So you're thinking about your first golf vacation to Myrtle Beach?
While in many ways this golf mecca is one of the most convenient trips you could ever plan, you may also be a little overwhelmed. Approximately 15 million visitors come to the Grand Strand annually, and about 3.4 million rounds of golf are played.
As you can expect, the options are limitless. Here's a primer to help you get started:
Weather and rate seasonality in Myrtle Beach
Myrtle Beach was one of the first golf destinations to really push dynamic rate seasons far more complex than a simple "high" and "low" season. Golf courses can change their rate season up to a dozen times in a given year based on holidays, spring break and more.
Golf is most expensive in late March and April (low-end courses are in the $70-80 range a la carte, while top courses can charge $150-200). Beachfront hotels are most expensive in the summer (green fees are low, but prepare for humidity and regular afternoon thunderstorms).
When are both golf and lodging cheapest? Between late November and early January. The average daily rates at hotels are between $50-60 a night, and green fees hover close to summer lows.
Myrtle Beach can be as big or small as you want it to be
The terms "Myrtle Beach" and "Grand Strand" are often interchangeable as defining the 50-plus miles of coastline anchored by the city of Myrtle Beach up to Brunswick County in North Carolina and south to Pawleys Island and Georgetown. Some golf groups like to set up base at a multi-course resort like Legends Golf Resort, Ocean Ridge Plantation or Barefoot Resort, where they have all the golf they need at their doorstep.
Other groups don't mind driving 45 minutes to an hour or more up and down Highway 17 to play choice courses. The ambiance of the Grand Strand can change drastically within a few miles. The extreme north and south, Brunswick County and Pawleys Island, are more laid back and void of the party crowd you'll find in such spots closer to the epicenter as Myrtle Beach proper, North Myrtle Beach and Surfside.
Myrtle Beach and the golf package
You can book tee times a la carte at most golf courses online these days, but most courses will try to steer you toward lower rates through golf packages. It's mostly because many course owners also hotels or condos -- or at the very least have preferred partners on the lodging side. The savings do add up. Many packages will offer a free round or a free night to add onto the savings, particularly if you're willing to stay a little longer than the usual three or four nights.
Well-equipped condo accommodations
If there is a hotel room in Myrtle Beach that isn't equipped with a full kitchen or at the very least a kitchenette, I haven't seen it. Lodging options, all 98,500 rooms at 400-plus properties, from golf villas to oceanfront high rises, are geared toward the buddies or family group that likes to cook the occasional meal or at least keep a few groceries around. Many units are multi-bedroom with spacious living areas, and they run the gamut from luxury to bargains.
Winter golf and frost delays
Golf on the Carolina coast during the winter months is normally fine, though the occasional cold front can wipe out a day or two of golf (this doesn't mean you won't still see sun-starved northerners wading in the ocean despite the fact that it's 40 degrees outside).
Average winter temperatures are in the high 50s to low 60s, but frost delays can often wreak havoc on tee sheets (most courses double-tee during the winter and spring seasons). If you're hoping to play 36 holes, it might be best to stick to multi-course facilities and higher-end courses that don't pack the tee sheets.
Golf runs the gamut: bargain, middle class and top shelf
Myrtle Beach was originally known as a bargain-basement destination, but the golf boom of the 1990s into the early 2000s brought scores of higher-end properties, while a lot of the basic courses of yesteryear closed down. Today, there are a dozen of courses regularly considered for top 100 public in the U.S. consideration, while the middle class and bargain offerings are still plentiful as well.
Murrells Inlet and Pawleys Island anchor the South Strand and are home to the most concentrated collection of top-shelf courses, including True Blue, Caledonia, TPC Myrtle Beach and Pawleys Plantation.
There are even a handful of private clubs that offer a more exclusive ambiance and are possible to get on like Dunes Golf & Beach Club, Surf Golf & Beach Club and McConnell Golf Trail's Grande Dunes Members Course and Reserve Golf Club.
Myrtle Beach Airport is bigger and better than ever
A decade ago, Myrtle Beach's airport and direct-flight service was nothing compared to what it is now. So what was almost entirely a drive-to destination has become an easy flight from many northern hubs all year long. In 2013, a $113 million expansion more than doubled the amount of gates to 13, and there are more direct-flight destinations than ever, including several to Canada.
If your itinerary has you staying in Brunswick County, you can also look at flights out of Wilmington, N.C., as well.
Video: Matt Ginella talks Myrtle Beach buddies trips on Morning Drive
Top destination courses
If you're coming from the Midwest or Northeast, chances are you'd love to play some destination golf courses in a unique Lowcountry, coastal setting. While there are no "oceanfront" holes in Myrtle Beach like, say, Kiawah Island to the south, plenty of courses have holes that play along the Intracoastal Waterway like the Resort Course at Grande Dunes, Waterway Hills, Glen Dornoch, the Heritage Club and Pawleys Plantation.
Also, a good chunk of America's top golf course architects have built one or more courses here, including Tom Fazio, Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus.
So what are my favorite golf courses in Myrtle Beach?
Having lived in Myrtle Beach for close to two years and having played about half the courses here, I tend to steer golfers toward these favorites of mine: