man wide wooden bridge out to the grass range.  Some of the lies were a little bare on the range and a few of the fairways were a bit scratchy, but the course was in good condition overall.

Heading to the range
Heading to the range

Value (4.0 out of 5.0)

Playing on the Glens package with complimentary cart fees, lunch, range balls and replays was great.  We thought we’d get out on the White nine for the afternoon round but didn’t/couldn’t and the value rating would go a bit higher if we could have played all 27 in one day.

Jim lining up to bust one off #1 on the Blue nine
Jim lining up to bust one off #1 on the Blue nine

Facilities (3.0 out of 5.0)

Heather Glen has an older modest sized club house, similar in size and stature to Glen Dornoch.  The driving range can handle 15 golfers comfortably, but the practice chipping green (shown above in the first photo) is a single flag in a small area where the grass is allowed to grow.  I’d like them to move this or redesign to something more inviting and accommodating.  As it is now, it’s too close to the pathway to the range and you feel squeezed.  The putting green is large and in good condition, and is located close to the staging area as well.  On the course, we found an ample supply of drinking water every third hole, which was great considering how oppressive the summer heat was.

Customer Experience (2.25 out of 5.0)

The cart guy  was helpful and very hard working and was there from dawn to dusk.  We were visited by the beverage cart with great frequency which was appreciated, but where Heather Glen came up short is at the starter shack.  There was no issue with our morning round but when I checked into the pro shop for our afternoon round, one of my playing partners confirmed with the starter outside that we could play the White nine and then switch to the Red or Blue at the turn.  Excited at the prospect of playing all 27 holes, we drove to the 1st tee five minutes later only to find a group already waiting,  and they were stuck behind a twosome waiting in the fairway.  The starter was nowhere to be found and had made the critical mistake of losing control of his tee.  With 27 holes and groups crossing over and replaying, the starter needed to be out in front controlling traffic and he wasn’t.  After a brief dialog with the group on the tee, they said they would let us go first but we were both still waiting for the twosome in the fairway.  We noticed the 1st tee was open on the Blue nine and elected to shoot over there and tee off.  10 minutes later, we noticed the twosome that was in front of us on the White, behind us on the Blue!  They had gotten frustrated by the pace of play, quit the White and restarted on Blue as well.

On this day, we played the Red/Blue combination from the blue tees which measured 6,773 yards with a par of 72 and a course rating of 73.3/138.  I shot a 79.  Heather Glen is a quality play and is worth the trip but they need to manage the tee more proactively.

Overall Rating (3.25 out of 5.0)

#9 green on the Red nine
#9 green on the Red nine

Glen Dornoch – Course Review

Glen Dornoch Clubhouse
Glen Dornoch Clubhouse

We played Glen Dornoch Golf Links in North Myrtle Beach, SC on Thursday, June 11, 2015.  This was our second of four rounds on the Glens package which is one of the best value plays in the area.  Every visitor to the Grand Strand should make it a point to play Glen Dornoch because the layout is unique, the party-like atmosphere along the Intracoastal Waterway is very entertaining, and the course has an outstanding set of finishing holes.

We arrived for our 8:00 a.m. starting time and there weren’t six cars in the parking lot.  As we warmed up on the all grass driving range, we completely had the course to ourselves and did not feel rushed at all.  I believe we were the first two groups off, and didn’t see another set of golfers until our replay round after lunch.  As it turned out, this was a hot and humid day and Glen Dornoch was playing wet and long.  One of the big challenges on this trip was playing on different conditions at a new course every day and Glen Dornoch fit the bill, especially after playing in the wind and hard fast surfaces at Pawleys the day before.  We immediately noticed our approaches making huge ball marks and felt we could attack the flags without hesitation.

The course opens up with four fairly easy holes to let you ease into your game and then hits you upside the head with a 560 yard par-5 and it’s game on!  As you move through the front, you come to #8 which is a brutal dogleg right par-5 that plays 540 yards into the wind coming off the waterway (photo below of the approach shot).   It’s followed by the long par-4 ninth, that parallels the waterway and demands power and accuracy.

