Grande Dunes Resort Club: A jewel on the Grand Strand

By Travel ArticlesApril 16, 2012, 4:00 am

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- Novice visitors to the Grand Strand have dozens of top-notch golf courses to choose from, so why not begin at the top? The Resort Club at Grande Dunes Resort is arguably one of the most high-end public facilities in Myrtle Beach, but it is also the highest geographically.

Until recently, I was certainly in the 'novice' category. There are many hot beds of golf in America, but none compare to the unofficial capitol of American golf: Myrtle Beach. Dotting the more than 60 miles of shoreline that is known as The Grand Strand are some 80-100 golf courses (depending on how you count and whom you ask).

Given the wealth of golf in and around Myrtle Beach, it's sort of embarrassing that I had never been there. To be honest, my uninformed impression of Myrtle Beach was that it consisted essentially of all-you-can-eat deep-fried seafood buffets and strip clubs -- and golf.

Now, though, after my first foray into Myrtle Beach -- with my family -- I must admit that my preconceptions were nearly entirely misconceived. The Grand Strand is not only a golfer's dreamscape, it is also a prime vacation destination suitable for the entire family.

In fact, the biggest challenge in planning a family golf trip to Myrtle Beach is deciding where to golf and what to do during your visit. That's where Grande Dunes comes in.

Grande Dunes' Resort Club: The course

With seven holes running along the top of a bluff overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway, Grande Dunes' Resort Club delivers the sort of inspiring views and impressive elevation changes that you would not expect from a 'Lowcountry' layout.

Since its opening in 2001, the 7,578-yard Roger Rulewich Group design has been accumulating awards and fans. In 2001, it was named a 'Top 10 You Can Play' course by Golf Magazine and was recenlty also recognized as the 'National Golf Course of the Year' by the National Golf Course Owners Association of America. Myrtle Beach locals, too, consistently vote Grande Dunes the 'Best of the Beach.'

One of the longest courses on the East Coast, the Resort Club plays even longer when you take into account that the ball doesn’t carry as far down at sea level and that the winds off the nearby ocean usually blow pretty steadily. Between these two factors, and the aforementioned elevation changes on some holes, club selection is a constant challenge.

The locals I played with told me at the start of the round that I'd have to hit at least one more club on every shot compared to the Midwest, but it took me a half-dozen holes to believe them.

Austin Hockey, first assistant professional at Grande Dunes, described the track as a 'second-shot course.' With wide fairways and generous sight-lines off the tees, the real test comes in hitting your approaches close. The more than 34 acres of fresh-water lakes that dot the course don't make this task any easier, however.

Consider, for example, the collected par 5s: all four are right around 500 yards from the blue tees (6,737 yards), but on all of them, both the tee shot and second/third shot will need to be placed precisely to avoid hazards. The par-5 seventh is a perfect example: Water pinches the fairway from both left and right at 270-280 yards out from the green and then again at 120-130 yards out from the green. The hole brings to mind that old saying about fitting a camel through the eye of a needle.

The true beauty of Grande Dunes isn't fully revealed, however, until the turn, where several of the holes run above the Intracoastal, and anything hit left is stone-cold dead. Success at the No. 1-handicap, par-5 13th lies almost completely in the second shot, which is over water and uphill to the green. It can be reached in two after a good drive (from the black, blue or white tees) if you don't get too excited and skull a fairway wood into the lake. (Sigh.)

The most memorable hole, though, is the par-3 14th. Here, your tee shot must traverse a gorge that plunges down to the Intracoastal, above which the green teeters like a dinner plate on the edge of a wobbly table. Between the vista, the wind and the enviable mansion on the hill behind the green, there are plenty of distractions.

Grande Dunes Resort Club: The verdict

Grande Dunes Resort Club is a big fish in a very big pond. The service, clubhouse facilities, and conditioning are impeccable, and the routing takes full advantage of the natural landscape. A few other courses in the area have a couple of holes overlooking the Intracoastal or with ocean views, but none offer the variety of shots and elevations.

