Longing for attention: Myrtle Beach course the latest to the 8,000-yard club

For a while, Eagle Nest Golf Club has been one of a couple dozen solid, budget-oriented golf courses along the “Grand Strand” – the 70-mile stretch of coastline from just south of Wilmington, N.C. in the north to Pawleys Island, S.C. in the south that is home to nearly 100 layouts.

It can be hard to stand out from the crowd in this golf mecca. Most courses have used one or two little features in their marketing materials over the years to court customers, like the island fairway at King's North, or Farmstead Golf Links' par-6 finishing hole.

Per their ads over the years I vacationed with my family and then lived in the area, Eagle Nest’s hook always was “The Toughest Finishing Stretch in Myrtle Beach” – the long par-4 16th, long par-5 17th and the long, uphill, over-a-pond par-3 18th hole.

If you’re sensing a theme here, you’re not short on smarts. Alan Blondin of The Myrtle Beach Sun News reports that Eagle Nest’s owner, Rick Elliott, has recently introduced a new set of tee boxes – the elevated and landscaped “Perch” tees – that claim to stretch the Gene Hamm-designed course from a 6,900-yarder to more than 8,100 yards.

In reality it’s only just over 7,900 yards, according to standard measuring practices. The reported 8,168-yard figure is derived from measurements from the back tee to the back edge of each green, rather than the center. Still, Eagle Nest is the longest course in the Myrtle Beach area, eclipsing Grande Dunes Resort Club , by almost 400 yards.

Some of the eye-popping new figures on Eagle Nest's scorecard include a 266-yard back tee on the par-3 fourth hole, a 674-yard back tee on the par-5 13th and a 492-yard back tee on the par-4 15th.

That fearsome finish? It didn’t get too much longer, actually. Judging by the previous scorecard for the course, the 16th is only nine yards longer (458 vs. 449), the 17th is actually 25 yards shorter (591 vs. 616), but the 18th is now a beast at 252 yards (it previously topped out at 185 yards). Per Blodin's report :

"The Grand Strand needs this, and Eagle Nest is a good place for it," said Rick Elliott, who owns the course along with his mother, Anne. “It has created an opportunity for the professional golfer to play there, and I think we need that. At some point there’s no reason we can’t have a tournament in this area."

Far be it from me to criticize ambition – golf has benefited from energy and seemingly off-the-wall ideas recently, with Topgolf as an example of a successful one . But even if Elliott’s investment in new tee boxes pays off, it’s worth noting that even professional golfers won’t be likely to play Eagle Nest at anywhere near its 7,919-yard “real” back-tee distance.

In a hypothetical Eagle Nest-hosted tournament – likely a mini-tour event of some sort – a few things would likely keep organizers from subjecting players to the full 7,900-yard new Eagle Nest experience.

1. Pace of play. Having played some competitive golf – including in a few Myrtle Beach-based mini-tour events as an amateur – I can safely say that four and a half hours is a “fast” round and five-plus hours is more the norm on courses that top out in the 7,000- to 7,200-yard range. A professional round at a course of nearly 8,000 yards would be a six-hour affair, at least.

2. Setup practices. One near-universal fact of amateur and lower-level pro tournament I’ve observed is that if there’s a par three on the course that plays 230 yards from the tips, the tees are getting moved up to 200 yards or so. Some competitive players – even the really good ones – act like babies about certain course setup points, and having to play a 240-yard par three is one of the first things that get the tears flowing. Even the PGA Tour will move tees up on some long par threes, (the 12th at Wyndham Championship host Sedgefield Country Club is one that comes to mind). I don’t agree with it, but that’s a rant for another time.

3. Variety (or lack thereof). One great trend, sparked by Mike Davis’ ascent to power in the USGA, has been for tournament organizers to play around with hole lengths from day to day. When I played in the 2016 Florida Open, the tees on a normally 360-yard par 4 at Interlachen Country Club were moved up to about 290, making the hole drivable. The new Eagle Nest scorecard doesn’t have a lot of variety, but rather a parade of par 4s longer than 450 yards, with only one two-shotter under 400 yards. Length is just one way to test skilled golfers. It shouldn’t be the only way.

Erin Hills is instructive here. During the 2017 U.S. Open, the course’s longest daily yardage was in the first round, when the par-72 layout played 7,845 yards, well short of its theoretical maximum yardage, which includes numerous way-back tees not listed on the course scorecard.

I say “theoretical” because even though USGA officials could have flirted with or surpassed 8,000 yards at Erin Hills, they were able to give the pros all they could handle.

It's also worth noting that that yardage, which is just 74 yards less than Eagle Nest's new maximum, is a bit misleading. Erin Hills, set in the Kettle Moraine region of central Wisconsin, features firm fescue fairways and a number of elevated tee boxes. Even holes like the 681-yard par-5 18th at Erin Hills played upwards of 80 yards shorter on certain days due to some combination of downhill tee shots, favorable winds and the firm fairways.

Eagle Nest, though, sits practically at sea level in a climate that is not conducive to the fiery conditions that would make its 7,900 yards play more reasonably. Especially after any decent rain, the course from that distance would be a slog for all but the Dustin Johnsons of the world. There aren't many with his prodigious power, so I'm skeptical of the need to cater specifically to them.

At the risk of seeming too negative, I do want to genuinely applaud Elliott for taking a chance and getting his golf course some attention in what is a crowded, competitive market. And kudos to him for the other positive changes being made to Eagle Nest: drainage, cart path and bunker improvements and also new sets of shorter tees for the course's more core audience: seniors and ladies. The new Teal yardage markers allow the course to play as short as 3,679 yards.

And as off-beat an idea as it seems on the face of it, I must admit I am intrigued. As a bit of a masochist golfer, I’m tempted to try the new back tees at Eagle Nest the next time I’m in Myrtle Beach. Elliott may be onto something after all.

What do you think of this? Gimmick or savvy strategy for getting more golfers to visit? Let us know in the comments!

Tim Gavrich is a Senior Writer for Golf Advisor and the Managing Editor of the Golf Vacation Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @TimGavrich and on Instagram @TimGavrich.
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