Just returned from a week on the Grand Strand with my wife. This was a fabulous beach vacation and not a golf getaway, but the clubs are an essential accoutrement for any journey to South Carolina, and mine were in the SUV. We arrived to some beautiful weather on Saturday, September 12 and after four straight days planted in my beach chair, I was ready for some action. On Wednesday, I headed over to Barefoot for a couple hours of practice and was feeling pretty good about my game.
Hurricane Sally had come ashore in Alabama and was supposed to visit the area on Thursday so I set out to find a tee time for Friday. My only criteria; the course couldn’t be too far from our condo in North Myrtle Beach, and I didn’t want to spend over $100. So, I booked a 1:00 pm time at Myrtle Beach National – Kings North. This is an Arnold Palmer design and is one of my favorite tracks. The greens fee was $50 which is about the best value you’re going to find for a course of this caliber.
As scheduled, Sally ripped through the area on Thursday afternoon/evening and produced an awesome lightning show and tons of rain. On Friday, I drove to the course and found one of the nines on Kings North was under water and closed. They offered to let me play the open nine twice or rebook on South Creek. MBN has 54 holes and I had played Kings North about five times. I had replayed once on the West course and thought it rather ho-hum so I agreed to try South Creek. What a delight!
With all the rain, we were playing cart path only. This was a day where wedge shots were exploding foot long divots and caking your legs with mud. But I loved the track. South Creek plays about 6,400 from the blues but I moved up a set on the front nine because it was so wet. You need to drive it straight out here, and I did, but couldn’t get anything going with my irons or putter and shot a four-over 40. I was by myself and following a twosome and raced around the front in 1.5 hours. When I got to the 10th tee, I found the last of three threesomes the pro shop had sent out to start on the back. A little perturbed, I asked the starter what he recommend I do and he told me to skip 10 and 11 and start my back nine on 12. I rolled up to the tee and joined the twosome that had also received the same instructions.
These two were a father and son combination, with the boy playing a practice round for a 16-18 year-old junior tournament scheduled for South Creek over the next two days. Dad was playing the whites, but the son was playing the blues, and clearly had a lot of game, so I backed up and played the blues with him. This kid was busting it past me but for some reason, joining him elevated my concentration level and I carded an even par 36 on the back. What a weird phenomenon: some kind of focus switch engaged in my mind as I played with the better player. It reminded me a similar situation a couple years back when I was out for a round on my local muni and a couple young pros from the course joined me on the first hole. They were pounding it 50 yards past me off the tee, but that same switch went off and I elevated my concentration and played great. I wonder what causes this? Has this ever happened to you?
So, I finished my round playing 10 and 11 and after ending with a birdie, realized how much fun I just had. This was primarily because I was driving the ball so well, but I loved the golf course. I also realized how straight you have to be to score, and how penal it could get. The greens fee was $43 and I was tickled pink with the great value. I will definitely be back to play South Creek at the next opportunity. You should consider adding this course to your play list next time down.
Would you classify an evening pounding balls and drinking beer at Top Golf practice? For some, any activity with club in hand is practice. I have never been to a Top Golf. Sounds like fun but that’s not practice.
Guys in my Myrtle Beach travel group have gone to the PGA Superstore on a rainy day to hit balls in the bays with the new drivers, and putt on the indoor green. Nope, not practice either. We used to stay at The Legends in Myrtle Beach. When we found out our room cards worked in the driving range dispenser, we’d play 36 holes, eat dinner, and then go to the range for practice until the lights turned off at 10:00 p.m. THAT was loads of fun and we did help each other root out our swing faults for the day, but that took a lot of energy. I’d call it practice.
I generally practice alone, but on occasion join up with friends. Both types are valuable. The last couple times at my club was with friends and the light banter was great, as we worked through long game, short game, and putting. Sometimes these sessions can evolve into a contest on the range or putting green. A couple weeks ago it turned into a swing film session. But the key is the personal interaction. It’s especially important to socialize at a time when folks can over-isolate themselves. If you don’t have four hours for a golf game, try half the time at the practice facility. It works great.
Regardless of how I practice, I enter notes in a spreadsheet on what I worked on, and grade the session. After the last few with friends, the grades weren’t that high. Clearly, I do my best work alone. Today, I went early and alone to the local muni to work on short game and had a great session. If you time it right, there are drills and games you can play that aren’t possible with friends or at a more crowded facility. My real work gets done alone.
