In 2010, Golf Digest ranked Caledonia Golf and Fish Club No. 1 on its list of the "Top 60 in Myrtle Beach." And in April 2013, Golf.com's "Must-play Golf Courses in Myrtle Beach" had Caledonia first on that list, too. The Mike Strantz-designed course draws some 40,000 rounds a year. So why is it so popular?
"It's a neat piece of property, (built on) a 350-year-old rice plantation," says Marc Guertin, head professional at Caledonia. "And Mike Strantz was an artist by trade, and he put that into his designing. I've seen a pencil sketch of No. 17 that he did (during construction) and it's a black-and-white version of what's there today."
Strantz, a Mount Pleasant resident, was a master at blending art and design during his brief career. He would often sketch the designs for holes and then let work crews craft them to fit the images. That's true of most of Strantz's creations, including Caledonia neighbor True Blue, Bulls Bay near Charleston, Tobacco Road and Tot Hill Farm in North Carolina and several courses in Virginia.
Guertin says that when Caledonia and True Blue first opened, a popular saying was that Caledonia is the pretty one and True Blue is the hard one. But Guertin doesn't buy into that. He says Caledonia is tougher because it's tighter than True Blue, but he doesn't deny his course's beauty.
Caledonia boasts a 15-man maintenance crew and a 20-person landscaping team, which is shared with True Blue. Their duty is to make sure the course is a treat to the eyes and not just to golf junkies.
"Credit our owners (Ponderosa Inc., formed by area families) and their love of this property," Guertin says. "They devoted a lot of time, and money, to the landscaping. There are always fresh flowers because they're dug up and replaced with new ones every few months. The biggest thing is the time and effort spent to keep the course properly maintained."
Guertin believes that attention to the details of the course's periphery is the main reason that Caledonia has earned a reputation as "South Carolina's Augusta National." As with the home of the Masters, aesthetics are as important as the strategic design. Also like the Augusta National, Caledonia is a parkland-style layout, and it puts a premium on placement of tee shots and approaches to the greens.
"It's a shot-makers' course," Guertin says. "You definitely have to be accurate off the tee; you can't score from the rough here. And sometimes it's better to miss a green in the right place than to be on the green in the wrong place."
Two perfect examples of combining looks with strategy are Caledonia's two finishing holes. The 17th, a 175-yard par-3, has a vast sand bunker that wraps around the elevated green (and makes up most of the land between tee and green) - stunning but also intimidating. The 18th plays to the left of a lake and requires players to carry the water and marsh to a large but well-bunkered green.
Guertin's personal favorite is No. 16, a dogleg-left par-4 with trees along the right side and water and bunkers guarding the left side. "There's a landing area between two bunkers, and the approach is downhill and across the lake," he says. "I tell people it's a golf course that's full of potential signature holes." Just like Augusta National.