SHALLOTTE, N.C. - Your golf ball is going to find the Shallotte River at least once during your round at River's Edge Golf Club in Brunswick County north of Myrtle Beach, that's practically a guarantee.
But this river is also going to serve up some of the Carolinas' best marsh holes along the way.
So, a few golf balls surrendered to the water gods for eye candy views along six holes and others off the river further inland that are still rather easy on the eyes. Fair trade?
For golfers holed up in snowy metropolises like Toronto or New York, it's destination golf courses like River's Edge with the postcard scenery that gets them online and booking a springtime golf vacation package in the South.
Arnold Palmer's design firm, headed by project manager Erik Larsen, crafted River's Edge on prime land along the river banks and was the recipient of sparkling accolades in the coming years, and is one of the 10 courses ranked in the "Top 100 Places You Can Play" by Golf Digest in 2007.
The golf course doesn't necessarily feel like a signature Palmer course in a lot of places and is essentially nothing like King's North at Myrtle Beach National , another modern, top-shelf Arnold Palmer design down the road.
The difference is a result of the river property, as the architects seemed to sacrifice a little bit of conventional wisdom and comfortably fitting holes in favor of getting fairways and greens as close to the river as possible.
From the tips, the course plays 6,903 yards, though there are five sets total here that move all the way up to 4,692 yards, a very lady-friendly distance, where the long carries are eliminated.
It isn't the sheer length here that's challenging, but many holes are a pretty tight squeeze, either because of water or forest. From the two back sets, there are a handful of long carries, especially the 200-yard, par-3 15th hole that's all carry over water to a green that's closely guarded by O.B. left and hazard right.
But it's the signature par-5 ninth hole that is the most wild adventure, especially for first-timers to this golf course. It starts with an uphill, partially blind tee shot where you can't really tell how far the water comes in on the left of the fairway. From there, you face an awkward layup shot over marsh to an elevated landing area, before taking on a deftly challenging wedge shot to a skinny green with absolutely no room on either side or beyond the green.
Considering your approach shot will likely come from a sidehill lie, good luck with your aim.
The back side features another par 5 that runs along the river. But this time it's significantly easier. The 17th is just 490 yards from the back tees and 450 from the men's tees. The approach shot is downhill to a friendlier green location, too, so you don't even have to be a big hitter to reach in two here.
River's Edge: Green issues to be addressed in May
One knock on River's Edge has been struggling with its greens in the last few years. The current bent grass strain has struggled on this property, which can get muggy during the summer months. In hindsight, it's pretty clear there are some spots on this marshy, forested course where the air just doesn't circulate well enough to keep them healthy.
WorldGolf.com readers in our exit polls have been expressing displeasure with the greens in the last year through Nov. 21, 2008. When I played the course in the World Amateur Handicap Championship at the end of August, some greens weren't too bad, but the par-3 fifth hole's poor shape definitely left a sour taste in many players' mouths. Other greens were in decent shape, but golfers have a tendency to carry selective memories when it comes to green conditions, especially when River's Edge is rated and priced as a premium track amongst Myrtle Beach golf courses .
River's Edge Golf Club is addressing these issues this coming summer, as it will close down at the end of May 2009 for the summer and replace the bentgrass with a new strain of paspalum. The course is expected to reopen at the end of August 2009 (please check with the golf course to get specific closing and opening dates).
Peak season rates are $118, though it can be booked as low as $60 in the off-season, and you can also save money by booking a golf package. River's Edge Golf Club is located about 40 miles north of the center of Myrtle Beach.