Myrtle Beach's Mystical Golf Group markets each of its three courses - The Witch, The Wizard and Man O' War - as, befitting the name, a distinct and magical experience. But it's the original course, built in 1989 and located off U.S. 544 near Conway, South Carolina, and several miles from its sisters, that seems to best capture that concept.
Graham Williams, The Witch's general manager since a year after the course opened, talks as much about its heavily wooded, 500-acre site, winding through old-growth forests and marshland, as about individual holes. "There are no houses on the course, no parallel fairways, so you feel sort of isolated," he said.
"We'll have 200 people in an outing, and players will come to us and say, ‘Where are all of them?' Especially on the front side, it feels like you're the only group out there."
Spooky ... well, you might say that, too. Williams says that members of his security crew have sworn that they've seen ghosts on the course at night. "And they don't drink," he said, laughing.
While water is in play on five holes on the front nine (none on the back), it's the tight-appearing confines of each hole - most are actually more spacious than they seem - which gives The Witch something of a claustrophobic feel when players stand on a tee and consider where to hit their drives. And each of those drives offers a different challenge, Williams said.
"Every hole is different; no two even resemble one another," he said. "Especially the five par-3s - all have separate elements. And you don't have to hit driver on every hole; you want to stay in play because of the smaller (Tif Eagle/Bermuda hybrid) greens."
Williams, from Henderson, N.C., and a former professional in Columbia, (Spring Valley Country Club) and Franklin, N.C., before joining The Witch, knows his course well. He remembers it was supposed to open earlier than it did - Hurricane Hugo delayed things a bit - and another day when a tornado roared down the 18th fairway, but veered and missed the clubhouse.
"The year Hurricane Fran hit us, we had holes - the whole front side - that were under water for 52 days," Williams said. "We used a jet ski to get around the property for a while."
Such an adventurous spirit comes in handy when you're playing the 6,796-yard (back tees), par-71 course. That's especially so at the par-4, 373-yard ninth hole, a dogleg left that demands a drive over marsh to an "island" landing area some 70 yards long but perhaps a third that wide, then a second shot - again over marsh - to an elevated, bunkers-guarded green.
A single, almost branchless tree seems hardly in play on the approach ... until your iron shot ricochets down into oblivion. "It's ... tricky," Williams says with a grin.
The Witch is rated 4 ½ stars by Golf Digest, the stoutest of the Mystical Golf properties, yet it also can be the most fun to play. Perhaps that's due to the slightly eerie feeling that seems to pervade the rolling terrain ... not that that's a bad thing.
Williams' favorite hole is the 386-yard, par-4 fourth hole, with water along the left side and in front of the green - but not just for its challenge. "Late in the afternoon, it's like heaven out there from the back tee," he said. "It's just so pretty, and there's an alligator who hangs out on the left side."
Almost magical, he might say.
For information and/or tee times, call (843) 347-2706 or go to www.mysticalgolf.com.