Amazing what an afternoon (and evening) of watching college football and a filling spaghetti-and-wine dinner will do for the most exhausted golfers. By 6 a.m. the next morning, we were fired up for our final day of Myrtle Beach golf, even if it meant loading the van in the pre-dawn hours to make our tee time.
As it turns out, we were about to enjoy the best experience of the weekend, both weather-wise and playing-wise. No knock on the first two courses, but after 36 holes we were finally "warmed up." Just in time to experience the unique golf style of the late Mike Strantz, former Tom Fazio associate, Mount Pleasant-based landscape artist and brilliant golf architect.
Sunday, 8:15 a.m.: True Blue Plantation
The chill of Saturday was still hanging on when we arrived at True Blue, half of the Caledonia Golf Vacations experience along with sister course Caledonia Golf & Fish Club. When the two Strantz creations first opened, local players referred to them as "Beauty and The Beast" - guess which one we were about to face? But as Bob Seganti, director of golf at True Blue since 2001 (and previously at Caledonia) explained, that's not the case any more.
"That was the initial reputation of True Blue," the Philadelphia native and 20-year Pawleys Island resident says. "Here's the back story: The property owners knew Mike had hit one out of the park with Caledonia, a success from the get-go. So when Mike came back, looked at the property across the street and said he wanted to build a course for the 10-and-better handicapper - Mike was about a 9 - the owners said, ‘Why not?'
"True Blue was perceived as much more difficult; they marketed the courses as ‘Heaven and Hell.' Well, the core market here is 14-18 (handicaps), 85 percent of our play. So in 2000, Mike softened it, changed some greens and hazards. Now, some of the (200) members will tell you if they want to post a score, they'd rather be at True Blue."
In fact, "The Beast" is now fun for all levels of play, though still challenging. The Strantz brand (he also built North Carolina's otherworldly Tobacco Road) draws some players looking for that, though Seganti says that "90 percent have no idea who Mike Strantz is. They just like the design and the conditioning."
Ah, yes, conditioning. While many courses in October are pretty much dormant, True Blue was in pristine shape - especially its fast, undulating and often severe greens. "We stopped (over-seeding the greens) last year," Seganti says. "Conditions are noticeably better since, and the transition to spring is easy now." Too, he says, "golfers now want smooth, fast greens, even if they're not always green."
Despite his Fazio ties, Strantz's designs have a Pete Dye quality, notably in the use of waste areas; True Blue has no bunkers where you can't ground a club. His big, wide fairways are his alone, though, particularly the par-5 10th, a huge piece of real estate with sandy waste areas and native grasses; ditto the big, bold 15th hole. The course's fifth par-5, No. 4, wraps left around a lake and looks impossibly long, but plays shorter than it appears.
Strantz also liked picturesque par-3 holes. The third hole features a shot over reeds and underbrush to a green bordered on two sides by a pond - and the only hole where our group recorded a birdie during the weekend (modesty prevents saying who made it) -- while Nos. 3 and 14 are surrounded by waste areas that both frame the green and make for tricky hazards.
Perhaps the best example of Strantz's visuals (and quirkiness) is the short, par-4 eighth. The tee shot to the dogleg right fairway is a blind one over a high-mounded waste area; the target line is a "boulder" (the size of a medium suitcase) atop the mound. Still, the elevated green and surrounding bunkers make the hole a challenge.
Surprisingly, the par-4 18th hole - a narrow dogleg left around water with the clubhouse as a backdrop - is uncharacteristic of the previous 17. "It's not like (Strantz's) other holes," Seganti agrees. "We wonder if (former PGA Tour player) Forrest Fezler didn't do that one" while working with Strantz. The par-5 ninth, with waste areas along the fairway, a marshy strip in front of the landing area and an elevated, multi-tiered green flanked by bunkers and severe run-offs, arguably would make a better finish.
But that's a minor complaint. Beginning to end, True Blue is a sights-and-shots adventure. It even warmed up to 60 degrees by the end of Sunday. All in all, "the beast" was a beautiful finale for MB/G3.
We can't wait until next year.
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