By Jim Maggio
The quote is attributed to both Oscar Wilde and Will Rogers, but I’ll confess I heard it initially from a Head & Shoulders commercial (which is pretty rich, coming from someone who hasn’t had a detectable hairline in 30 years).
But somehow, some way through those years, the thought stuck with me:
You never get a second chance to make a first impression.
Five golf courses in the Myrtle Beach area made the biggest first impression on me as part of my initial exposure to “The Golf Capital of the World” in the late 1990s – and in the spirit of the Valentine’s Day season, became my “first loves” of the Grand Strand golf scene, if you will. From the moment I first met them to the present day, they’ve held a special place in my heart and are well worthy of a first visit from you if you’ve yet to make one.
Man O' War – I not only wound up carding one of my best-ever 18-hole scores here, but was especially enamored of my first experience with a course that so dramatically presents its holes within the landscape of an enormous lake. To me, at least, it was far less of an intimidating factor and more of a “wow” factor that carries through to this day. And with year-round, wall-to-wall green conditions, I’ve always left that course struck by how well-conditioned it is.
Arrowhead – It’s another course that for years has followed Man O’ War’s wall-to-wall lead on a year-round basis, and whose conditions and routing along the Intracoastal produce plenty of “wow” factors of its own. But it’s the one that will always have a special place in my heart because that’s where my two oldest sons discovered their growing love of the game. My in-laws lived for years right behind the 9th tee box of Arrowhead’s Cypress nine, and as they watched the cavalcade of visiting golfers teeing it up my boys were always champing at the bit to give it a shot themselves. A few visits with them to Arrowhead’s driving range and a summer twilight nine later, they were hooked.
Whispering Pines – A family member suggested it several years ago, and it stood out to me right away not just in terms of its proximity to Myrtle Beach International Airport (it’s right across the street, offering a convenient first- or last-round option for golf vacationers traveling by air), but also in its relative seclusion. There wasn’t a house to be found along the way. Still isn’t. For years Whispering Pines was a true municipal golf course owned and operated by the City of Myrtle Beach, and in recent years has been operated by Atlantic Golf Management and maintained its popularity among visitors and locals alike for its playability and conditioning.
King's North at Myrtle Beach National– I got my first taste of it only a few years after its renowned redesign by “The King” himself, Arnold Palmer. My first time arriving at the 3rd tee at King’s North was the best true preview of what lay ahead for a round I’ll never forget. From the elevated tee box I was immediately struck by the awe-inspiring sight of multiples holes playing into and out of the water, in a left-to-right vista that’s unlike any other you’ll find on the Grand Strand golf scene. This convergence of holes includes two of King’s North’s three signature holes: to the left, “The Gambler” at No. 6, the famous par five with its renowned island fairway; and No. 12 to the right, with its island green and iconic “SC”-shaped bunkers paying homage to the Palmetto State.
(One lesson about playing King’s North I learned the hard way during my first visit: as you anticipate what’s ahead with “The Gambler” at No. 6, don’t fall asleep on the short par-four No. 5 immediately before it – and make sure you’ve got the right club off the tee. Hit it short of the dogleg, and you’re blocked from the green. Hit it long, and you’ll sail right through it and into the deep woods. I did the latter and penciled a snowman on the scorecard.)
Willbrook Plantation – The same relative who introduced me to Whispering Pines took me for my first visit to this Dan Maples classic, and my first true exposure to the full aesthetic splendor of Lowcountry golf. A healthy assortment of dramatic moss-draped oaks, blue herons, egrets, hawks and alligators were in attendance as I made a memorable trek to the first tee, and once I was able to successfully navigate one of the Myrtle Beach golf scene’s most challenging opening holes, was swept up the rest of the way by Willbrook’s beauty and playability throughout.