MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. - Each golf trip has one: that special hole which leaves a lasting imprint in your noggin' long after you've returned home.
Myrtle Beach golf courses are chock full of them. And, interestingly enough, the concept of a "signature hole" is considered by many golf architecture historians to have been born in Myrtle Beach at the Dunes Golf and Beach Club. Robert Trent Jones' famous "Waterloo" hole, a par 5 that wraps around Lake Singleton just off the Atlantic Ocean, is the first known hole purpose built to stick out like a sore (well, a very scenic "sore") thumb.
Today's definition of a "signature hole" lies, depending on your tastes, somewhere between the best-designed, most drama-laden, most difficult or most scenic hole on any golf course.
There are roughly 100 golf courses in Myrtle Beach, and most of them have tried to employ their own offering as Myrtle Beach's best golf hole.
Here is just a sample of the headliners:
No. 6, King's North at Myrtle Beach National: Any worthy signature hole has a nickname. In this instance, No. 6 at King's North was christened by musician Kenny Rogers as "The Gambler," thanks to its island fairway that allows the hole to be played close to 100 yards shorter than the conventional dogleg left around the water. The shallow, peninsula green leaves little room for error both front, long and left. For some golfers, it makes their trip. Others call it "gimmicky," but no one deems it guilty of false advertising.
This isn't the only contender at King's North. The par-3 12th hole features an island green with "S" and "C" bunkers to the left, symbolizing "South Carolina," making it a popular favorite spot for aerial photographers.
No. 18, Caledonia Golf & Fish Club: Caledonia's 18th hole is the best closing hole on the Grand Strand thanks largely to its 19th hole.
The club has become infamous for its often rowdy back porch just steps off the 18th green. As players finish up their morning rounds, the porch fills up, and groups tend to stay here longer than most other clubhouses due to the entertainment provided by the 18th hole's approach shot: a long carry over water that sees one wet, embarrassing failure after another. Jeers and cheers echo off the porch long into late afternoon.
Of all the shots in the Grand Strand, this is the one that will most likely be watched by the most eyes and will certainly test your mettle.
No. 13, Pawleys Plantation: Pawleys' back nine hugs the marsh so close you'll always have the smell of saltwater in your nostrils. Both the par 3s on the back must carry marsh, but it's the short 13th's island green, with a miniscule putting surface jutting out into the marsh, that will have your group talking - or cursing.
And when the tide is out, you can see enough balls sitting in the muck to stock a golf shop for years.
No. 14, Grande Dunes' Resort Course: A handful of courses boast at least one striking hole along the bustling Intracoastal waterway, where anything from jet skis to fishing and luxury leisure boats pass by parallel golf holes at clubs like Arrowhead Country Club, Waterway Hills Golf Links and Myrtlewood Golf Club's Palmetto Course.
But the most distinctive is Grande Dunes' par-3 14th hole. It's a daring shot both over the waterway to a green perched to the left of it - up to 240 yards long if you're a gamer. A weak fade's only hope of finding dry surface is if it somehow lands on a shrimp boat.
No. 16, Glen Dornoch Waterway Golf Links: If your personal thesaurus has "signature" and "difficult" in the same entry, look no further than Glen Dornoch's 16th hole, which kicks off the North Strand's most sinister trio of finishing holes. It heads straight downhill towards the waterway. Depending on your length, a delicate layup is required to stay short of a perpendicular hazard.
The approach shot plays further downhill, to a green guarded left, right and back by the waterway. Often requiring a medium-to-long iron, few golfers move on to 17 with 4.
No. 6, Barefoot Resort, Love Course: Barefoot went out of its way here to leave a little something extra, recreating slave quarters behind the sixth green. In fact, the structure is so close to this drivable par 4, it isn't unheard of to actually fly the green with your drive, strike the structure and have it kick backwards onto the green.
While this structure is replicated, other courses have authentic plantation remnants. Willbrook Plantation is full of excavated slave ruins and even a cemetery. The Heritage Golf Club's 440-yard fourth is completely encircled with centuries-old oaks and a slave burial ground to the left of the green, which leaves little evidence of anytime later than the 18th century.
No. 18, Farmstead Golf Club: If "signature" means "longest," this hole is the hands-down winner. Those who haven't been to the Grand Strand aren't often aware that there are some golf courses that spill over across the border in North Carolina. But there is only one golf course that plays in both South and North Carolina and only one hole that plays in both. It's Farmstead's endless 767-yard par 6.
That's just a sample of some of the area's most vivid holes. But in the end, it comes down to what the golfer remembers when he's with his buddies a year later in the poker room and the topic of his "trip to Myrtle" comes up.
So what's yours?