Tomorrow afternoon, I’m back at my club with friends after playing some tennis in the morning. This tennis-golf routine on the same day is a great cross training aid. I call it a “Nicklaus” because Jack often spoke of playing tennis. I also tend to go easier on myself with the golf practice after tennis.
So, what’s your opinion, is Top Golf practice? How do you practice best, alone or with friends?
In the 20+ years that I have been traveling to the Grand Strand for golf, it’s always been in the summer. This year, I was invited to play in a February family and friends 5-day match play tournament staged across the four Barefoot courses and Grand Dunes. We had a fabulous outting. If you have not tried Myrtle Beach as a winter golf destination, it’s about time.
Many in the group of 20 players scheduled their travel to arrive and depart on the first and last days of the competition. I elected to pad a travel day on both ends which worked out well. Going into the event, I had been playing or practicing every weekend and that turned out to be a huge boon for my game. I played well the entire week and generally felt in mid-season form. The on-site day of practice beforehand was very helpful for getting accommodated to the playing conditions and green speeds.
Our accommodations were condos located in the Yacht Club and North Tower on the Barefoot property. These were huge and well-appointed three- and four-bedroom units that housed us very comfortably. I would definitely recommend them for a trip in the North Myrtle Beach area. On a previous trip, we stayed in 3-bedroom condos on the Norman course which were nice but much smaller.
We were grouped as A, B, C, and D players by handicap and a blind draw assigned us into two 10-man teams for a Ryder Cup style competition. I was told that on paper, our team looked very strong. Not having played any golf with any of these fellows, I made up my mind to just go play and not try to over-analyze anything. On days 1 through 4 we would play four ball matches (you and your partner’s better ball against your opponent’s ball) at 80% of handicap. On the fifth day, we’d play 10 singles matches – again at 80% handicap. Every match had one available point, with a total of 30 points available, 15 ½ were required to win the Cup. The team captains met each morning to make pairings and select who would play whom. An excellent requirement was added to promote player interaction. You could not be paired with the same teammate more than once. I greatly appreciated the opportunity to play with a new teammate every day because I only knew four of the other 19 players going into the week. After playing with different teammates and opponents and dining with everyone on a nightly basis, I’m thankful to have met so many great guys.
Day One: Barefoot Love Course.
Weather was cloudy in the mid-50s. This was the first time I had played the Love course and I enjoyed the layout. Course was in great condition and the over-seeded greens were rolling medium speed and smooth. There was a little hidden water off some of the tee shots but the holes were nicely framed and fit my eye. I played with Ken and our opponents were Bruce and Tim. I drove it really well and struck some good irons close. Lost my concentration a bit around the greens on the back nine but Ken and I had pretty good control of the match and won 3 and 1.
Day Two: Barefoot Norman Course.
Weather again cloudy in the mid-50s. Norman is the Barefoot course I’ve logged the most rounds on, but I struggled on the greens. Joe and I played Nick and Ed and we were behind all the way around. Down 2 with 4 to play, our opponents let us back into the match with some loose driving and Joe made a 4-footer for par to win the match on 18. About 2/3 of the guys went out for a nine-hole replay but not me. My new strategy was to conserve energy.
Day Three: Grand Dunes.
One of my favorite courses, Grand Dunes did not disappoint. Temps were in the low 60s and the course was in fabulous condition. I was super excited because I was stripping it on the driving range which is always a good leading indicator for my game. Greens were running faster than the previous two days at Barefoot and the day’s match was Glenn and I vs. Marc and Ed. I had my best ball striking day and carried my partner on the front nine. Glenn ordered a fast-action Bloody Mary from the cart girl on the 6th or 7th hole and his game suddenly caught fire. I relaxed afterwards and we coasted in this one 7 and 5. The last four or five holes were played in the rain which was a harbinger of things to come.
Day Four: Barefoot Dye.
It had rained heavily overnight and there was still precipitation in the area. Dye was playing cart path only and giant puddles and ruts were the order of the day in the cart paths. The paths at Dye are all sand/waste areas which made for a sloppy round. It basically rained medium hard all day. The driving range was closed beforehand and swings were obviously affected. In this match, Ron and I played Nick and Tim. Nobody hit it that well. However, my chipping and putting were getting it done and we prevailed 5 and 4. I found Dye the most difficult driving course because there are few good sight lines. You stand on the tees and confront a world of bunkers. Where to hit it? At the end of the day, our team was up 15 to 5 and needed only a half point to secure the Cup making the outcome all but decided. I guess all the pre-tournament prognostications were correct.
