Golfers rave about Myrtle Beachs Waccamaw Golf Trail
The scenery transforms before your very eyes as you head south from Myrtle Beach, S.C. on Highway 17 towards the coastal resort town of Pawleys Island. Strip malls and surf stores make way for 300-year-old mossy live oaks and tiny boutique stores.
It is on this drive of about 20 miles from the heart of Myrtle Beach, you're literally witnessing the Carolina Lowcountry come to life. You're also entering one of America's most renowned golf destinations.
The Waccamaw Golf Trail is a cooperative of a dozen of the top golf courses south of Myrtle Beach, spanning from Murrells Inlet to Pawleys Island. Its namesake comes from the Waccamaw American Indian tribe who were inhabitants in this area and occupied the fertile land off the Waccamaw River, which later became home to thriving century rice plantations. Grand Strand plantation owners have been bringing their families down to this neck of the woods since the 1700s, making it one of the oldest resort towns in America.
'It's more of an upscale, Lowcountry vibe down here,' said Kevin McGuire, head professional at Willbrook Plantation Golf Club, one of the several courses that is a certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary. 'The courses here are full of live oak trees, flora and fauna.'
Many of them are full of 19th century plantation history as well. At Willbrook, a series of plaques offer golfers a brief history lesson on the land between shots. At the Heritage Club, a slave memorial grave site lies beside the fifth green.
While each Waccamaw Golf Trail course shares some common traits, you're not going to find two like courses within the bunch. Each brings something different to the table.
Waccamaw Golf Trail must-plays
While the Waccamaw Golf Trail features golf courses ranging in price from the $70 range up through $200, be sure and play at least one of these signature Waccamaw layouts during your trip:
Caledonia Golf & Fish Club is a popular choice as one of Myrtle Beach's top golf courses thanks to its character well beyond its years, opened in 1994. It's a seamless blend of modern course design by architect Mike Strantz built through some of the oldest live oaks in this part of the woods.
You're also bound to have a small gallery formed on the back porch of the clubhouse watching you finish up on the dramatic 18th hole. The clubhouse's reputation has taken on a life of its own for its onlookers' cheers and heckles.
'We try and tell people to keep it down out there, but it can be tough,' admitted Head Professional Todd Weldon of Caledonia's famous patio.
Caledonia's next door neighbor, the Heritage Club, makes a case as one of the area's most scenic, not to mention challenging, golf courses. It has a similarly grand entranceway lined with mossy oaks toward a Southern antebellum clubhouse, and holes play along the Waccamaw River and old rice plantation fields. Holes are beautifully framed with old mossy oaks and the greens, spanning to over 50 feet deep, complete with multiple levels, take on a life of their own.
Pawleys Plantation Golf & Country Club holds the distinction of being the only golf course on the trail to offer a collection of salt water marsh holes just a whiff away from the Atlantic Ocean, which make up one of the area's prettiest back nines. Two par 3s, the 13th and 17th, steal the show on one of only two Jack Nicklaus designs on the Grand Strand.
Golfers who come to Willbrook Plantation Golf Club will be greeted with an old, Southern plantation atmosphere and a wonderful blend of holes designed by local favorite architect Dan Maples, including bar none the most difficult opening hole in the area: a 410-yard dogleg right that has a narrow fairway guarded by a marsh on the left. The signature island green sixth hole, though just 125-155 yards, is sure to speed up your pulse a little.
The Tom Fazio-designed TPC of Myrtle Beach offers a brilliant blend of tour-ready challenge and destination-like scenery. It's championship pedigree is well apparent, as are its tour-ready facilities and new, lightning fast and smooth new greens installed in 2007. But the TPC is also a sleeper pick as one of the area's most scenic, full of wetlands and many species of beautiful, native bird life.
Perhaps Myrtle Beach's most striking course is True Blue Golf Plantation. The newer, sister course to Caledonia, True Blue is another Strantz design, which certainly takes it up a notch, with one-of-a-kind bunker and green shapes, and it even has a hole with alternating greens. This is a long-bombers course, featuring the widest fairways of any course in the area.
Bringing up the south end of the trail is its newest course, The Founders Club, just opened in the spring of 2008. It's similar to True Blue in that it features wide fairways and dramatic bunkering and expansive waste bunkers. Large greens, rolling elevation changes and a double fairway make the course a bold, modern design set through.
The elder statesman of the Waccamaw Golf Trail is Litchfield Country Club. Opened in 1966, it's a classic Willard Byrd design that, while a little short and tight for modern-day golf, remains one of the most pleasant walks today. It's walker friendly, and guests at the Litchfield Beach Resort can even bring their kids along to play for free.
Where to stay on the Waccamaw Golf Trail
It's easy to spot the Litchfield Golf & Beach Resort (tel. 888 766-4633) driving south on Highway 17. Just look for the massive, live oak tree with a fallen branch, a favorite photo op for visitors and area wedding pictures.
The resort is a sprawling, 600-acre facility with numerous lodging options, both on golf courses or lake and beach view rooms. There are weekly golf happy-hours most times of the year, and resort guests also receive free golf for kids at River Club, Litchfield C.C. and Willbrook Plantation with a paying adult.
For more information on the Waccamaw Golf Trail, see www.waccamawgolftrail.com or call (888) 293-7385. For Myrtle Beach tee times, call (866) 409-2177
by Brandon Tucker, WorldGolf.com
Also available at WorldGolf.com
Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta
Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.
The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.
It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.
"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."
Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.
Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.
"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."
Rahm (62) shoots career low round at CareerBuilder
After a banner year in 2017, Jon Rahm found a way to add yet another accolade to his growing list of accomplishments during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge.
Rahm got off to a fast start at La Quinta Country Club, playing his first seven holes in 6 under en route to a 10-under 62. The score marked his career low on the PGA Tour by two shots and gave him an early lead in an event that utilizes a three-course rotation.
La Quinta was the site of Adam Hadwin's 59 during last year's event, and Rahm knew full well that a quick start opened the door to a memorably low score.
"Any time you have that going for you, you get thoughts come in your head, 60, maybe 59," Rahm told reporters. "I knew that if I kept playing good I was going to have more birdie opportunities, and I tried not to get ahead of myself and I was able to do it."
Rahm birdied his first two holes before an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole sparked him to an outward 30. He added four more birdies on the inward half without dropping a shot.
The Spaniard is the highest-ranked player in the field this week, and while many players opted for a two-week stint in Hawaii he instead came home for some practice after opening the new year with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. That decision appears to have paid some early dividends as Rahm gets set to defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.
Low scores were plentiful on all three courses during the opening round, and Rahm remained pleased with his effort even though he fell short of matching Hadwin's sub-60 score from a year ago.
"That's golf. You're not going to make every single putt, you're not going to hit every shot perfect," he said. "Overall, you've got to look at the bigger picture. I birdied the last hole, had a couple of great sand saves coming in, shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for."
Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead
New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.
The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.
"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."
Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.
It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.
Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.
Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore
SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.
Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.
He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.
Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.
Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.
The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.
''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''
Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.
He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.
Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.
Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.
''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''