The par 3s and 4s are generally long, whereas the par 5s are relatively shorter with hazard-defined target areas. The pros recommend that you keep an eye on the GPS in the cart, as there are a few blind hazards reachable off the tee or on second shots, depending on which tees you're playing.

Off-course fun in Myrtle Beach

Grande Dunes is located close to the middle of the Strand, a bit toward the northern end. Non-golfers will find great shopping and restaurants a few miles north at Barefoot Landing, along with the world-famous Alligator Adventure, where visitors get up close and personal (but not too up close) with some gigantic gators and crocs, including Utan, the biggest crocodile in captivity.

A bit south of Grande Dunes is the equally family-friendly Broadway at the Beach, the most-visited attraction in the entire state. Here you'll find shopping, food and entertainment ranging from zip-lining to stunt-boats, to the mind-bending WonderWorks, housed in its striking upside-down building. The moving 'underwater' walkway through the Ripley's Aquarium, also at Broadway at the Beach, will be a sure-fire favorite of the kids, too.

And don't even get me started on the miniature golf courses, which are even more numerous than the real ones (and are also really fun, especially with kids).

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Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

1. Stay healthy

So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

2. Figure out his driver

Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.

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That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

That won’t be the case at Augusta.

3. Clean up his iron play

As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

4. Get into contention somewhere

As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

“I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

“It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.

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Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA

By Rex HoggardFebruary 21, 2018, 8:01 pm

Although The Players isn’t golf’s fifth major, it received a boost in that direction this week.

The PGA of America has adjusted its criteria for eligibility into the PGA Championship, extending an exemption for the winner of The Players to three years.

According to an official with the PGA of America, the association felt the winner of The Players deserved more than a single-year exemption, which had been the case, and the move is consistent with how the PGA Tour’s annual flagship event is treated by the other majors.

Winners of The Players were already exempt for three years into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

The change will begin with this year’s PGA Championship.

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Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas may be going from the frying pan to the fire of Tiger Woods’ pairings.

Translation: He’s going from being grouped with Woods last week in the first two rounds at the Genesis Open to being grouped directly in front of Woods this week at the Honda Classic.

“Which might be even worse than playing with him,” Thomas said Wednesday.

Typically, the pairing in front of Woods deals with a lot of gallery movement, with fans racing ahead to get in position to see Woods’ next shot.

Thomas was quoted after two rounds with Tiger at Riviera saying fans “got a little out of hand,” and saying it’s disappointing some golf fans today think it’s “so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots.”

With 200,000 fans expected this week at the Honda Classic, and with the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion setting a party mood at the 16th green and 17th tee, that portion of the course figures to be quite lively at PGA National.

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Thomas was asked about that.

“I touched on this a little bit last week,” Thomas said. “I think it got blown out of proportion, was just taken out of context, and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.

“I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of. We want them cheering us on. But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times, or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate.”

Thomas said it’s more than ill-timed shouts. It’s the nature of some things being said.

“It's one thing if it's just you and I talking, but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families, or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate,” he said. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, especially on a golf course.

“I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport, not that other sports aren't, but it has that reputation.”

Thomas said the nature of the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champion Course makes it a more difficult tee shot than the raucous 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Typically, players like to hear fans get into the action before or after they hit shots. Ill-timed bluster, however, makes a shot like the one at Honda’s 17th even tougher.

“That hole is hard enough,” Thomas said. “I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water, to make it any harder. I hope it gets better, just for the sake of the game. That's not helping anything. That's not helping grow the game.”

Those who follow golf know an ill-timed shout in a player’s backswing is different than anything a fan says at a football, basketball or baseball game. An ill-timed comment in a backswing has a greater effect on the outcome of a competition.

“Just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for ... this is our jobs out here, and you hate to somehow see something that a fan does, or something that they yell, influence something that affects [a player’s] job,” Thomas said.

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Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:21 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.

McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.

“Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said.  “That's what he said.”

The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.

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The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.

“He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”