The entire course is about placement off the tee, but requires that you drive it solid to get in the correct positions.  #16, 17, and 18 are some of the toughest finishing holes on The Strand.  #16 is a downhill par-4 of 413 yards with ample room to land your drive.  The yardage book says favor the right but the left is a better spot.  Wherever you play from, when you arrive at your ball, you are faced with an approach to a target about the size of a gnat’s rear end – good luck!  #17 is a 182 yard par-3 that plays into the wind with trouble everywhere, and #18 is a par-4 of 427 yards with a split fairway that dares you to hit it about 230 yards on the left route to clear the marsh and get a shorter shot in.  I played the bailout (chicken) route twice but managed to par it both times using my lob wedge, which was the highlight of my afternoon.  If you can play the last three holes in 2-over par, you are doing fine.

Mike and Dylan at the clubhouse
Mike and Dylan at the clubhouse

Value (4.5 out of 5.0)

The Glens package (see Shaftesbury Glen review) is an incredible deal.  For golf nuts and enthusiasts who are crazy enough to play 36 per day for six straight days, the prospect of free golf in the afternoons is tempting.  The state of the national golf economy is in general decline but there are some deals to be had in Myrtle Beach, and this is probably the best package we’ve ever played on.

Facilities (3.25 out of 5.0)

The clubhouse at Glen Dornoch is of modest size and has a decent grill to get your food.  Complimentary lunch on the package was a sandwich or hotdog, soda and chips.  The choices didn’t vary much from course to course, although they did offer pizza at Shaftesbury Glen.  You can eat inside or take it on the porch and enjoy watching the players finishing on #9, or just hang out and enjoy all the sightseeing boats and jet skis flying up and down on the Intracoastal Waterway.  The boat horns, occasional music, and jovial atmosphere make play along the finishing holes entertaining and unique.

There was the same minor issue with non-inclusion of sand mix on the golf carts, as was the case at all the other Glens courses.  Again, if you are playing on Bermuda fairways, you should be filling your divots.

#9 green in front of the Intracoastal Waterway
#9 green in front of the Intracoastal Waterway

Customer Experience (3.5 out of 5.0)

We paced ourselves easily in the morning round and played in a little over four hours.  Again, we had the course to ourselves except for frequent visits from the beverage cart, which was appreciated because of the heat and the need to stay hydrated.  There was a good supply of cold water coolers around the course at regular intervals.

It was definitely a slow day at the course, but the small cloth bags for range balls that we had used in the morning were still littered about the range as we teed off for our afternoon round.  While very minor, the staff should have cleaned up the range area and kept it looking sharp.  We actually ran into a couple groups in the afternoon round, but we were playing as a twosome and decided to pace ourselves a bit and give them room.

On this day, we played the blue tees at 6,446 yards which played to a par of 72 and a course rating of 71.2/137.  I carded an 83.  Glen Dornoch was a great place to spend 10 hours on a hot lazy Thursday afternoon.  I will be back!

Mike on #1 tee
Mike on #1 tee

Overall Rating (3.75 out of 5.0)

Party boat behind #8 green.
Party boat behind #8 green.

Shaftesbury Glen – Course Review

IMG_1346

My travel group played Shaftesbury Glen in Conway, SC on Friday, June 12, 2015.  This was the third of four courses in our Glens summer golf package which was a tremendous value.  Shaftesbury is unique in the Glens group because it’s the only course with A-1 Bent grass greens.  The rest are Bermuda, and golfers from the north and Mid-Atlantic areas who are used to playing on Bent will find Shaftesbury’s surfaces a welcome respite from the grainy tough to read Bermuda that is prevalent in the Myrtle Beach area.  The issue with Bent in this climate is maintainability during hot weather.  It was hot when we played and we found the greens smooth, a bit slow, very firm, and difficult to hold approach shots.  I loved the surfaces after playing all week on Bermuda and adapted quickly in my morning round, taking only 28 putts.

Shaftesbury is a straight forward course with no surprises.  Located several miles inland, you don’t get the benefit of the persistent on-shore breeze that the courses closer to the coast are accustomed to, and as a result, the course doesn’t dissipate moisture well and can get and stay wet in the summer humidity.

Architected by Clyde Johnson, you’ll find the sight-lines off the tee very pleasing to your eye which should allow you to drive the ball well.  There’s ample room to miss on most tee shots and the bunkering is beautifully done and precisely frames many of the holes.  The layout is very flat but many of the greens are raised about six to 10 feet above the fairway and are protected by deep bunkers with good quality hard coarse sand.  You need to add about 1/2 club on the approaches to handle these benign elevation changes.

