MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- A smorgasbord of golf courses lines the Grand Strand.
Despite some attrition during the recession, more than 85 courses stretch from Pawleys Island, S.C., to the southern reaches of North Carolina. I haven't played them all -- has anyone? -- but I certainly have my favorites. Here are five of them:
Love Course, Barefort Resort & Golf, North Myrtle Beach
You'll love the 7,047-yard Love Course at Barefort Resort. It's cheaper than playing the Dye Course (by Pete Dye), prettier than the Norman Course (by Greg Norman) and has more soul than the Fazio Course (by Tom Fazio).
Davis Love III did a nice job adding some interesting nuances and still maintaining playability. Recreated ruins of an old plantation home frame the drivable par-4 fourth hole and the sixth green. Love constantly challenges players off the tee with cross-bunkers, such as those on no. 7, and even bunkers in the fairway, like that giant pit in the middle of the eighth fairway. Split fairways create choices on the par-5 13th and par-4 16th holes.
True Blue, Pawleys Island
Nowhere in the world are there two courses by the same designer located right across the street from one another so utterly different in style.
The difficulty of True Blue forced architect Mike Strantz to return in 2000, just two years after its opening, to tweak nine holes and convert the greens to TifEagle Bermuda. The changes elevated the 7,126-yard golf course to star status almost on par with neighboring Caledonia.
True Blue's collection of gigantic fairways, greens and waste areas allow golfers to spray the ball and remain in play. Scoring opportunities only present themselves by playing proper angles off the tee and tidy approach shots to tricky greens.
The Dunes Golf and Beach Club, Myrtle Beach
Robert Trent Jones Sr.'s classic Dunes Golf and Beach Club has a proud history of tournament golf since 1948. The World Amateur Handicap Championship conducts its final round here. Legendary tour pros competed at the 1962 U.S. Women's Open and the Senior Tour Championship from 1994-99. The course will co-host the 47th PGA Professional National Championship June 22-25, 2014.
Both RTJ Sr. and his son, Rees Jones, have tinkered with the layout over the years. Jones completed a three-month project in 2013 that added 175 yards in length and gave the greens new Champions Bermuda grass.
The famed "Alligator Alley," the nickname given to holes 11-13, tends to bite back. The par-5 13th wraps around Lake Singleton, finishing at the most severe green on the 7,370-yard course.
Caledonia Golf & Fish Club, Pawleys Island
Strantz's first-ever design, dating to 1994, gives off a Lowcountry vibe stronger than any other course along the Grand Strand. Towering old oaks draped with Spanish moss line the road leading to a Caledonia Golf & Fish Club's plantation-style clubhouse.
Five par 3s, including a tiny 100-yarder, help the routing fit inside fewer than 130 acres. Little touches such as brick staircases and wood-plank walkways leading to greens enhance the natural beauty of the marshes. It's highly recommended to stay for lunch and hang out on the back porch, sitting on rocking chairs to watch how others fare on the treacherous 18th hole.
Tidewater Golf Club & Plantation, North Myrtle Beach
The stirring views of the Intracoastal Waterway and the inlet leading to the Atlantic Ocean set Ken Tomlinson's Tidewater design apart from the competition. The dramatic holes along the marshes -- the par 3s at no. 3 and no. 12, a risk-reward par 5 at no. 13 and the epic par 4 at no. 4 -- both tantalize and torment.
A massive pond makes the par-4 14th hole play tremendously difficult. The finishing hole demands a tee shot that draws around the dogleg to set up a long carry over wetland to a green sitting in the shadow of the clubhouse.