South Carolina's Grand Strand stretches sixty miles from the North Carolina border to Georgetown, South Carolina—all of it prime golf territory, with Myrtle Beach as its geographic and high-profile center. But the Myrtle Beach experience, while unique, is as famous for its crowds, faceless hotels and coed party atmosphere as it is for quality golf. A more refined experience has emerged, however. South of Myrtle proper lies one of the oldest and most pristine vacation spots in the Southeast, a laid-back, low-country scene that in recent years has come to include the finest collection of courses on the coast.
Wealthy rice planters once used the unspoiled beaches and marshlands of Pawleys Island, Murrells Inlet and Litchfield Beach to escape summer fever (malaria). As new, high-end courses have popped up in the vicinity, the affliction of the day is golf. The "Southern Strand" experience, of course, is more expensive than the notoriously cheap Myrtle Beach variety, but the upgrade is well worth it. Not only are the accommodations a big step up, but the golf, too, is of a higher order—Strantz, Fazio and Nicklaus have all left their marks on courses that have attracted the LPGA and Senior PGA Tours.
The majority of the layouts are combination parkland-marshland designs routed on land originally cultivated as rice plantations just off the Waccamaw River. The plantations went bankrupt long ago, but rice fields, magnolias, azaleas and Spanish moss-laden live oaks still set the stage for golfing delights. The high season runs from March through October, but the low season offers good opportunities to play, and for less money.
Southern Strand Golf
Rhett Butler would be right at home on the courses of the Southern Strand. You can't go wrong on any of the these tracks, designed by the likes of Nicklaus, Fazio, Strantz, Player and Maples—all within a fifteen-minute drive of each other. Numerous packages are available, but call early for tee times: This is not the road less traveled.
Caledonia Golf & Fish Club
369 Caledonia Drive, Pawleys Island; 800-483-6800. Yardage: 6,526. Par: 70. Slope: 132. Architect: Mike Strantz. Green fees: $85-$150.
T&L GOLF Rating: ****1/2
Caledonia has the plush, exclusive feel of a tight, tree-lined Westchester country club on growth hormones. And the course retains the old-South character of land that was once a plantation, then a private sportsman's club (fish stew made from catfish caught here is served at the turn). The design is on the traditional side for Strantz, but his knack for the dramatic and difficult hole is still apparent. Thirteen through sixteen is a rough string of par fours (all are in the top seven in handicap rating and average 423 yards in length). Fortunately, they come near the end of the round; if you're playing poorly, your spirit is broken late enough to have already enjoyed this wonderful place.