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Grande Dunes Resort Club: A jewel on the Grand Strand

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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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