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
Minjee Lee co-leads Walmart NW Arkansas Championship
ROGERS, Ark. - Minjee Lee wasn't all that concerned when she missed her first cut of the year this month at the ShopRite LPGA Classic.
The ninth-ranked Australian has certainly looked at ease and back in form at Pinnacle Country Club in her first event since then.
Lee and Japan's Nasa Hataoka each shot 6-under 65 on Saturday to share the second-round lead in the NW Arkansas Championship 13-under 129. Lee is chasing her fifth victory since turning pro three years ago. It's also an opportunity to put any lingering frustration over that missed cut two weeks ago behind her for good.
''I didn't particularly hit it bad, even though I missed the cut at ShopRite, I just didn't really hole any putts,'' Lee said. ''I'd been hitting it pretty solid going into that tournament and even into this tournament, too. Just to see a couple putts roll in has been nice.''
The 22-year-old Lee needed only 24 putts during her opening 64 on Friday, helping her to match the low round of her career. Despite needing 28 putts Saturday, she still briefly took the outright lead after reaching as low as 14 under after a birdie on the par-5 seventh.
Lee missed the green on the par-4 ninth soon thereafter to lead to her only bogey of the day and a tie with the 19-year-old Hataoka, who is in pursuit of her first career win.
Hataoka birdied six of eight holes midway through her bogey-free round on Saturday. It was yet another stellar performance from the Japanese teenager, who has finished in the top 10 in four of her last five tournaments and will be a part of Sunday's final pairing.
''I try to make birdies and try to be under par, that's really the key for me to get a top ten,'' Hataoka said. ''Golf is just trying to be in the top 10 every single week, so that's the key.''
Third-ranked Lexi Thompson matched the low round of the day with a 64 to get to 11 under. She hit 17 of 18 fairways and shot a 5-under 30 on her opening nine, The American is in search of her first win since September in the Indy Women in Tech Championship.
Ariya Jutanugarn and Celine Boutier were 10 under.
First-round leader Gaby Lopez followed her opening 63 with a 75 to drop to 4 under. Fellow former Arkansas star Stacy Lewis also was 4 under after a 72.
Henley will try to put heat on Casey in final round
CROMWELL, Conn. – While it will be a tall task for anyone to catch Paul Casey at the Travelers Championship, the man who will start the round most within reach of the Englishman is Russell Henley.
Henley was in the penultimate group at TPC River Highlands on Saturday, but he’ll now anchor things during the final round as he looks to overcome a four-shot deficit behind Casey. After a 3-under 67, Henley sits at 12 under through 54 holes and one shot clear of the three players tied for third.
Henley closed his third round with a run of five straight pars, then became the beneficiary of a pair of late bogeys from Brian Harman that left Henley alone in second place.
“Could have made a couple more putts, but to end with two up-and-downs like that was nice,” Henley said. “I felt a little bit weird over the shots coming in, put me in some bad spots. But it was nice to have the short game to back me up.”
Henley has won three times on Tour, most recently at the 2017 Houston Open, and he cracked the top 25 at both the Masters and U.S. Open. But with Casey riding a wave of confidence and coming off an 8-under 62 that marked the best round of the week, he knows he’ll have his work cut out for him in order to nab trophy No. 4.
“I think I can shoot a low number on this course. You’ve got to make the putts,” Henley said. “I’m definitely hitting it well enough, and if I can get a couple putts to fall, that would be good. But I can’t control what he’s doing. I can just try to keep playing solid.”
Back from back injury, Casey eyeing another win
CROMWELL, Conn. – Given his four-shot cushion at the Travelers Championship and his recent victory at the Valspar Championship, it’s easy to forget that Paul Casey hit the disabled list in between.
Casey had to withdraw from The Players Championship because of a bad back, becoming the only player in the top 50 in the world rankings to miss the PGA Tour’s flagship event. He flew back to England to get treatment, and Casey admitted that his T-20 finish at last month’s BMW PGA Championship came while he was still on the mend.
“I wasn’t 100 percent fit with the back injury, which was L-4, L-5, S-1 (vertebrae) all out of place,” Casey said. “Big inflammation, nerve pain down the leg and up the back. I didn’t know what was going on.”
Thanks in large part to a combination of MRIs, back adjustments and anti-inflammatories, Casey finally turned the corner. His T-16 finish at last week’s U.S. Open was the first event for which he felt fully healthy since before the Players, and he’s on the cusp of a second title since March after successfully battling through the injury.
“We thought we were fixing it, but we weren’t. We were kind of hitting the effects rather than the cause,” Casey said. “Eventually we figured out the cause, which was structural.”
Casey started the third round at TPC River Highlands two shots off the lead, but he’s now four clear of Russell Henley after firing an 8-under 62 that marked the low round of the week.
Bubba thinks he'll need a Sunday 60 to scare Casey
CROMWELL, Conn. – Perhaps moreso than at most PGA Tour venues, a low score is never really out of reach at TPC River Highlands. Positioned as a welcome change of pace after the U.S. Open, the Travelers Championship offers a lush layout that often pushes the balance much closer to reward than risk.
This is where Jim Furyk shot a 58 on the par-70 layout two years ago – and he didn’t even win that week. So even though Paul Casey enters the final round with a commanding four-shot lead, there’s still plenty of hope for the chase pack that something special could be in store.
Count Bubba Watson among the group who still believe the title is up for grabs – even if it might require a Herculean effort, even by his standards.
Watson has won the Travelers twice, including in a 2015 playoff over Casey. But starting the final round in a large tie for sixth at 10 under, six shots behind Casey, he estimates that he’ll need to flirt with golf’s magic number to give the Englishman something to worry about.
“My 7 under yesterday, I need to do better than that. I’m going to have to get to like 10 [under],” Watson said. “The only beauty is, getting out in front, you have a chance to put a number up and maybe scare them. But to scare them, you’re going to have to shoot 10 under at worst, where I’m at anyway.”
Watson started the third round three shots off the lead, and he made an early move with birdies on Nos. 1 and 2 en route to an outward 32. The southpaw couldn’t sustain that momentum, as bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17 turned a potential 65 into a relatively disappointing 67.
“Bad decision on the par-3, and then a very tough tee shot for me on 17, and it just creeped into the bunker,” Watson said. “Just, that’s golf. You have mistakes every once in a while.”