Day Five: Barefoot Fazio.
Temps were in the low 40s, rain was falling, and winds were building from the west. We were on the leading edge of a winter storm that dumped four inches of snow just north of us in Virginia and North Carolina. I was paired against Dan in singles and was playing with my teammate Ted who was matched up with Steve. Surprisingly, the greens were rolling fast and pure despite the weather. Dan and I got off to a rough start and halved the first hole with 7s. He took a 1-up lead on the second but I came back to take a string of holes and was three up at the turn. Ted was leading Steve 7-up and it was raining and blowing sideways. We called it quits. A couple of the boys did complete their games and a few reported that they had played well. I didn’t get the final points total, but it was clear that our side had prevailed. While we didn’t play the back nine, we had to drive in along it and I was impressed by some of the routing and conditioning. It would be great to come back and play Fazio in good weather.
When in a match play format, don’t get distracted by your individual score. Several players asked me what I shot for the day and I told them that I didn’t know. It was true. If I was out of a hole, I’d put my ball in my pocket and let my partner play for our side. I think it’s beneficial to NOT play out a ball on a hole you messed up because making a bigger mess can form negative mental pictures in your head. When you have a bad hole pick up and forget about it. Your gross score doesn’t matter – it’s not the game you are playing. I get that many of the guys just want to play for practice or measure themselves, and that’s fine, but not my preference.
Play to your strength in match play and don’t alter your game based on the way your opponent(s) play. My strengths are accuracy off the tee and attacking with wedges. My weaknesses are playing from fairway bunkers, and there were a lot at these venues. I often hit a long iron or 3wd off the tee for position. If you have strengths like mine, you’ll find that ego-based players may become frustrated playing you. While they like to bomb tee shots, your accurate tee shots and their wayward driving often puts significant pressure on their game.
Around the greens, work the ground game. Courses at Myrtle Beach do not have significant greenside rough and don’t require high lofted pitch shots. Don’t get too enamored with your lofted wedges and try chipping and pitching with more straight-faced clubs. Putt when you can and keep the shots low whenever possible because roll is easier to judge distance on than flight.
This trip was about camaraderie. We played with lots of different players which was great. We were also able to make dinner reservations every night for our party of 20 at a different restaurant. You could never pull this off on a summer trip to Myrtle Beach; it’s just too crowded.
The course conditioning was excellent everywhere. Of course, the dominant playing surfaces (Bermuda) were dormant, but they were very playable and framed the over seeded fairways nicely on all the courses.
The value was tremendous. We paid about $550 for five days of golf and four nights in excellent accommodations.
I’ve been invited to the 2021 version of this tournament and am eagerly looking forward to it. That’s it for now.
Here we are, two weeks from Christmas and the bad news is that I haven’t played since the last week of October. My season-ending November golf/beach trip never happened because of bad weather and I have that weird feeling like when you read nine chapters in a 10-chapter book and never pick it up to finish. I keep looking for a good weekend day to properly close 2019, but either work, football, or the honey-do list get in the way.
The good news is that my 2020 season start is just around the corner. I’ll kickoff in mid-February with a trip to Myrtle Beach. At a recent family gathering, I was invited to participate in a 20-man event for five days of Ryder Cup style competition. We’ll be divided into two 10-man teams and have four rounds scheduled at all the Barefoot courses along with a round at Grand Dunes. This is going to be awesome! But how do I prepare? I booked a flight in a day earlier and will try to practice/play a round, but that’s just to bang off some rust. Would definitely want some more regular activity during the winter, and was thinking about my friend Jim at The Grateful Golfer. He’s constructing an indoor hitting station. What I wouldn’t give to have a setup like that for the cold months! Jim, can I come over and swat a few?
Some of the guys playing this event come from New Jersey and Pennsylvania, but others are from the Carolinas and California, so they’ll be a mix of rust and good preparation leading up to tournament time. I haven’t practiced heavily in the off season for years. The older I get, the less accepting I am of cold weather, but there’s a heated/covered range within a 20-minute drive and I might have to make use as a stop gap. I’d hate to show up in February not having swung a club for a couple months.
