Thistle Golf Club: So Much Sizzle, But The Steak?

Thistle Golf Club was built to be one of the premier clubs—not just courses; clubs—in the Myrtle Beach area. With a fancy clubhouse and 27 holes that were meant to evoke golf’s fatherland of Scotland, Thistle has always been billed as a something a little different from the rest of the Grand Strand golf scene. Well, if you say so…

The Course
Thistle’s three nines are given thoroughly Scottish names: MacKay, Cameron and Stewart. And but for the names, they can be a little challenging to distinguish from one another. Architect Tim Cate seems to have a habit of designing holes that are fair and uncontroversial—so uncontroversial, in fact, that it can be hard to remember them soon after one has finished playing them. The par fours do not vary much in length—driver, mid-iron, driver, short-iron, rinse and repeat—and the par threes, if it is possible, vary even less (there are less than 30 separating the longest from the shortest of the six one-shotters on property). Sometimes there will be a bunker on the right side and a series of mounds on the other, and sometimes there will be a bunker on the left side and a series of mounds on the right.

There are also big sandy waste areas that border one side of some holes, which do add some nice definition at times. But as for any comparisons to Scotland…no. There are no pot bunkers, or sea within sight, and the turf certainly is not firm and fast. That said, the course is pleasant enough; just don’t expect too be blown away.

The Experience
Thistle is one of the few remaining golf courses in the Myrtle Beach area still clinging to bentgrass greens, which means if you are visiting in the summer, expect slow and mushy conditions to prevail. In the fall, winter and spring, though, you should be in for a nice time, as Thistle does tend to keep the course in nice shape.

The clubhouse really tries hard—too hard—to amp up the faux-Scottish vibe. From the stone edifice to the big doors, it looks kind of like James Bond’s castle-like family home in the movie “Skyfall.” As for the mostly modest, cozy buildings that preside over the best courses at the Home of Golf? Not so much. But it has a locker room, which is nice.

The Verdict
Don’t get me wrong: Thistle Golf Club is nice enough, but just don’t be taken in by the imitation-Scottish stuff. That’s the window dressing. What’s really there is a fairly well-maintained if slightly bland Myrtle Beach golf course that should prove fairly reliable, if unspectacular. Enjoy Thistle with these notions in mind, but if you’re staying more than a half hour away, you can find better places to play.

(posted 1/6/14)

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