In the dozen years David Hyduke has been head golf professional at Cheraw State Park Golf Course, he's seen a lot of tourist golfers come and go to his somewhat off-the-beaten-path location. None, though, left quite the impression as a man who dropped by one morning en route back to his Northeast home after a vacation in Myrtle Beach.
"The guy walked in and said, ‘I want to play the 13th hole,'" Hyduke, known to friends and visitors as "Brick," says. "He said, ‘Give me a cart and I'll go out there by myself. I just want to play that hole one more time.'" Amused, Hyduke told the man, "Go right ahead," handed him the keys and watched as the fellow loaded his clubs and raced off toward Cheraw State Park's signature par-4 hole.
"He came back a little later, handed me the keys and said, ‘Thank you very much. I was coming back from the beach and I wanted to play it one more time,'" Hyduke says with a grin. "I don't know why. Either he loved the hole, or it beat him to death" - a more likely scenario - "and he'd had 2-3 days to think about it and wanted to see if he'd figured it out.
"But I don't really know. He didn't say."
The 13th can have that effect on players. At 492 yards from the back tees, the course's No. 1 handicap hole offers a wide fairway but rewards a long draw around a dogleg left, then tumbles downhill to an island green that slopes severely back-to-front and is guarded by bunkering on the right side and water in front and left. Trying to hit that green from a downhill lie is, well, challenging.
But that's the case with much of this 27-year-old Tom Jackson-designed course. Cheraw State Park isn't particularly daunting to look at - the 13th is one of three holes with water in play, and the back (blue) tees measure 6,928 yards, not long by modern standards - but Jackson's combination of strategic bunkering and elevated, undulating greens makes it more difficult than at first glance.
That fact, Hyduke says, makes the course a favorite among regulars, who travel from across South Carolina or come each spring from Canada (Toronto and Quebec are the primary markets), Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and New England. About 30 percent come via "word of mouth," Hyduke says, while others discover Cheraw online.
"We did a virtual tour on the website about five years ago, and I got a lot of people who said, ‘Hey, you're the guy on that!" he says, laughing.
What brings players to Cheraw State Park - and keeps them coming back? Hyduke says it's the combination of value (rates are $30 with cart weekdays, $35 weekends) and quality golf experiences.
"No. 1, it's reasonable and forgiving, though it can be harder on the ladies (who can play from 5,408 yards), and it's real scenic and playable," he says. The key, Hyduke says, is choosing the correct tees for one's skill level. The scorecard shows the men's middle (white) tees measure 6,129 yards and senior (golf) tees are 5,408 yards, but Hyduke sets the distances closer to 6,400 and 6,100 respectively.
For all that, Jackson gives players plenty of room to miss - but to take the best routes to each green requires precise driving. In other words, the course rewards better players while not excessively penalizing the average ones. Rough areas are not so long as to prevent recovery shots in most cases.
"The average guy hits it left-to-right, and a lot of holes are generous off the tee (to the right)," Hyduke says. "(Jackson) protects his doglegs; almost all holes have a bunker in the curve. There aren't a lot of greenside bunkers, but he puts them in strategic places and uses the slopes around the greens well." The result: good short-game play is important for optimal scoring.
Hyduke says the course has not fundamentally changed in his years there, but subtle alterations have made it easier to maintain and more user-friendly. Since the fall of 2010, under the direction of chief park ranger Mark Davies, selective tree harvesting around the greens has improved the putting surfaces, allowing more air flow and sunlight.
"Before, we had a lot of shade and with a few rough winters, we had some problems with the greens, some frozen greens in the mornings," Hyduke says. "Taking out some trees helped a bunch."
There are still plenty of hardwoods and pines to challenge golfers and delight the eye, though. Indeed, Cheraw State Park is a visual and soul-soothing treat, with almost no parallel fairways lending a sense of isolation and closeness to nature to each round.
Hyduke says that's part of what he calls the park's "get away from it all" atmosphere. Players come to play golf and relax; though there are a number of good local restaurants in Cheraw - Hyduke recommends Oscar's (German), El-Sherif (Greek, Mediterranean) and Cabin Creek (steakhouse, located half a mile from the park) - this is a state park located in a small town. Even on-site accommodations (eight 1930s-era cabins) are more rustic than luxurious; if you want night life, head to Myrtle Beach.
In fact, some visitors do both, stopping off for golf at Cheraw State Park en route to the coast - visitors such as Hyduke's mystery one-hole golfer, for instance.
In case you're wondering, the head professional says the 13th is "the hardest hole for me; even though I hit a slight draw, I can be looking at 180 yards over water off the downhill lie." His favorite holes are the par-4 15th, a straight-forward dogleg right with bunkers guarding the green's front, and the scenic par-5 18th, which offers a wide fairway and a view of the nearby lake off the tee, then turns left and uphill for the approach to another well-guarded green.
"If you know this golf course, you can hit driver on every hole but the par-3s," Hyduke says. "Most holes, if you hit a good tee shot, you can get close (on the approach)." And then there's No. 13 - which, for some players, is a whole other story.
For information on Cheraw State Park Golf Course and/or for tee times, call (800) 868-9630.