You've probably noticed that taking the kids to Disney World has become a rite of passage for all parents.
It’s gotten to the point where if you haven't done it, other parents start looking at you funny.
Well, if you love golf, and enjoy traveling to play it, a visit to Myrtle Beach (or two, or three...) is a rite of passage, too. At some point, you have to go.
After all, there are nearly 100 golf courses to choose from, spread across some 70 miles of coastal South and North Carolina, known as the "Grand Strand."
Like a Disney World excursion, planning a Myrtle Beach golf trip can be intimidating for a first-timer. Heck, even if you've been a few times, you still have a lot to learn and discover.
But if you take a deep breath and follow a few basic principles, a great time is guaranteed. That's why visiting golfers play millions of rounds there each year.
(Full disclosure: I lived and worked in the Myrtle Beach golf industry for close to three years, so I may be a bit biased, but I also spoke and dealt with enough visiting golfers to know the ins and outs of the area.)
So here are my top 10 tips to help you get the most out of a Myrtle Beach trip:
1. Location, location, location. Whether it's your first Myrtle Beach golf trip or your tenth, the single most important rule to obey is: minimize driving times between where you stay and where you play. There are enough quality courses in the area that even if you're staying for a week and playing 10 or more rounds, you still won't have to drive more than a half hour to a quality course. Myrtle Beach's traffic is notorious - the building of the Highway 31 bypass road has helped some, but not enough to make driving more than 10 or 15 miles to a course less than a fool's errand, most times of year. For example, if you're staying in the quieter southern end of the Grand Strand, do not schedule rounds at Barefoot Resort or Grande Dunes. Likewise, if you're staying in North Myrtle Beach, do not put Caledonia and True Blue on your itinerary. Driving an hour to and from a course just adds a big hassle to what should be a fun and relaxing time.
2. If you fly, fly right. Myrtle Beach International Airport (MYR) does have a shiny new main terminal, and serves more cities via direct flights than you might think, including Chicago, Detroit, Toronto and Dallas. That brings hundreds of cities within a single stop of the Grand Strand. If you're in California, chances are you can still get to Myrtle Beach pretty easily.
That said, if you're planning on flying in, it may not be the best option, especially if cost is as much a factor as convenience. Flying into airports in Charleston (CHS), South Carolina and in Wilmington (ILM), North Carolina can be much cheaper (we're talking hundreds of dollars, sometimes) and still quite convenient if you're going to be staying in the southern or northern end of the Grand Strand, respectively.
MYR to Ocean Ridge Plantation: 36 miles/47 minutes ILM to Ocean Ridge Plantation: 45 miles/53 minutes
3. Know how to arrange private showings (no, we're not talking about the strip clubs). There are a few private courses in the Myrtle Beach area, but some can be accessed if you stay at the right hotels. The famous Dunes Golf & Beach Club is the main example of this, but the quiet Surf Club and, farther south, the Tom Fazio-designed Wachesaw Plantation, can also make worthwhile escapes from the crowds. A call from your home club will usually do the trick at both these clubs.
4. It's easy to add an extra level of intrigue to a round. The Caddy Girls are known nationwide for their offerings of attractive accompaniment to your round - they've been featured on the TV show Shark Tank and after getting their start in Myrtle Beach, they're now active in more than a dozen states. Rates start at $159 per caddie per foursome, with gratuity being extra.
5. To package or not to package? Myrtle Beach is the birthplace of the golf package, so it stands to reason that there is no more appropriate place to work with a third-party provider, especially given the size of the region and sheer breadth of golf and lodging options available. If you've never been before, it can be dizzying, and in such a case I think working with one of the area's packagers is well worth the minimal extra cost. In fact, many of those package companies pride themselves on having worked with some customers for a quarter-century or more. Which is not to say that you need to go that route over and over again. But if you're a first-timer? Best not to go it alone.
6. Chain restaurants are so 2008. For a long time the Myrtle Beach food scene has consisted of chain restaurants and not much else. But the last few years have seen the rise of solid-to-excellent one-off eateries that are more worthy of your patronage. There's the great Frank's, which is a must for dinner if you're looking for something upscale in Pawleys Island. Farther north, casual but substantial Maggi D's is as authentic a red-sauce-Italian joint as you'll find in South Carolina (the cannoli are amazing, too) and tiny Sobaya is an excellent option if you like non-sushi Japanese (i.e. stir-fry noodles and ramen soups). There are solid Thai and Lebanese options and even an Austrian restaurant not far from the vaunted Dunes Club. Bottom line: you can easily stay in the area a week or more and never need to fall back on Applebee's.
7. If you crave friendly competition, there's no place better. Myrtle Beach is home to the Myrtle Beach World Amateur, which wrapped up a few weeks ago. But that's far from the only fun, competitive opportunity on the calendar. If you're wanting some milder weather on your trip, the Myrtle Beach Fall Classic, a four-round, two-person event coming up this November 17-20, is a ton of fun. And each July, the Father & Son Team Classic welcomes hundreds of pairs, including grandfathers and grandsons and even father-and-daughter and mother-and-daughter divisions. And every Thanksgiving Weekend, numerous juniors descend on the area for the George Holliday Junior Tournament, which will be played for the 47th time this year.
8. No need to bring extra golf balls. Myrtle Beach is home to some of the biggest golf stores you'll ever see, headlined by multiple PGA Tour Superstore and Golfsmith locations. Covering hundreds of thousands of square feet, they're great for making an impulse purchase that will definitely turn your game around, generally killing an hour or two before dinner or after golf, or replacing lost golf balls or sweated-through gloves.
9. There are off-season deals galore. Myrtle Beach is relatively inexpensive in peak times (Mid-March to late-April; Late-September to early November), but if you are game to brave the heat of the summer or the potential for chilly conditions in the winter, it's just about the best dollar-for-dollar destination in golf. Visit in January or February and you could catch a couple days with temps in the 60s or 70s. When that happens, it really does feel like stealing. Similarly, the shoulder seasons can yield some great deals. May and early June generally have great, not-that-hot weather, and the latter half of November can be a great time to visit. Remember, though, to avoid the traffic nightmare of July 4th and if you do visit in May, you may bump up against the annual Bike Week festivities, scheduled for May 13-22, 2016.
10. Extra-curriculars abound (okay, now we're talking about strip clubs...and other things). Yes, Myrtle Beach is home to a number of gentleman's clubs. But there are less seedy non-golf activities in abundance as well. Want to ride go-karts? Broadway Grand Prix, right across the street from the popular drinking, dining and shopping spot Broadway at the Beach, is a great time. The revamped Family Kingdom amusement park is a popular destination for carnival-lovers. If it's a hot day and you need some cooling off, Myrtle Waves has more than 30 water slides and attractions. Two huge Tanger Outlet malls satisfy any shopping itches, and the beach is always an option for those who just want to chill for a few hours. Also, there's tons of fun to be had at one of Myrtle Beach's many mini-golf establishments. Where better to settle any tied bets from the course?
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