Fran getting ready to play.
Fran getting ready to play.

Value (4.5 out of 5.0)

Our round was part of The Glens package, which included golf, carts, lodging, free range balls, lunch, and complimentary replays on the four Glens courses (we added rounds at Tidewater and Pawleys) for a total price of $550.  You simply cannot beat this value for your golfing dollar.  I didn’t think to ask about the regular replay rate, but there is a nominal fee for range balls (I believe $3.00) for non-package players.  Again, with the all-inclusive rate, we had nothing to focus on except playing our best golf and enjoying ourselves.

The green at #5
The green at #5

Facilities (3.0 out of 5.0)

Conditioning of the course, all-grass driving range, and practice putting green was very good.  There were ample supplies of good cool drinking water at regular intervals around the course, which was important because of the unyielding heat.

What’s odd about Shaftesbury is the staging area configuration.  The bag drop is right next to the clubhouse but the driving range and putting green are at the other end of the parking lot and while there are plenty of cart parking spots next to the range, they do not let you ride to the range.  So you’re left with the option of hauling your bag the length of the parking lot and hauling it back to put it on a cart before play.  This was the case several years ago when I first played the course and oddly remains the practice.  I suppose they feel they may lose a measure of control if they let golfers ride to the range, but I would advise they open up and try it.

Another commonality with the course and the three other Glen courses is the lack of sand mix on the golf carts.  Most courses with Bermuda fairways provide a bottle of sand mix to fill in fairway divots, but there was none.  Not sure if the greens crew repaired divots around the course every evening, but taking a chunk of the course out with your irons and not repairing felt awkward.  This should be the responsibility of the golfers and the mix should be provided.

Dylan, on his way to a career best 76!
Dylan, on his way to a career best 76!

Customer Experience (4.0 out of 5.0)

Service from the clubhouse staff was excellent, especially the very nice lady staffing the grill.  She went out of her way on the little things like refilling our water bottles from the soda fountain, providing free refills on soft drinks, to busing our tables.  We noticed and a shout out goes to her.

There were five of us who wanted to replay in the afternoon.  Certainly an awkward number, so we asked the starter if we could play as a fivesome.  He said we needed to tee off as a threesome and a twosome and if nobody pressed us after we were out on the course, to join up.  We played the last 15 holes in the afternoon round as a fivesome and had a delightful time.

On this day, I shot a 76 from the white tees which measured 6,445 yards and played to a par of 72 with a course rating of 71.5/135.   Shaftesbury Glen is a fun play and will be on my course rotation for future trips to Myrtle Beach.

Overall Rating (3.75 out of 5.0)

The author taking a break during the afternoon round.
The author taking a break during the afternoon round.

Pawleys Plantation – Course Review

Clubhouse at Pawleys
Clubhouse at Pawleys

We played Pawleys Plantation Golf and Country Club in Pawleys Island, SC on Wednesday June 10, 2015.  As you enter the grounds and approach the stately clubhouse of this Jack Nicklaus design, you can’t help but sense the architect’s love of Augusta National, and the impact the club had on the way he laid out this project.  Tanglewood Drive is lined with large beautiful live oaks dangling Spanish moss, and immaculately landscaped touches adorn every pathway and corner.  It has been at least since 2006 when I last played Pawleys, and the course has grown in immensely, and in a great way.

Value (3.75 out of 5.0)

We added Pawleys as a last minute substitute for Barefoot Love because of poor conditions at Barefoot, and were glad we did.  Our package price actually dropped $10 per man and the playing experience at Pawleys tops Barefoot.  Last time down I recall a very expensive replay rate at Pawleys and the afternoon tee sheet was booked, so we weren’t sure we’d get back on for a second round.  Imagine our surprise when they hit us with a minimal $30 replay fee and any tee time we wanted.  Value gets a 4.0 rating except they charge for range balls ($4.00) and everything should be included at this class of course.

Facilities (4.0 out of 5.0)

Pawleys clubhouse is beautiful and as you enter the pro shop, you see Jack’s framed even-par 72 scorecard proudly displayed behind the front desk.  His was the first round played here when the course opened in 1988.

The practice grass driving range is in excellent condition.  There’s a practice putting green of ample size right next to the range and the starter drives out to conveniently announce the next group on the tee which is located close by.  Everything is laid out perfectly, as you would expect someone of Jack Nicklaus’ detail oriented nature to construct.