Any suggestions for off-season ball striking practice?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
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.
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.
#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.
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.
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.
#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.
#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.
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.
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.
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.
#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.
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 😊
What do you wish for most on a golf trip? The simple pleasures are important like good weather, comfortable accommodations and delicious food, but what I want most is to play my best. When I travel it’s usually for a week to Myrtle Beach and the trip consists of 10-12 rounds in the heat and humidity of the southeastern United States.
We’ve been going to Myrtle for the last 15-20 years and I can honestly say that I haven’t swam in a pool once, or taken a dip in the ocean. People are incredulous when they ask, “How was the beach?” and I tell them I never saw it. For me it’s a pure immersion in golf. Not sure how healthy or sane that is, but when it’s done, I’ve had my fill. These trips include a lot of physical exertion when you factor in the rounds and warm-up balls, and I am usually exhausted by the end.
As luck would have it, I’ve visited Pebble Beach, Torrey Pines, Doral, and even met Arnold Palmer at Bay Hill, but never played any of these world class tracks. Why? The visits were always without clubs and on a family vacation.
This year we are going to Boyne Highlands in Michigan, which will be an entirely new experience. All the courses are supposedly pure with beautiful fast Bentgrass putting surfaces. I can’t wait to test myself, and we are on an all-inclusive package that includes accommodations, 18 holes per day, replays, and a full breakfast and dinner daily. We’re expecting cooler weather because it is way up north, almost to the upper peninsula, and I’m hoping to be able to play later with the added daylight and longer because of the lower humidity.
There are a couple things that could hold me back. My elbow tendonitis is about 85% healed. I still feel it a little when I play and practice and am wondering how it will hold up under the prospective load. I’ve been doing my rehab exercises from physical therapy every day since February, and oddly enough, I’m seeing some muscle development in my forearms, but the damaged tendon is still there. Second is my age. I work out and stretch for golf every morning, and I know it’s just a number, but at 58, should I be attempting to play this much? It was a lot at 38. We’ll see how serviceable my big bottle of Advil is.
The first mistake most serious players make is to try and bring a perfect swing to the trip. They get too mechanical in pre-week practice. I’ve done it numerous times and it only makes things worse. When you play upwards of 200 holes, your swing will come and go and there’s only so much you can control. You are much better off thinking “target” than mechanics. So, I’ll try and play a few 9-hole rounds after work next week in-lieu of hitting balls.
When I do practice it will be short game and it will be simulating game conditions, not raking ball after ball for chipping or putting. A good game is to take nine balls and throw them around the green. Put three in easy lies, three in medium, and three in difficult. Try to get each up and down. If you can get 5 for 9, you’re doing well. This helps steel you for pressure in new and unfamiliar conditions.
Lastly, I’ll double down on my morning workouts. The one year I went to Myrtle after exercising daily for three months prior, I felt pretty refreshed coming off the trip. Hoping for the same.
There you have it. Expect a few select course reviews upon my return. Play well!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
#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.
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.
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.
From 1971 to 1983, my parents brought me on five or six trips to Europe in an attempt to expose me to other lands and different cultures.
In 1975, we visited Scotland, and were in the town of Carnoustie. Tom Watson won the claret jug at Carnoustie Golf Links that year, and my Dad and I actually played the famous course while on our journey. I was 14 years of age, and was at the stage where you measured yourself against your buddie’s 9-hole scores during beginner’s summer camp. Breaking 60 was a badge of honor. In short, my level of preparation for taking on Carnoustie was excellent.
What’s cool about playing Open Championship rota courses is that the general public can get a tee time on several of the venues. I think it was probably easier back then because there were no on-line bookings. Either show up or call. Now, this was 43 years ago and I was young and have just a few memories of the round. I do recall it was not planned; we just showed up and got off. We played with rented clubs in old canvas bags. The course had a lot of tall brown fescue and sand. My Dad and I played as a twosome and were followed by four elderly ladies who admonished us at one point for playing too slow. My Dad usually played in the high 90s and was actually having a good game considering the difficulty level and our unfamiliarity with the course. He shot something like a 94. Even though I had been to golf camp, I was still a beginner and couldn’t control my golf ball. I played awful and shot a 125 and nearly took another player’s head off with a hosel rocket. I remember being pressured to play faster by the ladies and my Dad apologizing. I remember topping a lot of shots, but not feeling embarrassed. The same was probably not the case for my Dad.
