Golf in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

by Country Inns & Suites
Thursday, August 12, 2010

Golftown USA is the city’s self-proclaimed moniker, and with more than 120 public and semiprivate courses arranged end to end over the 60-mile strip called the Grand Strand, the name certainly fits.  By Larry Olmsted

Myrtle Beach is famous for cheap golf and lots of it, but this often overshadows the fact that the area, which now stretches over the border into North Carolina, has some world-class layouts. It is also a first-rate family destination, packed with attractions, including what is widely considered one of the finest collections of miniature golf courses on Earth. As a result, you cannot drive down the Grand Strand without seeing volcanoes, pirate ships and even dinosaurs.

Somehow, after 60 years, The Dunes Golf and Beach Club remains one of the best-kept secrets in golf. Not only is it the premier course in Myrtle Beach, it is part of golf history. In 1948, when the legendary Robert Trent Jones Sr. designed it, he was not yet legendary, and there were only two other courses in Myrtle Beach. But what set The Dunes apart was the 13th hole, the first “signature hole” in golf. Today, this term has become commonplace, and almost every course is designed with the idea that one hole will be worthy of reproduction on magazine covers, but when Jones’ firm began advertising with the slogan “Give your course a signature,” he was making history.

The 575-yard par-5 has been alternatively described as a boomerang, U-turn or horseshoe. It is more accurately thought of as a “V” with water in the middle. When you stand on the tee the green is off to your right, almost at a right angle. The line of play would be right at the green, but the lake is too wide to carry here, so you play down the fairway, away from the green. The options are to hit your tee shot down the right, as close to the water’s edge as possible, then play across the narrower end of the lake to get within a hundred yards of the green; or to play safely to the center, then around the bend on the second shot, and face a much longer approach with the water along the right. An amazing hole, it broke new ground for the use of water hazards. The short par-5, one that can be reached in two shots, has been around for more than 500 years, but Jones added a new wrinkle. Most reachable fives had the risk on the second shot, so the player could hit his or her drive and then decide whether to go for the green based on the result. Jones’ signature hole at The Dunes (and many after it) takes a completely different tack. Players who want to go for it in two must decide before they hit their tee shots and play as close to the water’s edge as they dare.

The Dunes is more than just a one-hole wonder. The variety is staggering, with short forced carries over water on two holes, a heroic risk/reward carry choice on another, and a pond in front of the green on the par-5 18th. The second hole doglegs so severely that to have a decent chance of reaching the green in two, the tee shot must be played over the tall trees of the corner, a shot rarely demanded in golf.

After a round at The Dunes, make sure to drop by Greg Norman’s Australian Grille, one of the first fine dining restaurants in the nation owned by a golf legend, for dinner or a selection from the lengthy wine list.

Golf writer Larry Olmsted is the author of Golf Travel By Design and has appeared as a golf expert on NBC television, ESPN and CBS radio, and MSN.com.