GOLD: 7,026 yards / par 72 / 74.5 / 142
BLUE: 6,522 yards / par 72 / 72.0 / 135
WHITE: 6,127 yards / par 72 / 70.0 / 129
YELLOW: 5,534 yards / par 72 / 67.7 / 121
RED: 4,976 yards / par 72 / 70.1 / 122 (W)
The Grand Strand is home to over 90 golf courses. Not all are luminaries in the golf world, but a very high number of them can be considered “must-see” and those high-mark courses are scattered throughout the region, from Pawleys Island in the south up to Calabash, North Carolina. In the former area sits Pawleys Plantation, one of two Jack Nicklaus Signature courses on the Grand Strand. Since it opened in 1988, Pawleys Plantation has entranced golfers with the beautiful natural setting it enjoys and confounds others with the challenge it poses.
As its rating and slope figures suggest, Pawleys Plantation is one of the most difficult courses on the Grand Strand. But instead of beating hapless players over the head constantly, it gives the golfer, regardless of handicap, opportunities for glory while punishing carelessness and poor execution sternly. It is this judiciousness that earns it an especially lofty reputation among the many high-level amateurs and mini-tour pros who spend time in the Myrtle Beach area. There are some holes where it is necessary to hit quality shots, of course, but there are a number of other holes where prudence is rewarded.
The par 5 fourth hole is a perfect example of the latter dynamic. Playing 543 yards from the back “Golden Bear” tees and a more sporting 468 yards from the middle “White Egret” tees, it features a string of three fairway bunkers that sit in the middle of the fairway, forcing an interesting decision off the tee. Hit for the narrower, lower left-hand fairway and the chance to reach the green in two shots increases. Hit for the safer right side and play the hole as a standard three-shotter. Many golfers get wide eyes off the tee and try to take the short route by slinging a drive right-to-left, only to end up in the deep fairway bunkers with little hope of making birdie.
Any discussion of Pawleys Plantation would be incomplete without due mention of perhaps the single most iconic hole on the Grand Strand, the 145-yard 13th. The putting surface, part of a double green with the 16th, juts out into the expansive marsh that separates the mainland from Pawleys Island proper. That green is effectively an island–miss it and you will likely be heading for the drop area. Hit it and you will have a good chance to make birdie. It is one of the few holes the author has seen that would yield more double bogeys than bogeys in a major amateur or professional tournament. This factor causes it to be a somewhat polarizing hole, but if you play the proper set of tees, it can be safely navigated more often than seems likely.
Until the last 18 months, Pawleys Plantation operated as an independent, semi-private facility. As such, a limited maintenance budget saw some areas of the course fail to reach peak potential of upkeep. But since National Golf Management purchased the course, proper attention has been paid to all aspects of the golf experience, including a recent project that renovated the entire practice area, from enlarging the putting green to rebuilding the short game area to expanding the grass teeing area for the driving range.
At the far end of that range sits the facility for the Phil Ritson-Mel Sole Golf School, which has been operation since 1991 and boasts locations in Atlanta, Greenville, S.C., Ellicottville, N.Y. and Mexico in addition to its post at Pawleys Plantation. Add to this a stately clubhouse with a full-service pro shop, the Palmetto Pub and a gracious and professional staff and it is easy to understand the respect Pawleys Plantation receives from locals and visitors alike.