I don’t remember watching Watson’s victory on television that year, but do remember Paul Lawrie’s win (Jean van de Velde’s implosion) in 1999, and of course today’s recently concluded championship. In none of the telecasts, do I recall any of the holes first hand.
So the question I’ll leave you with is: Can you shoot 125 at Carnoustie and say you actually played the course?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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!
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!
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!
Two weeks ago, I took my first golf lesson of the season. It was on short game. Over the many years of my golf career, I’ve had countless full swing lessons but only received a couple tips on short game from teaching professionals. As I finished up and stacked my clubs into the trunk, I had two thoughts: I’m filled with hope and optimism, and why did I ever wait this long.
The lesson started with me spilling my guts for five minutes on what was wrong with my short game. I enjoy this approach to teaching and learning because you need to clearly identify what you are solving for and my pro is not presumptuous in any way. He always asks. My laundry list:
My wedge game was good from 40 to 100 yards based on the full swing work that we did last year. From 40 to green side with my pitching I was clueless. I avoided that yardage like the plague. Inside 40, I would go back and forth on technique and approach and was thoroughly confused.
On my chipping, I was slightly better but have always struggled with playing too defensively. I want to attack the hole but many of my chips continually come up short and I often struggle with direction and hitting my spot.
I thought my chipping technique was sound, but last season I had to remove my fitted set of Cleveland wedges (50, 54, 58) for my old SW (56) and old GW (49) because of confidence problems. The previous season, I had hit a couple of s#@nks with the 54 and had that image burned in my mind.
I was confused and constantly changing my pre-shot routine to try and get better feel for shots but nothing worked consistently. I struggled to visualize my shots.
In short, I thought I knew how to hit all the shots but could never seem to pull them off. I have often wondered how I maintain a low single-digit handicap with a short game as bad as mine. In retrospect, I have probably played overly conservative into the greens to avoid as much trouble as possible. Not necessarily a bad approach, but not conducive to going low. I wondered how good I could get if I ever learned to attack the hole. All this came out before I struck a single shot.
Then we started. First, he had me chip from the fringe for a distant hole and asked me what clubs I normally chip with. I told him my 56, PW, and 8-iron, and selected the 8 for this shot. I chipped a few. Most were off line and my distance was long. He told me we needed to work on three changes: Make a swing that I controlled with my body by rotating my chest, try to hit with a consistent pace regardless of club selection, and get the ball rolling as soon as possible because roll is easier to judge than flight. For this shot, he had me switch to the 50, move the ball position back to my right big toe, forward press the handle a bit, and shade more of my weight forward. Then I made a smaller swing by just turning my chest and presto! I started seeing a small divot, generating backspin, and hitting straight shots that flew considerably lower even though the 50 has more loft than the 8-iron. We then started working in shots with the 54 and 58 based on the various distances to alternate holes, but with every shot, I hit it with the same pace and technique, and attempt to get it rolling quickly. I noticed while hitting all these shots that I had not been using a practice swing, and had just been lining up the shots from behind and executing – interesting! My ability to visualize the shot was returning because it was the same shot, very little change in trajectory, and just a different distance to the various targets. It was easy to implement. My head was clearing. I was feeling good.
Next, we moved back to the dreaded zone. Pitching. His message was clear, we were going to use the same technique but make a slightly bigger swing and move the ball position up a bit (about ¾ back). Again, we were still trying to flight the ball lower than what I was used to, control the shot with spin, and take a divot. As we altered targets we simply adjusted the amount of carry with club selection. Using the 50, 54, and 58, pitching became almost routine. What the hell was so hard about this?
What’s great about a 1×1 professional lesson is that you can ask your pro all the dumb little questions you’ve always wondered about. I inquired, “When you are green side and need to hit a high pitch, do you first grip the club normally and rotate your hands to open the blade, or open the blade first, then grip the club?” He told me it was the latter, which I had never done. We finished up by throwing balls all around the green into different distances and lies and having me practice selecting a club to fit the shot and simply executing on my new technique. It was a fantastic lesson.
Going forward, we are changing my club make up. Out are the old SW, GW, and 5WD and in are the three wedges I learned with. I can also use my PW (46) and 8-iron for longer chips and simply need to move the ball position forward of my right toe for those two clubs.