Mike and Dylan warming up.
Mike and Dylan warming up.

The playing surfaces are all Bermuda and the greens were rolling smooth and at medium speed.  A couple of the fairways had some scratchy lies but they were easy to play from.  Many of the tee shots were framed with large oak trees either on the side or on occasion in the fairway’s line of sight.  It should come as no surprise but Nicklaus wants you to think on every tee shot, as he would have.  Interestingly, there was a mix of doglegs left and not the predominant favoring of the right, as has been the case with so many other Nicklaus designs.

View of the 11th green from the 12th tee
View of the 11th green from the 12th tee

The front nine meanders through a beautiful neighborhood of ponds and superbly landscaped luxury homes, but you don’t feel the neighbors are imposing on your round.  Watch out for the huge alligator that lives in the lake next to the par-3 third hole!  The back nine is drop-dead gorgeous; especially the par three complex of #13 and #17 which both play out on the marsh.  #13 is especially difficult because you’re playing into what is effectively a peninsula with very little bailout area and into the prevailing wind.  The mindset seemed similar to #17 at THE PLAYERS.  We were playing the blue tees, which measure only 115 yards and I flushed an 8-iron which reached in the morning round and had to add a club for the afternoon.  As you can see in the photo, you cannot miss the surface.

#13 green at Pawleys Plantation
#13 green at Pawleys Plantation

Customer Experience (4.25 out of 5.0)

The minute we arrived, the cart guys had our clubs out of the car and provided snappy accurate service all day.  The proshop staff were friendly and very professional, and made our replay experience the best.  Lastly, the chicken salad wrap and potato salad I had in the pub was superb.   Definitely stop by for some delicious eats between rounds.

Pawleys measures 6,549 yards from the blue tees with a 73.7/144 course rating.  I shot an 82.  This is a top-10 play in the Myrtle Beach area, do not miss it on your next time down!

Overall Rating (4.0 out of 5.0)

Mike at the par-4 10th hole
Mike at the par-4 10th hole

How Do You Plan The Best Golf Trip?

With my wife outside the Doral clubhouse
With my wife outside the Doral clubhouse

It’s the middle of winter and we all have cabin fever.  Wouldn’t it be great to tee it up tomorrow at a tropical golf destination?  Lately, I’ve been getting quite a few inquiries on how to book the best golf trips at the lowest cost.  Getting bang for the buck when you travel is a great source of satisfaction, but remember the most important element in a golf trip is the golf.  A great hotel, delicious food, and wonderful entertainment are fine, but if the golf is substandard, that’s what you’ll remember.

Course Reviews:  To get the best golf, start your travel planning reading websites focused on course reviews.  Skip the sites like Golf Digest where you’ll get lists of great courses and glossy marketing material (yeah, we all know Pebble Beach and Whistling Straights are great venues), and focus on personal experiences because you want a straight call on the good and bad.  You want to find the hidden nuggets of value, the starters and course marshals who took the extra steps to make you feel special, the details about conditions that stood out or didn’t meet expectations, and the ups and downs of customer service from your reservation agent to the pro shop staff.  Here’s some top sites to get you started:

  • 2 Play the Tips has reviews from world famous golf courses across the country.
  • OneBeardedGolfer has got you covered on Kentucky and other courses in the southeast USA.
  • Golf Is Mental has great information on Alberta, British Columbia, and visiting the western USA.
  • We’ve got plenty of reviews on this site from the  Washington DC, Eastern Shore, and Myrtle Beach areas.
  • Finally, Vet4golfing51 sprinkles his interesting playing insights in with information on his journey to play 100 courses in the western Pennsylvania region.  There are many others.

Conditions:  Once you decide where you want to play, seek out information on course conditions for the period of time you’re going to play, not necessarily the latest conditions.  Pay close attention to reports of when courses will schedule aeration.  We hit Pinehurst #2 the day after an emergency aeration.  Nothing is worse than traveling to a world class venue only to find you are putting on bumps and top dressing.  Hit up a site like Golf Insider for Myrtle Beach.  They have thousands of personal visit reviews for hundreds of area courses.  Then go to Trip Advisor and look at reviews that can be sorted on the time of year you’re traveling.  Getting a good cross-section of opinion yields the best experiences.

