NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- The sprawling Barefoot Resort & Golf can almost be described as a "mini-me" of Myrtle Beach all wrapped up into one cozy resort and real estate community.
All the qualities that attract vacationers to Myrtle Beach -- a variety of great golf courses, buddy-friendly accommodations, resort amenities, a good number of restaurants and bars, and even a few tourist traps -- call the Barefoot Resort & Golf and nearby Barefoot Landing home.
A guest could realistically stay a week without ever having to leave the resort or the Landing, an enclave of dozens of restaurants and shops across a bridge from the resort directly on North Kings Highway (Highway 17).
That's how Jamie George of Toronto vacationed at Barefoot this fall. Stuck without a car, he didn't feel too trapped. He even extended his stay, so he could play several of the resort's four courses twice.
"I liked that all the courses were right there," he said. "The Love Course was my favorite."
The "Barefoot" experience is part golf resort, part theme park and part outdoor mall. In other words, there's something for everyone.
Barefoot Resort & Golf: The courses
The debate of which golf course is best will forever rage at Barefoot. That's a good problem to have. Golf Digest has ranked the Fazio, Love and Dye Courses among the top 100 public courses in the country at one time or another.
Most first-timers like George rave about the 7,047-yard Love Course designed by Davis Love III. The recreated ruins of an old plantation home between the greens on the fourth and sixth holes add a little funk to an already interesting layout. The fourth hole is one of the few drivable par 4s along the Grand Strand. Two-foot-high brick walls from the ruins guard the front of the sixth green. Love also tossed in two green sites at the par-3 11th and split fairways at the par-5 13th and par-4 16th to spice things up further.
Tom Fazio always wins when it comes to incorporating the best mix of playability and scenery. The friendly fairways of the par-71, 6,834-yard Fazio Course, are guarded by deep bunkers on the perimeter. Water can be seen on 15 holes, but it plays more on the periphery than through the intended path.
Low-handicappers and those looking for a semiprivate experience gravitate to the 7,343-yard course by Pete Dye in a gated section of the resort with a separate clubhouse. Dye incorporates his usual bombardment of bunkers, mounding and water hazards to harass players. It costs more to play Barefoot's Dye Course, an expense most find acceptable.
The 7,035-yard Norman Course at Barefoot remains the red-headed stepchild and least popular of the four among critics and most golfers (although one staffer told me it was his favorite). Several holes on the Intracoastal Waterway -- the par-3 10th is one of the resort's best holes -- make it a perfectly fun round nonetheless.
In July 2011, the Fazio was the first to switch over from the A1-Bentgrass greens installed when the courses opened in 2000 to new Champion Bermuda greens. The transition on the Norman finished in September. New Bermuda greens on the Dye and Love Courses will come in 2012.
The heart of the Barefoot Resort & Golf revolves around the condominium towers near the Intracoastal Waterway. These high-rises are minutes from all four courses and right across the street from a conference center and Jasmine, the Spa at Barefoot Resort.
I stayed in a mammoth ground-floor unit in the North Tower with a full kitchen, three bedrooms, three bathrooms, dining room and living room, all with a swimming pool steps from the patio. A beach volleyball court sat nearby. Docksider's Grille overlooks the waterway and the yacht club, where some of the bigger boats park.
The menu and ambiance in both the clubhouse for the Love-Fazio-Norman Courses and The Dining Room at the Dye Club are perfectly suited for casual meals for golfers.
Barefoot Landing serves as an escape from the resort that's still extremely convenient. It seems almost every golf group visits Greg Norman's Australian Grille at least once for a night out during a stay. The soaring ceiling and 360 degrees of TVs at the bar create a great spot to chill out after the round. The Tiki bar of Dick's Last Resort remains a second choice.
The restaurant scene is stocked to suit any taste. The House of Blues serves Southern-inspired ribs, Creole jambalaya and voodoo shrimp. Johnny Rockets, Fire Island Grille, Joe's Crab Shack, Bully's Pub & Grill, T-Bonz Gill & Grill, Ultimate California Pizzeria and Salsarita's Fresh Cantina offer endless choices.
Dozens of small specialty shops line Barefoot Landing, including Ron Jon Surf Shop and jewelry, kite and toy stores.
Families and couples needing more than just golf can take a riverboat cruise on the Barefoot Princess or see a show at the Alabama Theater. Children will get a kick out of the mirror maze, a carousel, Alligator Adventure and Ghosts & Legends Theatre.