If you're a golf course architecture junkie, chances are you love or hate the handiwork of two of the game's biggest names, Pete Dye and Tom Fazio. If your tastes are "of a certain age" regarding great players, you have opinions about the contrasting styles of Davis Love III and Greg Norman, aka "Great White Shark."
Regardless of where you come down on this renowned quartet, you'll never have a better opportunity to test yourself against each man's philosophy of golf than a long weekend at Barefoot Resort in North Myrtle Beach.
Start with Dye, the legendary "Marquis de Sod," whose devilishly difficult designs include Kiawah Island's Ocean Course, site of the 1991 Ryder Cup and 2012 PGA Championship. At Barefoot Resort, Dye used all the land's elements-gently rolling terrain, dunes, exposed sand and water-to fashion a course (the only semi-private facility in the four-course resort) that penalizes wayward shots as only he can.
Fazio, who has built more golf courses in South Carolina than in all but one other state (Florida), knew how to craft a classic Lowcountry layout, using live oaks, pines, sand and natural areas and grasses. The par-71 course is a continuous loop that only returns to the clubhouse at the 18th hole, yet the course-while visually intimidating, with water on 15 holes-is known for its playability.
Love, the two-time Ryder Cup captain who grew up in the Carolinas, also knows Lowcountry golf. In this case, he used his experiences to fashion a layout that incorporates the recreated ruins of an old plantation house in the routing of five holes. His greens complexes are reminiscent of Pinehurst No. 2, a course the North Carolina graduate knows well.
Norman, whose Australian youth was spent playing in that country's sandhills courses, uses large waste areas to define his course, which is described as a course "found in the deserts of the (U.S.) Southwest, but without the desert." Fairways flow into natural areas, bunkers are strategic and deep, and greens complexes are open but undulating.
Put them all together, and the result is a series of experiences that contrast and complement each other-and make for a memorable four rounds.
Northeast of Barefoot, S.C. 9 intersects with U.S. 17 and leads inland to the towns of Longs and Loris, as well as to a half dozen golf courses off the beaten path. Best known of these is Long Bay Golf Club, Jack Nicklaus' north end Strand design (Pawleys Plantation is on the Strand's south end), a product of the Golden Bear's "penal" era, with a wide array of difficult bunkers-the signature par-4 10th hole is flanked on both sides by sand and requires an approach shot over more sand to an elevated green-shallow greens and elevation changes that challenges the best players.
A trio of courses will take you nearly to the North Carolina state line, and each is worth the journey. Tidewater Golf Club, near Cherry Grove Beach, is the recipient of numerous national awards since novice designer Ken Tomlinson (in consultation with three-time U.S. Open champion Hale Irwin) created this gorgeous layout running along the Intracoastal Waterway. Heather Glen Golf Links (27 holes by Willard Byrd and Clyde Johnston) and Glen Dornoch Golf (Johnston) both have spectacular vistas, surprising elevation changes and challenging holes, particularly Glen Dornoch's three-hole finish along the Waterway.