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Contrary to what you may hear when you visit the Myrtle Beach area, the legend of "The Gray Man of Pawleys Island" simply cannot be true. C'mon, think about it. Some ghost-like guy supposedly shows up around Myrtle Beach every fifty to sixty years just prior to the arrival of a hurricane? C'mon. He arrives here when there's a hurricane? He doesn't leave here when there's a hurricane? Seriously, does that make zero sense or what? Much more likely is that the guy is a golfer who came here for a week-long getaway, found that he'd found golf heaven, and has been wandering around trying to play the nearly 120 sensational layouts in the area since. Now that's believable. (Although ... why the Gray Man doesn't have a great tan by now is something of a puzzle - the weather here is usually pretty wonderful).
Officially, the "myrtle" in Myrtle Beach refers to the wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera) as opposed to the crepe myrtle (Largerstroemia indica). The distinction is significant because (1) it's the wax myrtle tree that's prominent in this area and (2), the wax on the berries of the wax myrtle has been made into fragrant candles for almost forever. (Something about a high flash point, apparently, which is also appropriate because the nightlife around here heats up pretty fast, too.)
Officially as well, the Myrtle Beach area is also called the "Grand Strand," a reference to the sixty-mile-long stretch of coastline that starts just north of North Myrtle Beach (actually, in North Carolina) and runs south all the way down past Pawleys Island to Georgetown. Carefully crafted within and around those sixty miles are the aforementioned 100 + golf courses that Myrtle Beach is so famous for.
Much like Wild Wing, Myrtle Beach National is a great choice for golfers who'd rather spend their time in a cart than a car. The three tracts here - King's North, South Creek, and the West Course - are all very pretty, very playable, and the very fine work of Arnold Palmer. Okay, now you know: they're challenging, too. South Creek and the West Course both opened in 1976. At just over 6,400 yards, South Creek is 400 yards shorter than the West but a much tighter tract off the tee. Both feature plenty of water, plenty of sand, and plenty of tall Carolina pine trees. The most popular layout at Myrtle Beach National, not surprisingly, is King's North - and for good reason. A 1996 remodel of the original course here, King's North is not only regarded as one of The King's best designs, but one of his most playful, too. At the par-five 6th hole, for one example, there's a fifty-yard-wide optional island fairway that you can try to hit if you want to shorten the hole. At the par-three 12th, for another, there's an island green that you have to hit if you want to keep your ball dry. And at the par-four 18th, there are 42 bunkers that you'll need to avoid if you want to finish up with a good score. How's that for "playful"?
Another garden spot of golf to think about - believe it or not - is the quaint and quiet fishing village of Calabash, North Carolina. Located across the state line just a couple of miles north of North Myrtle Beach (it's an easy trip to get there and a pretty one, too), Calabash is home to several fine golf courses, all of which are worthy of your consideration. One is Crow Creek Golf Club, a 7,101-yard design by North Carolina-based architect Rick Robbins. This big, beautiful golf course features four sets of tees, surprisingly wide fairways and greens that are quite large. Fortunately, like many of the Calabash courses, most of the trouble here is off to the sides. Unfortunately, there's a lot of it - mainly in the form of rivers and a number of long and artistically designed sand bunkers. In addition to those snaky bunkers, another thing that's interesting about this golf course is the fact that the front nine is so vastly different than the back. The link-style outgoing nine winds its way through former tobacco and vegetable fields. Coming home, it's much more of a "parkland" type design - with tall, Carolina pines lining most of the holes. Crow Creek is certainly an attractive and enjoyable layout, and definitely a good reason to drive across the state line.
But wait. If you're going to drive across the state line, why not really drive across the state line? As in: with your graphite-shafted, gorilla-sized, titanium driver. At the somewhat funky Farmstead Golf Club - a 2001 William Byrd design that measures 7,242 yards from the back tees - you can do it. Officially located in Calabash, North Carolina, Farmstead actually starts off in South Carolina and finishes in the Tar Heel State. And what a finish it is! From the back tees, the closing hole at Farmstead is a 767-yard monster that plays to a par of six. Yep, you read it right: a par 6. Bring balls, bubba. And maybe a backpack - with water, food and possibly even a first-aid kit.
Want even more length? Well, Hammerin' Hank, you need to head on over to the championship course at Grand Dunes. From the tips - or should we call them the "Tiger Tees"? - this 2001 Roger Rulewich Rottweiler measures an unbelievable 7,600 yards. Oh yeah, it bites. Want a course with some history? Then check out Pine Lakes Golf Club. Known locally as the "granddaddy of Myrtle Beach," Pine Lakes was one of the first golf courses - if not the first - to be built in the area. Constructed in 1927, this very enjoyable layout by Robert White measures 6,701 yards from the furthest of three sets of tees. Best of all, perhaps, Pine Lakes is always considered one of the best-conditioned courses on the Grand Strand.
Not nearly as old - or as long - Caledonia Golf & Fish Club is another Myrtle Beach beauty that consistently gets rave reviews from visiting golfers. Measuring only 6,526 yards from the back markers (length isn't everything, you know), Caledonia is one of the prettiest places you can pick to play when you're in Myrtle Beach. One of only a few normal-looking layouts from free-spirit architect Mike Strantz, Caledonia opened in 1994 and was quickly gobbled up by Golf Digest for its "Top 10 Places You Can Play" list. Believe it: Caledonia is deserving of the accolade.
Deserving of another kind of reputation ("Hardest Sumbitch on the Planet") is the Myrtle Beach brute known as Long Bay. With a course rating of 74.3 and a slope rating of 143, this gorilla is not only one of the toughest tracts in the Carolinas but in the entire country as well. A Jack Nicklaus "Signature" course that opened in 1988, Long Bay is considered by many observers to be one of the Golden Bear's most visually interesting - and intimidating - efforts. Based on the scorecard, Long Bay is not a particularly long golf course by today's standards (the golf ball goes so far these days, a back tee length of 7,025 yards is actually considered "average"). However, due to the wind off the Atlantic and the heaviness of the ocean air, Long Bay plays a great deal longer than most first-time visitors expect. And what that does is make it much more difficult to avoid the trouble that Mr. Nicklaus has placed before the players. Chief among the challenging features here are numerous tall, grassy mounds and waste bunkers that are so long they're considered cart paths on certain areas of the course. Think it's tough playing out of a waste bunker? Try playing out of a tire track, too. Jack can do it, can you?
Like so many of the great layouts along this sixty-mile stretch of coastline known as the "Grand Strand," Long Bay is a must play when you come to Myrtle Beach to play golf. Like the legendary Gray Man, however, don't be surprised if you decide not to head home until you play them all. Hurricane? What hurricane?