Lodging:  Next, look for a good package that couples lodging, golf, and maybe some food.  In June, my travel group has a package lined up in Myrtle Beach with seven nights lodging, six rounds of golf, carts, free range balls, lunch, and complimentary daily replays for under $600.  If you don’t want to couple resort lodging with golf, look to book a hotel separate to save money.  We traveled and played the RTJ Trail in Alabama staying at Hampton Inns across the state and had a great and inexpensive experience.

Peak Discounts:  Lastly, if you’re traveling in high season and don’t want to pay those exorbitant prices, don’t worry; there are tools that can help.  I am traveling next month to Myrtle Beach during peak tourist time and didn’t feel like paying $150 for a round.   I used a tool at Golf Insider that allows you to plug in your desired dollar range and date, and searches the entire Grand Strand for a match.  Got one for $60 and I’m ready to go!

You can get overwhelmed with information and will save time and money reaching out to an individual who’s traveled ahead of you to your destination.  Often times you’ll pick up local knowledge about good venues and ones to avoid, and most folks are very happy to help.  I know I am.  Good luck!

#9 The Great White course at Doral
#9 The Great White course at Doral

Bear Trap Dunes – Course Review

Summary

The Den at Bear Trap Dunes
The Den at Bear Trap Dunes

Our group played Bear Trap Dunes in Ocean View, DE on Tuesday, November 11, 2014.  This 27-hole facility is three miles west of Bethany Beach, and I’ve practiced here on many occasions while vacationing at the beach, but have never played the course until now.  The operation is first class and the practice facilities top notch.  Of the three nines, we played Kodiak and Black Bear and will reserve judgement on Grizzly for another time.  The course is operated by Troon Golf and is semi-private.  Rick Jacobsen (architect) used to be on the Jack Nicklaus course design team, and the course has that familiar Nicklaus look and feel off the tee.  Many of the holes are framed by groups of three and four bunker configurations located at different distances on opposite sides of the fairway.

I found the layout pleasing to my eye and relaxed into a good ball striking day off the tee but my luck ended there.  To score well, you need local knowledge off the tee and accurate iron play; I had neither.  Missing in the deep and expansive greenside bunkers left awfully tough up-and-down opportunities, and once you hit the greens, we found them large, fast, fairly flat, and fair.  Twice on the Kodiak nine, I hit perfect drives into fairway bunkers that I had no idea I could reach.  If you are playing #6 and #9 with a tailwind, 3WD is plenty of club off the tee.  Otherwise, I came away from a bad iron day thinking you could score better and put less pressure on yourself playing for the middle of most greens instead of flag hunting to precise yardages, as I attempted.  A few of the holes like #5 on Kodiak are beautiful and play into a nice U-shaped backdrop of woods, but most of the holes were nondescript despite the very good course conditioning.  One of my playing partners remarked that the Bear Trap experience reminded him of the time we Played Pinehurst #2.  Very good golf course, but very few of the holes stood out; I have to agree.

Par-4, 5th hole on Kodiak.  Bear Trap Dunes
Par-4, 5th hole on Kodiak. Bear Trap Dunes

Value (3.0 out of 5.0)

We played on an off season rate of $39 which included cart and range balls.  For the course conditioning, service, and quality of facilities, this was an awesome value.  I’d rate this as a $70-80 golf experience so why the average rating?  They advertise their in-season rates at $100 – 135 for a weekend round which is exorbitant.  If I’m paying that kind of money, I want memorable holes and a tremendous experience.  Bear Trap was a very nice afternoon of golf on very good conditions with a quasi-country club feel, but not $135 worth.

Facilities (4.0 out of 5.0)

The clubhouse hosts the pro shop, locker rooms, full service grill (The Den), offices, and banquet space.  It is a beautiful building.  Conveniently located across the parking lot is the top notch practice facility.  The range is divided into halves for members and guests and boasts excellent grass hitting surfaces (mats were out for the late fall, but they were in excellent condition, as were the range balls).  They have a large and well maintained short game area and separate putting green with green speeds that were identical to the course.  As mentioned earlier, I practice at Bear Trap regularly and could spend all day using the facilities.  The rating would go even higher except most holes were in very close proximity to the local housing community.  Nice homes but I prefer a little more solitude.

