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Where It All Began: Myrtle Beach

Chris Rogers Chef Bellamy dishes the chowder at the seventh tee.

Photo: Chris Rogers

Farther inside the clubhouse, on a wall near the mahogany bar, were framed magazine stories about course designer Robert White, the club itself and the demolition of the Ocean Forest Hotel. On another wall was a grainy black-and-white photo of the Time-Life team: a few dozen smiling, crew-cut, nattily clothed men standing in front of a TWA DC-3, straight from the Sports Illustrated skull session. It all felt so Southern upper-crust and old-school that I half expected a mint julep to suddenly appear in my hand.

When I went back outside, the starter introduced me to my playing companions: a retiree named Rich and two high-tech businessmen, Mike and Tom, who'd come to the links that begat Myrtle Beach for a meeting. By the time we'd all shaken hands, the caddiemasters had saddled our bags into carts and we made our way toward the 557-yard first hole.

I won't go into my round itself, other than to state that I didn't harass any turtles, birds, fish, deer, woodchucks or squirrels, though I did see my fair share of them when searching for my ball in the woods and ponds that line every hole of the course. As golf days go, it ranks in the "very memorable" category: The afternoon was pretty, the guys in my foursome were cool and funny, and I hit just enough decent shots to forget about the bad ones.

Pine Lakes itself is a thing of beauty. A 135-acre course with bunkers that are sometimes invisible, wide aprons and frustratingly small greens, it rewards technicians more than long hitters. Seven of the ten par fours are under 400 yards and cry out to be played with a mashie and a spoon. But perhaps the grandest part of the whole experience was that, from anywhere, I could always see that huge old clubhouse through the groves of trees, with its promise of a cold drink welcoming golfers in.

After holing out on six, we walked around a hedge toward seven and there, as promised—on a flagstone terrace, with ladle in hand and standing over a black iron pot simmering in a wood fire—was Perry Bellamy, a.k.a. Big Dog.

"Woof! Get over here and get some of this chowder!" he literally barked. He was a large man dressed in a tall white chef's hat and tunic; he had black chef's pants on, too. Even without his tall hat, Big Dog was imposing. He was unavoidable. He was, in fact, a Very Big Dog.

I took a cup. The chowder was fantastic: tomato-y and spicy, with just enough shrimp and clams to give it depth. I finished the first cup and got a second. "Glad you like it," said Big Dog. "Woof! Woof!" But Robert Bruce was right. The soup is torrid. My partner, Rich, was already trying to drown his chowder and I, too, quickly grabbed a bottle of water from the cooler on our cart.

A minute later, we teed up on seven, where I hoped Big Dog's spices would indeed add yards to my drive.

I pulled my tee shot; the only time I went left all day.

Just after five that evening, my round at Pine Lakes finished, I sat in the clubhouse and sucked down an icy Coke. It had been a great day, but I wasn't done just yet. Knowing what I now did of Woodside, the Ocean Forest Club, Burroughs & Chapin and the Golf Capital of the World, I had to go back to the "other" Myrtle Beach. So I headed down to Dick's Last Resort, a ­beach-shack-style place—that is part of a national chain, of course—located on a small lagoon in North Myrtle Beach. Snuggled between an Olive Garden and the local House of Blues (coming: the dave matthews band) along Highway 17, the house band played mediocre Jimmy Buffett covers as waiters hustled platters of burgers and seafood around the floor. Perhaps afterward I'd go and watch the Skee-Ball players and the people on rides across the street at the amusement park. It didn't really seem to matter.

I'd come to Myrtle Beach to play a round of golf and soak up the city's strange and storied history. Now, my quest behind me, it was time to enjoy the place that had grown up where John T. Woodside's dream of a Jazz Age paradise had died. Following a cleanup visit to my hotel room, I enjoyed a satisfying dinner of seared ahi tuna—eaten as the NBA playoffs raged on big-screen TVs above the bar—and then headed out for an evening that would end I knew not where. After all, I was in ­Myrtle Beach. •


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