Talk of heavy rough, pot bunkers and the British Open never fails to stir dreams of a trip to the land of Old Tom Morris to play golf’s most revered links courses. The uneven lies, funny bounces and overcast skies of the British Isles offer a setting for golf most American’s are as intrigued by as they are unfamiliar with.
While the Myrtle Beach area can’t reproduce the blustery British conditions (or the bland cuisine), the Grand Strand is home to a plethora of courses capable of quenching a Royal Birkdale inspired thirst for links golf.
The rolling dunes along the Carolinas coast and the winds off the nearby Atlantic Ocean give Myrtle Beach layouts an environmental advantage most American links courses are unable to match.
Few courses offer the links style authenticity of the Heathland layout at Legends Resort, located in the heart of Myrtle Beach. From the clubhouse modeled after a Scottish castle to the 77 pot bunkers, some nearly deep enough to bury a basketball hoop, parts of Heathland appears as if they could have been lifted from across the Atlantic.
Bereft of trees that come into play, the level of difficulty at Heathland, a Tom Doak design, is often dependent on the strength of the ocean wind. The course features generous fairways, giving players latitude off the tee, but shots that stray too far are punished with a trip to the pampas grass and scrub vegetation that makes recovery difficult.
No shot at Heathland is more important than the approach, due to the size of the course’s greens. The 17th green at Heathland is 54 yards wide and 37 yards deep, making it, like many links courses, easier to measure putts in yards as opposed to feet.
What differentiates a links course like Heathland from the parkland layouts so familiar to American golfers is the creativity it rewards.
“(Links golf is) definitely more imaginative, more inventive,” Jeremy Cormack, first assistant pro at Legends, said. “That’s the great thing about a links course, you have options. You can take one club and hit four different shots. You can hit it high, you can hit it low, you can it soft, bump and run.”
A trip to Myrtle Beach provides more options than even the most creative players, and Heather Glen is among the best links style courses. The Little River layout has long been regarded as among the area’s best. Clyde Johnston, who worked with Willard Byrd to design the original 18 before crafting the third nine on his own, built a Scottish style layout on a piece of land that features dramatic elevation changes and stunning natural beauty.
With pot bunkers dotting the landscape and a 19th century British styled clubhouse, Heather Glen, named the No. 1 New Course in America by Golf Digest when it opened in 1987, provides more than a hint of golf in the “Old Country.”
The north end of the Grand Strand is a hot spot for links style course, and one of the best is Thistle Golf Club. Located in Sunset Beach, N.C., Thistle has long been a favorite of golf critics, earning 4.5 stars in Golf Digest’s prestigious “Best Places To Play Guide,” but has maintained a relatively low profile.
Don’t be fooled. A Tim Cate design, Thistle, a 27-hole facility, is home to rolling fairways, stacked sod bunkers and an authentic Scottish pub. Thistle takes its name from an ancient Scottish golf society and does it proud with wind-swept fairways surrounded by heather grass and an abundance of wild flowers.
Located near the heart of Myrtle Beach is Wicked Stick Golf Links, John Daly’s only signature course. The clubhouse display case is a shrine to Daly’s dramatic 1995 British Open win at St. Andrew’s, and the course, designed in collaboration with Johnston, pays homage to Daly’s grip-it-and-rip-it brand of golf and the links golf that delivered his greatest triumph.
Wicked Stick’s open fairways invite golfers to bomb the driver, and the undulating fairways and always formidable wind give it a genuine feel.
If you are looking to take a links golf trip to Myrtle Beach, keep Prestwick Country Club, located in the central part of the Grand Strand in mind. The North Strand features an abundance of courses that incorporate facets of links style golf in their design, including the West Course at Pearl Golf Links, Farmstead Golf Links, and Heather Glen’s sister courses, Glen Dornoch and Shaftesbury Glen, among others.
If the sunshine and a good time are more practical than a trans-Atlantic flight and questionable weather, Myrtle Beach can offer you a “link” to some of golf most hallowed layouts.