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Golfing at Pawleys Plantation

Bob Gillespie Bob Gillespie
Bob is a former sports writer at Columbia’s The State newspaper. He enjoys golf at South Carolina’s 350-plus courses, and after a round, sampling craft beers from the Palmetto State’s breweries.
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Walk into the pro shop at Pawleys Plantation, and it's hard to miss the oversized scorecard framed and hanging on the wall behind the counter. And not just because of its dimensions.

On Oct. 11, 1988, the one and only Jack Nicklaus, the course's architect, played a grand-opening round at his then-newest creation on the Grand Strand. His score? A 37-35 - 72, even par. This, just two years after the Golden Bear had captured his sixth Masters title and 18th major title overall - standards the rest of the PGA Tour still is chasing.

Early in his architect days, Nicklaus was sometimes criticized for building golf courses that, critics said, "only Jack Nicklaus can play." At age 72, though, Nicklaus supposedly has mellowed, Pawleys Plantation assistant professional Jon Boston says.

"When I came here (three years ago), I heard a quote - I don't know if it's true - that someone asked (Nicklaus) if he would change anything in his golf courses, what would it be," Boston says, "and that he said, ‘I wouldn't make Pawleys Plantation as difficult.'

"This is a golf course that can sneak up on you, penalize you. Unless you've played here a few times, it can be difficult for the average player."

That was the case on a recent visit to Pawleys Plantation, where golf writer James Dodson spoke at a luncheon. Afterward, several members and media types joined Dodson for 18 holes, and all quickly learned what Big Jack was talking about.

"My basic philosophy is that golf is much more a game of precision than power," Nicklaus writes in the foreword to the course yardage book. "(Pawleys) is designed to reward the player who plays intelligently ... a fun course with lots of variety and (a) challenge for all levels of golfers."

Fun? Yes. Challenging? That - and then some.

Built in classic Lowcountry style, Pawleys Plantation has subtle greens, often massive bunkers and tight fairways dotted with water and marsh. Obstacles abound, especially on the course's superb three-hole finish, which member Tim Gavrich, a former collegiate golfer, calls the toughest closing stretch on the Grand Strand.

The par-4, dogleg-left 16th (444 yards from the back tees) requires a long tee shot to reach the corner, then an approach that avoids marsh, water and a large, wrap-around greenside bunker along the right side. A smaller bunker guards the left, as do old-growth trees. Boston says it's his favorite hole.

"I like its challenge," he says. "I never play it that well, but it makes me feel good about myself if I come away with a par."

The 17th, a par-3 (201 yards) demands an all-carry tee shot from atop a dike (the same teeing area as the par-3 14th) over marsh. Miss right, and a large oak tree comes into play on the recovery. At No. 18, a 443-yard par-4 with the white-pillared clubhouse as a backdrop, players must drive into a narrow fairway bordered by marsh and sand left, trees right, and then play to a deep, narrow green with sand and water on the left, a large hickory tree on the right.

"Long and straight is the ticket here," Nicklaus' instructions advise. No kidding.

"His greens make it a shot-maker's course," Boston says. "You have to know where to place the ball, and (Nicklaus) likes to put trees in the fairway," particularly at Nos. 9 and 14. The designer uses bunkers guarding all his par-5s to make the two-shot hole a rarity, while water and marsh are in play on all but one par-3: the 176-yard seventh, guarded by a massive bunker.

Nicklaus also built Long Bay Golf Club at the northern end of the Grand Strand during his "chocolate drops" (fairway mounding) period, also known as Jack's "penal days." Boston, though, believes Long Bay is "more free-swinging, more open" than Pawleys Plantation.

"Here, if you miss a fairway, there's a good chance you're in a lateral hazard or OB (out of bounds)," he says. "We do have larger greens, and both have a lot of sand."

Nicklaus does reveal a soft side, sort of. Gavrich says the front nine has tougher holes, while the back nine is "the scenic side. The back nine offers more opportunities for birdies - but also more bogeys."

It's a course to challenge all players - even Nicklaus. Just check out that scorecard.

For tee times, call (866) 694-2456 or click here. Rates start at $70, but a multi-round summer special drops the costs of subsequent rounds at Pawleys Plantation or any of its 12 sister courses (formerly the Myrtle Beach National group, now National Golf Management) as low as $40. Play four rounds and the fifth is free.

Bob Gillespie
Bob is a former sports writer at Columbia’s The State newspaper. He enjoys golf at South Carolina’s 350-plus courses, and after a round, sampling craft beers from the Palmetto State’s breweries.