Of course, what followed the next weekend was a small snowstorm in the DMV and I haven’t had the chance to practice any of this until today. I’m full of hope, chomping at the bit and need to get cracking because our trip to Myrtle Beach is just two months out!
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.
Facilities (2.5 out of 5.0)
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 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 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.
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.
Value (3.5 out of 5.0)
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)
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.
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.
Facilities (3.5 out of 5.0)
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.
Value (4.0 out of 5.0)
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.
Customer Experience (3.75 out of 5.0)
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)
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.
The “One Ninety” is the new roller coaster at Busch Gardens named after my recent golf trip to Myrtle Beach. Playing 189 holes in six days with a series of golf lessons fresh in your mind was the inspiration. What the hell was I thinking? Folks, don’t try this at home without plenty of cold beer and Advil.
First the good news. The weather was terrific and the company of my friends was fantastic. Most days we had six players and went off as two threesomes and sometimes a single would be paired along giving us the opportunity to meet fellow travelers and on occasion, a local retiree.
On the golf course, of the ten full rounds played, I managed to break 80 five times, which is good for me and the most since the 2011 trip. The bad news was three of the other rounds were 88, 88, and 89 but I seemed to follow a bad one with a good one more easily than in the past. In short, the fun part was pulling off shots I knew I couldn’t hit in previous years because of the swing work I’d been doing with my instructor. The hard part was obviously playing golf swing while attempting to play a ton of golf shots over a protracted duration. But whenever I got into a bad rut, I would return to the swing keys my instructor gave me and usually correct on the spot. In the past, I’d often be searching in many different directions for a band-aid. While the courses were beautiful, some were very difficult, and I had hoped after two months of instruction and practice that the new habits would be more ingrained, but alas I wasn’t quite ready to go Justin Thomas on Hawaii.
My review for TPC of Myrtle Beach is up and reviews are coming for Willbrook and Wild Wing Avocet. Most of the courses have gone to Bermuda greens in lieu of the higher maintenance cool season grasses. It was a pleasure to play six straight days on the same surfaces, albeit with different speeds and undulations. Putting Bermuda is difficult coming from Bentgrass greens because it is grainy. When the ball slows near the hole, the grain will throw it off line and often on longer putts, part of the putt will be with the grain and part against. Up close, you need to summon the courage to bang your short putts and take some of the break out. Generally, I had a good feel for the speed but didn’t master the shorties. Game report card:
Fairway woods: A-
Mid and long irons: C-
Short irons and wedges: B
Short game: B
Lag putting: A
Short putting: D
Course management: B
I loved this trip and just to cap the roller coaster ride, our plane trip home to Baltimore was uneventful until the final 30 seconds. We were literally seconds from touching down and the pilot pulled back hard on the stick and gunned his engines sending our stomachs to the floor and the blood rushing from our heads. He informed us as he circled around that another aircraft was on our runway. Thank God our guy was paying attention even if the air traffic controllers were not!
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)
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.
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.
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)
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.
Customer Experience (4.25 out of 5.0)
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.
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!
Hold the cherry blossoms in DC and hold the azaleas in Augusta! One of those god awful nor’easter things is bearing down on the DMV today and will be dropping a foot of the fluffy stuff.
After getting out and playing in January and February in one of the most delightful winters on record (zero snowfall), my luck has finally run out. Last month, I was fortunate enough to practice on five separate occasions and had made progress on my swing changes, but it’s really cold now and the season is on hold. Yesterday, in some misguided sense of idiocy, I decided to hit balls in the wind with temperatures in the mid 30s, and didn’t do my game any favors, so maybe it is time for a break.
Actually, I’m very thankful that I got to play at all, and that I got back to town safely on Saturday before the airlines began cancelling flights. So while you sit by the fire and wait with me for the courses to clear, enjoy a couple pics from sunny Florida.
I love to travel for golf. Some of my best vacations are had when going to play at destination sites. But when you’re on a family vacation, do you golf if other members of your party don’t? This can be a tricky dilemma and I’m staring it straight in the face next week, as the family and I head off to Treasure Island, Florida for some time in the sun.
