Aside from invoking the leaf rule, fall is the best time of year to play golf in the Myrtle Beach, S.C. area. It's cooler, accommodations are more affordable, and the kids are in school, not hogging the hot tub at the beach-side condos.
I confirmed that once again last week (late October, early November) during what is turning out to be an annual fall trip to the Grand Strand.
My host for three days last week was the always gracious Claude Pardue, president, CEO and principle owner of Mystical Golf, which owns and operates three strong golf courses in the area. Upon arrival, temperatures were still hitting the 80s during the day. By the end of the week, a cold front blew through, and I donned a sweater vest, which in my book is perfect golf weather.
"It hardly ever rains in the fall," said Pardue, adding that spring-time weather is much more unpredictable. "This is typical this time of year -- highs around 80 and lows in the 50s at night -- perfect."
The only downside of playing golf in the fall is that the days are shorter. And you want to avoid courses right after they overseed. Just call ahead or check the course's Web site to get the schedule.
Weather just one reason why autumn is awesome
While Myrtle Beach has somewhere around 100 golf courses, it's certainly more than a golf destination. During the summer, families flock to the beaches, driving up the price of accommodations and making golf packages more expensive.
Mystical Golf actually has a way around that in the summer. Because the company also has 24 condos near two of its courses -- The Wizard and Man O'War -- it usually beats other golf packages in terms of price, especially in the summer. For example, Mystical Golf offers three-day packages that start at less than $250 per golfer and include breakfast, lunch, a couple of beers with each round and even a steak dinner.
But Mystical Golf, like other golf courses, also teams with hotels and condominiums, which are much more affordable in the fall. And if you're looking to take those evening or morning walks on the beaches, there's nothing like having seaside digs. It's one of the things that sets the Grand Strand apart from other golf destinations. And in the fall – compared to summer and even late spring -- the beaches, restaurants and other attractions are far less crowded, definitely a plus for the traveling golfer.
Myrtle Beach restaurant scene underrated
Speaking of restaurants, each time I visit the Myrtle Beach area, I'm increasingly impressed with the dining scene. While Myrtle Beach certainly has a blue collar reputation, it's been my experience that there's something for everyone in every price range, from fine dining to great pizza and barbecue.
It wasn't always that way, Pardue said. In the last 20 years, there's been an influx of great eateries, many of them started by folks who move from other parts of the country.
One such place is Umberto's Pittsburgh-Italian Trattoria, located in Barefoot Landing in North Myrtle Beach. (Don't let the Pittsburgh Steeler memorabilia cloud your judgment here.) I'm no expert on Italian food, but I know what I like, and this I liked. Each entree comes with beans and greens, salad and angel hair pasta with marinara, which is a meal unto itself. Pardue said the house specialty Ossobuco Milanese (tender braised veal shank) is the best he's ever had. I thought the veal eggplant parmigianna was pretty perfect, too.
Of course, Myrtle Beach is a great spot for seafood lovers. In Murrells Inlet, we sampled grouper and other local dishes at Wahoo' Fish House. And back at Barefoot Landing again, the Flying Fish Public Market & Grill offers fish as fresh as the catches they have on display on ice in the front of the store. As for barbecue, right after landing, we headed over to Sticky Fingers Rib House near the airport. In addition to ribs and other traditional Carolina BBQ, Sticky Fingers also boasts slow-cooked, smoked, Texas-style beef brisket.
Pardue also took us to two of his favorite breakfast places -- Croissants Bistro & Bakery (which makes a mean Crab Cake Eggs Benedict) on Grissom Parkway in Myrtle Beach, and one of the eight Eggs Up Grill locations in the area.
Fall golf in Myrtle Beach: The courses
The most impressive aspect about Myrtle Beach golf is that there's something for everyone. Mystical Golf's lineup is right in the middle and perhaps the best value on the Strand. Even if you don't do a package, you're talking a mid-range green fee for a terrific test of golf on a course in excellent shape. And the price includes lunch and a couple of beers. Yep, these are great buddy trip courses.
My favorite of the three courses is The Wizard, which has a cool medieval castle-style clubhouse and holes with characteristics that are inspired by Scottish links courses. Over the past few years, grass-sodded bunkers have been added to the layout to give it more of a links-like feel. But best of all, the finishing stretch of the last four, which includes an island-green par 3 (the 17th), is as good as it gets.
And speaking of island greens, the course right next to The Wizard -- Man O'War -- is believed to be the only layout in the world with back-to-back island greens (14 and 15). The course is, in fact, a series of island holes, basically a golf course risen out of the water table dug up around it. Incredibly, though, you never feel pinched in, with plenty of fairway off the tee. Yes you can reasonable spray it and still score. And both of these courses are very walkable, though I don't see many taking advantage of that with cart fees included in the moderate green fees.
The third Mystical course is actually located a few miles away in Conway. The Witch (all three courses were designed by Dan Maples) is by far the most difficult, and in some ways, the most remarkable. It was built over 500 acres, much of it on swamp land, where marsh creatures live, including plenty of non-aggressive alligators, wild turkeys and waterfowl. With 4,000 feet of bridges, The Witch meanders through wetlands without disturbing the habitat, and the holes bump against the natural lakes that often come into play. With water and trees lining the fairways, you have to hit it straight here.
It's also the only one of the three courses that doesn't have bentgrass greens. There's just not enough air circulation, especially in the summertime. In fact, on a warm summer day, the heat and humidity can be downright stifling on The Witch, which makes The Witch, like so many, best to play in the fall.