Cary playing his 2nd shot on the par-5, 6th on Black Bear
Cary playing his 2nd shot on the par-5, 6th on Black Bear

Customer Experience (3.5 out of 5.0)

Booking a tee time was easy and was done over the phone.  Being November, they had anything I wanted.  We did not utilize the bag drop and found out later that you couldn’t ride your clubs to your car upon completion of the round.  Some courses are funny in that regard and are weary of liability issues with golfers driving in the parking lots.  I found it more of a minor hindrance.  The pro in the shop was very friendly and attentive and we had a very nice day on an uncrowded and well conditioned golf course.   For this round I shot a 86 from the blue tees that measured 6,377 yards and played to a course rating of 69.3/127.  Bear Trap Dunes is a nice golf course and the off-season rates made it a great play.  If you’re down during the summer, I wouldn’t recommend playing here at full price, but go seek a lower cost high quality alternative like Eagles Landing in Ocean City, MD.

Overall Rating (3.5 out of 5.0)

Difficult par-3, 7th on Black Bear
Difficult par-3, 7th on Black Bear

Hog Neck – Course Review

Summary

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We played Hog Neck Golf Course in Easton, MD on Sunday, November 9, 2014.  On every trip back, I’m reminded of the time several decades back when the United States was flirting with metric system implementation.  Hog Neck is the only course I’ve played that has distance markers in meters and yards.  Once, they actually had their scorecards and markers solely in meters, which forced you to do a minor math calculation on every shot, but they updated their scorecards and are now back to U.S. standard units.

Par 3, 7th at Hog Neck
Par 3, 7th at Hog Neck

The par-72 course is a tale of two halves with the front nine playing out on windswept fairways with hidden water, large mounding, penal bunkers, and nary a tree in sight.  Truly a links style experience.  The back meanders through tall pine trees and plays several hundred yards longer and is considerably more difficult.  The parkland style changeover is a great experience in the middle of November, as the fall colors are in their peak brilliance.

Playing tips from the gold tees:  There are no tricks to scoring well but a few tripwires to be avoided.  On the dogleg left par-4, 2nd there are two large fairway bunkers guarding the corner.  Don’t challenge them.  A well struck drive 10-15 yards off the right bunker will leave you with a short iron in from a flat lie.  Forget par from either of the bunkers.  The par-4, 5th has hidden water that sneaks up fast on the left of the tee shot, so be precise.  The par-4, 6th has hidden water on the right and left and again requires precision.  The par-5, 9th has a diagonal water hazard crossing the fairway that’s not easy to see.  For the landing area of your second shot, you must be able to fly it within 100 yards of the green or you’ll need to lay back to about 150 yards.

Teeing off on the par-3, 17th at Hog Neck
Teeing off on the par-3, 17th at Hog Neck

The key on the back nine is driving it solid and straight.  As you get deeper into the inward half, the holes become longer and more difficult, but there are no hidden hazards with the exception of a small pond guarding the left of the par-4, 15th green.  The approach will either be with a long iron or hybrid, and you need to favor the right side.  The par-5, 18th is the only quirky hole on the golf course.  It measures 523 yards, but when the tees are up, you think you can go for it in two.  For some reason, the designer placed a wrap around bunker that guards the entire front approach preventing a roll up option.  So lay back to your favorite yardage and try for a regulation par or birdie.

Approach to the par-5, 18th
Approach to the par-5, 18th

 Value (3.5 out of 5.0)

In season weekend rates are $55 to ride.  We played on an off-season special rate of $40 which included a cart and hot dog/chips/soda snack at the turn.  We were putting on excellent greens but the rest of the course conditions were average at best.  Still we felt this was a good deal at the off season rate.  A bucket of range balls cost $6.

Facilities (2.5 out of 5.0)

First impressions are important and Hog Neck misses the mark with their driving range facilities.  The balls were old and the hitting area was essentially 10 low quality mats supported by no bag stands or structures of any type to hold a bag or clubs.  It was barely adequate to get a few swings in and warm up.

Low budget bag stand on the range.
Low budget bag stand on the range.

The pitching area had ample space to work from and included closely mown areas and two medium size bunkers.  The pro shop was on the smallish side but was well stocked and clean.  The snack bar area was located conveniently next to the 10th tee and was also of ample size and clean.

