The Grand Strand, a 90-mile stretch from Pawleys Island, S.C., that sneaks into North Carolina, offers so many choices to golf groups that it can be a little confusing to figure out where to tee it up.
It offers up so much more than just Myrtle Beach at the epicenter. The Grand Strand's main city houses the most hotels, bars and restaurants as well as Myrtle Beach Airport, where your group will most likely arrive. But head just a few miles in either direction, and the vibe -- and golf -- becomes decidedly different.
So should you point your compass north or south?
This is no Civil War. Bob Seganti sells the Southern experience of Pawleys Island through Caledonia Golf Vacations, a package that includes the Caledonia Golf & Fish Club and True Blue Plantation. Seganti, the director of golf at True Blue, said he doesn't see any rivalry with his counterparts running courses in the North.
"We truly believe from an ownership point of view, that a rising tide raises all ships," he said. "If they (golfers visiting Myrtle Beach) don't find us (on the first trip), they will get us next time."
Myrtle Beach-area golf pros use the word "co-opetition" -- cooperation mixed with some competition -- to describe life in a destination jam-packed with courses, all represented by one marketing entity, Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday. Here are some points to consider if your group is facing the "North vs. South" dilemma.
Ranking the golf courses
Seganti joked that the only time the north and south regions might truly compete would be if they formed a softball league. He said "the quality of the golf is the same" between the two areas. But he did add this subtle hint: "I wouldn't hesitate to put out best three against their top three."
His point is valid. If you go strictly by course rankings from Golf Digest, the South holds a slight edge. The magazine ranks Caledonia and True Blue first and third, respectively, on its list of the best courses along the Grand Strand. Pawleys Island is also home to the Heritage Club (ranked seventh) and Pawleys Plantation (13th).
The North can't stack up with that star power at the top, but if you want to dig a little deeper, the region extending from North Myrtle Beach to Shallotte, N.C., delivers more depth. The North has more four-star courses (24) and more courses that have earned "top 100" magazine honors (six) than either the central or southern sections of the Strand.
Tidewater Golf Club (ranked fourth by Golf Digest) and three highly regarded courses at the Barefoot Resort & Golf -- the designs by Tom Fazio (12), Pete Dye (14) and Davis Love III (16) -- all reside in North Myrtle Beach. Toss in North Carolina to the mix -- home to River's Edge in Shallotte (sixth) and two top courses at Ocean's Ridge Plantation, Leopard's Chase (15) and Tiger's Eye (19), in Sunset Beach -- and that's six of the top 20 courses of the Grand Strand in the North stacked up against the four in the South. (For the sake of fairness, we'll throw the highly regarded TPC of Myrtle Beach in Murrell's Inlet in with the South as well).
The truth is, they're pretty evenly divided.
Two different golf experiences
The difference between the North and South lies in what type of golf you like.
Pawleys Island drips of the Deep South. Large oaks draped with Spanish moss rule the day at Caledonia. Caledonia and True Blue are built near more marshy areas, where alligator sightings are more likely. They give off the Lowcountry vibe more than any other place along the Grand Strand.
Back in the North, the Ocean Plantation courses feel more like Pinehurst. Pines and pine needles frame the fairways. There seems to be fewer forced carries over water hazards and wetlands. North of Little River, S.C., the terrain starts to roll out some decent elevation changes, especially at courses like Glen Dornoch Golf Course, River Hills Golf & Country Club and Tidewater. The courses at Barefoot Resort tend to be a well balanced mix of both locations.
If there is one deciding factor, it could be price. The top golf courses near Pawleys Island tend to be a slightly better bargain during peak season (going off of rack rates published by Golf Digest and an Internet search of a major Myrtle Beach packager).
The Internet search for an April weekend during peak season revealed that even though the southern region has the most expensive course (Caledonia), it is probably the better value when comparing high-end courses. A round for two players at Caledonia on a Saturday will cost $188 per person, followed by the TPC of Myrtle Beach ($167), True Blue ($142), Heritage Club ($117) and Pawleys Plantation ($98). Adding those five up brings the total trip to $712.
The cost of the four Barefoot Resort courses -- $187 per person -- pushes the price of the North up significantly, while the North Carolina golf courses help balance those higher green fees out. Leopard's Chase G.C. would cost $130 per person, followed by Tiger's Eye ($118) and River's Edge ($90). Playing the three highest-rated Barefoot courses, plus Tidewater ($161) and Leopard's Chase will cost a golfer $852 for five rounds. Playing just one Barefoot course and the four others, however, adds up to only $686. It's all how you package where you play.
Life after golf
Pawleys Island might boast two of the best dining haunts on the entire strip -- lunch at the clubhouse at Caledonia and dinner at Frank's or Frank's Outback, two different experiences under one roof. Still, the North wins the dining category for its overwhelming mix of restaurants and bars. The Barefoot Landing, outside the Barefoot Resort in North Myrtle Beach, houses a handful of choices for golfers, notably The House of Blues and Greg Norman's Australian Grille.
Seganti said the smaller scene in Pawleys Island attracts a different audience than the North.
"Why bigger groups stay up north is there are more restaurants," he said. "Groups the size of 22 to 38 people want different things. There are more options, nightclubs, more hustle and bustle. We are more popular with mixed groups of men and women. That would be the biggest difference. We pride ourselves in being more laid back."
North vs. South: The verdict
Here's the final tally. The South holds slight edges when it comes to the "best" golf experiences and the "better" value. The North offers a little more depth, yet holds a big advantage when it comes to the convenience of more restaurants and things to do off the golf course. This, my friends, could be called a push. When it comes to Myrtle Beach, no matter where you go, golfers are the ones who ultimately win.