MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. - The 1990s rise of upscale golf courses and resorts here brought with it the biggest names in golf design: Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio, Greg Norman, Pete Dye and plenty more.
They're commissioned to create a splash, and likely to get a golf course on all the Top 100 lists. It's worked, as 10 of the top 100 public golf courses, according to Golf Digest's most recent list, are found in Myrtle Beach.
These architects help bring headlines and upscale green fees. But there are other designers entrusted to build golf courses affordable and enjoyable for any budget.
With names not as familiar, these designers earn a tip of the cap for building an abundance of functional and exciting Myrtle Beach golf courses. They bring in the masses every year to play golf on the Grand Strand.
Golf course architect Dan Maples is the son of Ellis Maples, who was the successor to Donald Ross at Pinehurst and built the resort's No. 5 course.
You'll find the majority of Dan's designs in the mid-Atlantic region and the Carolinas, with a few others abroad. He's has had his hand in a variety of projects on the Grand Strand, assisting Danny Young's bolder tastes at the Heritage Club and Oyster Bay and building all three Mystical Golf courses.
Because Maples has built so many golf courses on different landscapes for so many owners here, it's tough to pinpoint his style. So what makes him such a popular pick? Just ask Claude Pardue, whose three Mystical Golf courses in Myrtle Beach were designed by Maples.
"In the golf course business, your facility wins based on how you build a golf course," said Pardue, owner of Mystical Golf. "We wanted to build our three courses so they could be in perfect shape - but not cost a fortune to do so. And working with a great architect like Dan Maples, we were able to do that."
Dan Maples golf designs on the Grand Strand: Sandpiper Bay Golf & Country Club, The Wizard, The Witch, Man O' War, Heritage Club, Oyster Bay Golf Links, Willbrook Plantation Golf Club, Pearl East, Pearl West and Maples at Sea Trail Golf Resort.
Tom Jackson golf courses are seldom flashy, resulting in a handful of bargains such as River Hills in Little River and Aberdeen Country Club.
Case in point: No 18 at River Club is one of the Grand Strand's best closing holes, even though there's no spectacular bunkers or waterfalls. It's just thoughtfully crafted around a pond that creates a wonderful, risk-reward tee shot and approach.
Jackson's courses were mostly built from the mid-1980s to the early '90s, before the era of skyrocketing driver and advances in ball technology. As a result, they're usually not much longer than 6,700 yards. Powerful, scratch golfers may overpower some of his courses. But for 95 percent of the players in Myrtle Beach, the courses offer plenty of golf, usually in good shape and always fun to play with a variety of fine holes.
Hilton Head-based course architect Clyde Johnston made his way to Myrtle Beach early and often. He worked as an associate of Willard Byrd, building courses in Myrtle Beach before the boom.
Johnston teamed with John Daly on a wide open, grip-it-and-rip-it track at Wicked Stick, then built an homage to A.W. Tillinghast at Shaftesbury Glen as commanded by the Glens Golf Group.
Wachesaw East is a brute that plays through wetlands and residential development. Johnston's most upscale golf course is Glen Dornoch, thanks to plenty of Intracoastal Waterway frontage and more than 40 feet of elevation change at this Little River location. In comparison to Jackson courses, Johnston-designed layouts generally play a little tougher and longer.
The late Willard Byrd enjoyed the longest run of any architect in Myrtle Beach. His career spanned nearly five decades, from the 1960s with courses like classic Litchfield Country Club, to Farmstead Golf Links in 2001. His classic designs feature lots of doglegs and tight fairways - at least those still standing. Many Byrd courses, like Calabash and Wild Wing, have closed, or like the new Founders Club laid out over Sea Gull, they've been remodeled.
Willard Byrd golf designs on the Grand Strand: Heather Glen Golf Links, Litchfield Country Club, the Byrd course at Sea Trail Golf Resort, Farmstead Golf Links and Lion's Paw at Ocean Ridge Plantation.