Customer Experience (3.0 out of 5.0)

You make a tee time by either emailing the course with your preference or calling.  No on-line user-friendly reservation system is available.  I had no problem getting the precise time that I requested being it was the second week of November.  Upon check in, we were told not to ride carts in the fairways because their bermuda grass had just gone dormant, and some of the playing surfaces were extremely wet.  We were permitted to ride the rough all the way around the backsides of some of the greens, which was a little unusual, but didn’t present any major obstacles.  The bentgrass putting surfaces were in excellent condition and good greens always lead to a greater feeling of satisfaction.  Finally, according to my playing partner, the hot dog at the turn was excellent!

Overall Rating (3.0 out of 5.0)

On this day, we played the gold tees at 6,477 yards with a course rating of 71.5/130 and I shot a 5-over par 77.  I have been playing this course on trips to the eastern shore for over 30 years and will be back.

Surf Club – Course Review

Looking down #1 tee at Surf Club
Looking down #1 tee at Surf Club

We played Surf Club in North Myrtle Beach, SC on Saturday, June 14, 2014.  This George Cobb design was built in 1960 and is nestled neatly into a neighborhood one block from the ocean.  Surf is a very old style private club with good conditioning and traditional parkland style routing and if you like doglegs, you are going to love this golf course.  Only about four of the longer holes do not have some kind of bend and an absolute premium is placed on solid ball striking off the tee.  Surf’s Bentgrass greens have a reputation for being among the fastest on the beach but we played them about three weeks after their aeration.  They were almost full recovered and were rolling at medium speed.  On a previous visit, I recall the course playing firm and fast with the the greens running lightening quick.

I’m not an arborist, but the type of trees that frame most of the holes are unlike most you’ll see on Myrtle Beach courses and certainly not the tall Carolina pines you are accustomed to.  Normally, you can play out of the trees but not at Surf.  Trying to hit low recoveries almost always caught bark and was usually the natural predecessor to a double-bogey on the scorecard.  You’re best advice is to drive it straight or punch out sideways.

We played from the back tees and there are three holes that play like a beast.  The par-4, 7th at 442 yards bends to the right and if it’s playing into the wind, is virtually like a short par-5.  You turn right around on the par-4, 8th which plays 430 yards and you hope the wind is favoring your direction.

Par-3, 18th at Surf Club
Par-3, 18th at Surf Club

Finally, the par-3, 18th is one of the finest finishing holes in Myrtle Beach.  At 217 yards, you are faced with a forced carry over water, and we played it straight into a two club wind coming in off the ocean.  Thank goodness for the front flag position, as my fully struck 3WD barely covered the 200 yards needed from tee to pin.

Value (3.75 out of 5.0)

Surf was an upscale addition to our golf package but to our very pleasant surprise, the afternoon replay rate was only $27.  This is a very affordable, high quality golf experience.  Driving range privileges are included and the free tees in the pro shop were one of those nice little touches.

The Range at Surf Club
The Range at Surf Club

Facilities (3.0 out of 5.0)

The clubhouse and grill were on the smallish side and the pro shop displays were nicely detailed, but a little limited in scope.  The grill served very basic golf course food and had walk up service only.  We dined on hot dogs, wings, and chips after our morning round.

The 15-station driving range had good turf to hit off and high quality balls, and the practice green was medium sized and adequate for a warm-up.  I did not observe a separate chipping/pitching green and was unsure if short game work was permitted.

Pro Shop at Surf Club
Pro Shop at Surf Club

Customer Experience (4.0 out of 5.0)

I’m not sure who the amiable professional on duty was but he made you feel very welcome and at home.  He was very accommodating when we inquired about working us into the afternoon tee sheet for a replay and went out of his way to ensure that we had everything we needed to enjoy ourselves.  The rating goes even higher except for the staff at the bag drop were nowhere to be found when we arrived at the course around 7:30 a.m.  It was clear that we were one of the first groups at the course, but we didn’t expect to haul our bags in from the parking lot.  Anyway, they found our equipment and had us loaded in time for play.

Surf Club was a good value and a fun day.  We played the blue tees at 6,842 yards (par-72) I shot rounds of 87 and 81.  It was difficult but I loved it and will be back for more on future golf trips.  Don’t miss this one.

Overall Rating (3.5 out of 5.0)

Clubhouse at Surf Club
Clubhouse at Surf Club