PAWLEYS ISLAND, S.C. -- As golf course origins go, it's not exactly field of dreams.
Faced with rising property taxes in the early 1990s, the members of the Caledonia Fish Club figured they'd better start making some money on 120 acres of vacant land the club owned on Pawleys Island south of Myrtle Beach. Thus was Caledonia Golf and Fish Club born.
From this practical beginning grew one of the golf courses that defined the Grand Strand's shift to upscale golf and its emergence as one of America's top golf destinations.
Opened in 1994, Caledonia was the late Mike Strantz's first signature design, and it's become an area favorite. Believe the hype: This course is imaginative, challenging and unique, with scenery, service and ambiance to match.
An avid artist who was known to walk course properties making sketches before he started on blueprints, Strantz chose to heavily shape the fishing club's land, adding plenty of undulation, while seamlessly sculpting natural elements into his design.
Several mighty oak trees play integral roles, most notably in front of the seventh green and on the 13th fairway. Only one of the property's many oaks was cut down to make way for the golf course.
Don't be misled by the length (6,526 yards from the championship tees). While it's considered less difficult than its Strantz-designed sister golf course, True Blue, Caledonia has some teeth, especially on the back nine.
"If I had to truthfully handicap the golf course, I think the first four or five hardest holes would be on the back," Head Professional Todd Welden said.
No. 13 is one of the prettiest holes on Pawleys Island, but also one of the most intimidating, with the course's trickiest approach shot. The hole doglegs left around a giant oak en route to the smallest green on the course, guarded by a huge waste bunker with a pond to the left and back.
The 16th caps a run of five par 4s, all measuring 398 yards or more, with another daunting approach to a water-guarded green.
But the 18th, a relatively short par 4 at 380 yards, might be the most talked-about hole at Caledonia, wrapping around water into a shallow, well-guarded green just steps from the clubhouse. It can get downright unnerving during the warmer months, with dozens of or even hundreds of folks enjoying lunch or a post-round drink and betting on whether approach shots will splash down.
"It makes the shot into the green that much tougher" when the patio is full, Welden said. "We try and tell people to keep it down out there, but it can be tough."
Caledonia Golf and Fish Club: The verdict
Caledonia Golf and Fish Club invariably comes up when talk turns to the top golf courses in Myrtle Beach and the surrounding area, and rightly so.
The brilliance here is in the details -- the lack of housing, the mature oaks lining the drive into the club. You get what you pay for with the fine conditioning and the Champions Bermuda turf on the greens.
The course plays longer than it is -- you'll have your share of mid-to-long iron shots into greens -- and the hole diversity is fantastic. The dramatic 18th is a perfect finale to a round, or even an entire Myrtle Beach golf trip. Just be prepared for the clubhouse crowds as you finish, and have fun with it.