The downside of turning your family into golf widows and orphans is just too great, so I err on the side of not playing. That doesn’t mean golf is totally ruled out. I’ll always bring my clubs on family trips to the Delaware eastern shore and often get a round in very early while everyone is still sleeping. No harm there. Or sometimes, like on our last trip to Florida, I’ll make my way to a professional venue just to check it out. As it happened my son and I ran into Arnold Palmer at Bay Hill completely by accident. What a thrill!
Next week, the PGA Tour is playing Valspar at Innisbrook in Palm Harbour, which is 45 minutes from our hotel. Maybe we’ll pop in on Thursday or Friday, or for a practice round??? So even if you’re not playing, you can still engage. Bottom line: family is too important and they shouldn’t be abandoned even if golf is your passion.
Some fellow bloggers play with their family members. Jim, at The Grateful Golfer is starting to play more with his wife, which is awesome. Josh and Beth at Golf is Mental, regularly travel, play together, and document their trips beautifully in posts and pictures. More power to you folks!
My next golf trip is to Myrtle Beach over Memorial Day week. Here’s the line-up:
Having played a fair amount of golf in Myrtle Beach, I still try to get on at least one course I’ve never played per trip. This year that will be Wild Wing – Avocet. Anyone ever played there? Got some playing tips for me? New reviews are coming for the courses in red.
So next week, as much as I would like to be ripping drives down lush Bermuda fairways for seven straight days, I’ll happily settle for kayaking in the mangroves, Baltimore Orioles spring training games, riding roller coasters at Busch Gardens, and just hanging with family by the pool and on the beach. Remember, on a family vacation, always put family first! Safe travels and play well.
Charles Mingus once said, “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.” Last weekend that was the theory of the case I set out to prove on my 54-hole eastern shore jaunt. The plan was to play the first 18 holes with the assist from a GPS and a laser range finder, but to dispense with both devices in round two. Round three would be played with the preferred method taken from the prior two days.
First, it was awesome to finally golf on consecutive days for the first time since early June. The experiment was admittedly a small sample size, so much of the feedback was based on gut feel rather than hard metrics. My day-to-day performance showed continual improvement, which was encouraging (84-78-76) and the reps were invaluable and served as a quasi practice for the following day’s game.
Round one at Heritage Shores (Bridgeville, DE) was characterized by a hot start, a mid-round ball striking implosion, and a strong finish. Using both devices didn’t feel any different even though I was conscious of trying to match exact yardage to swing. I putted poorly all day but stumbled into a swing key that allowed me to play the last five holes in even par, and to hit four of the five greens. Despite the poor score, I left the course encouraged about the swing band-aid I had found, and for the experiment I was going to try the next day.
Saturday, we played Eagles Landing (Ocean City, MD). The carts were equipped with GPS and I basically ignored it unless I couldn’t find ground yardage. There is no driving range at Eagles Landing and we were limited to some light chipping and putting before we went off. I promptly pull hooked my drive on #1 and made double, and followed that with a big push on #2 for a bogey. Yardage was playing no part in this mess. So I decided to keep the driver in the bag until my body loosened up and I managed to stabilize using 3WD. On number 8, I found another swing key and managed to strike it solid and played the rest of the way around in 2-over. Here I noticed some gains by pacing off yardages on the short wedge shots from the fairway. Without precise yardage, I relied on my stock practice range shots to carry distances I was comfortable with, and this was key! I am not a professional and cannot dedicate tons of range time perfecting partial wedge shots to specific distances. Just give me 50-75-100 yard shots and I proved that hitting to those yardages was more effective than snapping an exact number on the laser and trying to modify my swing to match.
Sunday at Baywood Greens (Long Neck, DE) was a completely different story. We got to the course 1.5 hours ahead of our tee time and got ample range time in plus putting green and short game warm ups. In addition, I had a game plan from the previous two days and felt very prepared and it showed. The good work with the short irons continued despite not having exact yardages and I felt completely in control. I also noticed the impact of imprecise yardages diminished the farther you were from the flag stick.
At the end of our short experiment, I’d have to conclude that the back to back to back rounds were probably more beneficial to my game than how I measured my yardages. I liked not having as much to do and think about between shots, but honestly felt that I could do a better job planning my shots even with exact yardage. In short, it really didn’t matter how it was calculated, but I’m going to try without the range finder for my next few rounds.
Do you have a preference for course navigation? Please share if you do.
Thanks and play well!
Conversation about course reviews, travel, instruction,and opinion. Please join in!