Heathland is an early example of Doak’s minimalistic style—even though a good amount of earth had to be moved in order to sculpt a golf course out of a mostly flat site, he practiced considerable restraint, aiming as he always has to make the course look like it had always been there. This is somewhat a departure from the style of Doak’s main mentor in golf course architecture, Pete Dye, whose courses tend toward dramatic contouring (not that this is necessarily a bad thing!). Not only did he succeed in creating a course that fit its shaping nicely, he also manages to build a golf course that is a great deal of fun.
The key to Heathland’s quality is in the potential variety and variation in the course, not just hole-to-hole but day to day. Many Myrtle Beach golf courses are nice enough the first time or even once a year, but they would not hold up to multiple plays in a short period of time. Not so for the Heathland, due in large part to massive putting surfaces that cause holes to play some 40-50 yards different in yardage, depending on hole location. And the greens that are on the shallower side at the Heathland—say, 30 yards front-to-back instead of 50—tend to be very wide, yielding different looks and varying strategic demands on consecutive days.
One of the most interesting holes at the Heathland, as a result of these factors, is the beguiling 7th, a short par five modeled after the famed Road Hole at the Old Course at St. Andrews. Doak’s South Carolina version lacks the blind tee shot over the hotel of the original, but the greensite makes up for this difference with significant undulations and a fearsome Road Hole Bunker just to the left. A pin in the front of the green brings birdie and even eagle into play, while a flagstick tucked behind that nasty pit raises the difficulty of the hole by some three-quarters of a shot. It is an excellent hole.
Another strength of the Heathland’s is its relative paucity of water. Though some golf courses like to boast about having water in play on 14 or 15 holes, this is NOT a good thing. A few times, yes, and when Doak routed a hole near a water hazard, he made sure to incorporate it into the strategy of the hole. Take the par-five 13th, for example, where a stream crosses the second-shot landing area on a diagonal and forces the player to decide whether to try to carry it and, if so, decide where the best crossing point may be. In this way, the Heathland Course engages a players mind as well as his or her physical abilities. Unfortunately, not many other courses do this terribly often.
Given the relatively low green fees at Legends as well as the huge amount of short grass needing to be maintained (the other two courses on-site have enormous greens as well), the Heathland Course is often in at least decent and often very good shape. Unfortunately, the periodic crazily high volume of traffic at the facility causes a bit of an assembly-line feel, which can spoil the experience a bit, especially with a staff that often seems a bit harried, even frosty. Nevertheless, the relatively low price one pays to play the Heathland makes some inconveniences seem more a nuisance than a deal-breaker.
The Heathland Course itself is one of the best layouts at the beach and one of the best values. Even if the service is spotty, it is well worth including on any Central Strand itinerary.