Heritage Club is One of America’s Best

May 4, 2015

The Heritage Club of Pawleys Island - about 25 minutes south of Myrtle BeachA stretch of sprawling oak trees line both sides of the road, a centuries old welcome to Heritage Club. The majesty of the trees immediately sets the tone for one of Myrtle Beach’s most memorable rounds of golf, tying players to the property’s rich history.

There are hundreds of oak trees at Heritage but the line that guides players to the clubhouse is the most impressive, and they aren’t there by happenstance.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the rows of trees were planted to divide the road leading to the original plantation home from the rest of the property.  There is another row of trees between the fourth and fifth holes, a road that once led to the home of Mr. Pawley (you know, the guy Pawleys Island was named for).

As much as the picturesque views of the marsh and the freshwater lakes, the oak trees help create visuals at Heritage that players bring home with them.  From the entrance through the peninsula green on No. 18, Heritage is one of the Myrtle Beach area’s prettiest layouts and it has an abundance of character.

The property used to be home to one of the world’s most productive rice and indigo plantations, Mr. Pawley is buried just off the fourth hole, and there is a slave cemetery, now a historical landmark, by the eighth tee. 

But a course doesn’t rise to No. 33 on Golf Digest’s list of America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses, the highest of the seven Myrtle Beach layouts included in the rankings, on the strength of beauty and character alone. Heritage Club is one of Dan Maples finest works.

The course has length at 7,118 yards from the gold tees (6,656 yards blue tees/6,310 yards white tees), but it’s a layout that favors shot makers over raw power.

“You need to get the bomb-away mentality out of your head,” first assistant head pro Sean Pearson said. “If you don’t pay attention to your yardage book (which comes complimentary), you can find yourself in trouble. You have to be precise off the tee.”

Precision off the tee is vital because Heritage is a second shot golf course, due in large part to some of the Grand Strand’s largest and most undulating greens. The South Strand gem has three greens that are more than 50 yards deep, so merely hitting the putting surface often isn’t enough. Players need to be in the right spot.

The par 3 13th hole appears to have, in the words of Pearson, a Volkswagen buried in the middle of it.  Players on the wrong side of a 50-yard green or even those facing a shorter putt above the hole will be delighted to escape with a two-putt.

The greens at Heritage, which opened in 1986, are typically bunkered but the approaches are open, giving the players the option to play the bump-and-run, a lost art on many modern courses. The open approach areas also provide high handicappers more margin for error.

Water comes into play on 11 holes, most memorably No. 13 and No. 18, the layout’s two peninsula greens.

Maples’ work at Heritage is creative throughout, presenting choices and opportunity. But along with the freedom comes risk. For example, the dual fairway is a relatively common architectural trait, but at Heritage, Maples gives players two distinct choices on the par 5 second hole.

After the drive, which shouldn’t go more than 260 yards, players must make a choice. The shorter, left fairway requires an approach over four par-killing bunkers and a green that runs from front to back.

The right fairway plays a little longer and the approach requires a carry over the lake that separates the fairways, but the bunkers don’t come into play and players have more green to work with.

“Most people don’t go to the right,” Pearson said. “It’s a little longer and it can be intimidating going over water, but it takes the bunker complexes out of play and if you go long it doesn’t kill you. If you go to the left (fairway), it’s a tougher shot.”

After golf, Heritage’s plantation style clubhouse is an ideal setting to enjoy lunch or a drink. The clubhouse deck overlooks the Waccamaw Neck marsh, an appropriate way to conclude a memorable round.

“It’s about more than golf, it’s an experience here,” Pearson said.

The Verdict: Heritage is a great golf course. No matter how you are playing, it’s impossible not to enjoy the course’s lowcountry setting. The Oak trees draped in Spanish moss and the marsh have helped created a natural environment that is a stunning home for a golf course. Heritage Club is the highest-ranked Myrtle Beach course on Golf Digest’s list of America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses, and it has earned its lofty reputation.

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