Difficulty, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, or in this case, the golfer. Trying to decipher the five most challenging courses out of the nearly 100 in the area is so subjective that no two lists may look alike depending on personal experience.
For instance, the lucky golfer who breaks par on the “most challenging” golf course in the area might not include that layout on his list. And the ratings don't help if you are the one stuck in a bunker of the golf course with the lowest degree of difficulty.
But it is possible to take the experiences of hundreds of golfers on the Grand Strand and find a pattern of pros and cons from each course. Golfers may not agree on much, but most would agree that these five challenging layouts are among the toughest, but most fun, in town:
* Dunes Golf & Beach Club: This classic Robert Trent Jones design has only gotten more challenging with time. The aesthetic beauty of the seaside course adds to the challenge as awe-struck golfers find out the hard way that the scenic setting can turn ugly quickly.
To add to The Dunes Club's degree of difficulty, the course recently reopened after undergoing a series of improvements that included adding more distance to the already taxing 7,195-yard beast. The new greens may be truer, but reaching them is harder than ever.
Perhaps the best gauge for exactly how challenging the course is to play comes from asking the many pros who have literally met their Waterloo at The Dunes Club. The 590-yard, par-5 13th hole, nicknamed “Waterloo” for the lake that stands between you and the hole, has ruined the scorecards of some of the game's best, including players in the Senior PGA Championship, US Women's Open, PGA Professionals Championship and PGA Tour Q-Schools.
* Dye Course, Barefoot Golf Resort: All four Barefoot Golf Resort layouts have their challenging features, but the Dye Course's design seems to cause the most headaches for golfers. Architect Pete Dye broke the mold when he built this 7,343-yard beast.
This par-72 with a course rating is 75.3 and ia slope rating of 149 offers challenging tests around every corner. Tight tree-lined fairways tempt golfers to go for the greens through thick forests and over unforgiving wetlands, so an extra sleeve of balls is a good idea.
The best proof of the Dye Course's high degree of difficulty comes each spring when PGA Tour pros and celebrities join forces on this course for the Hootie & The Blowfish Monday After the Masters event. Pros who tackle challenging layouts every week struggle at this event, and the celebrities, well, let's just say they're not famous for their golf games.
* Rivers Edge Golf Club: This one may come as a surprise to those who have not made the drive to Shallotte, NC, to test their skills on this Arnold Palmer design. But it's well worth the drive to play this beauty, even if it leaves your scorecard in shambles.
Built along the banks and bluffs of the Shallotte River, the scenic landscape belies its more sinister side. Although conservative in length at 6,909 yards, Rivers Edge carries a 74.7 ratings and a slope of 144, along with countless risk/reward opportunities.
Several holes, including the 570-yard par 5 No. 9, can make or break your round with the abundance of water hazards and waste bunkers scattered throughout and the layout. Even Arnie himself commented on the course's degree of difficulty when it opened as “Thee Rock” in 1999, and Rivers Edge has only gotten harder with time.
* TPC of Myrtle Beach: Designed to host professional-caliber championships, the TPC of Myrtle Beach can be a challenging tract to tackle for amateurs. Even scratch golfers comment on this Murrells Inlet layout's high degree of difficulty, yet they love the challenge.
Tom Watson won the first Senior PGA Tour event that was held here in its debut year of 2000, and his solid, all-around game is indicative of what it takes to play well on the TPC design. If there's a glaring weakness in your game, this course will expose it.
It requires a mastery of every club in the bag to get around this layout in the prescribed 72. Designed by renowned architect Thomas Fazio, the 6,950-yard layout carries a course rating is 74.0 and a slope rating of 145.
* True Blue Golf Plantation: Lowcountry beauty and charm are on full display on this Pawleys Island layout, but the gloves are off once you step up to the first tee box.
Designed by the late Mike Strantz, who also built sister course Caledonia, True Blue takes full advantage of the natural surroundings of this former rice and indigo plantation to create a challenging but enjoyable golf experience for all handicaps.
The 7,060-yard layout is surrounded by salt marshes and maritime forests, forcing players into risky shots with a high payoff. This par 72 has course rating of 73.8 and a slope rating of 139 on Bermuda grass fairways and greens that are fair but unforgiving.