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Pine Lakes: Where history and golf meet in Myrtle Beach

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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Tom Boles greets you in a voice that's half growl, half Scottish brogue. The short, stocky 73-year-old, clad in white club shirt and black-and-white plus-fours - "knickers" to the non-golf crowd - hoists your golf bags with the strength of a younger man as he tells you about his 10 years at Myrtle Beach's first golf course, Pine Lakes- aka "The Granddaddy."

"I came to South Carolina (from California) in 1991 for the Ryder Cup, and I told my wife, ‘I kind of like this, I may retire here,'" the native of Glasgow, Scotland (he immigrated to the U.S. in 1963) says. Since coming to Myrtle Beach, he's served as a hole captain for the annual "Hootie & The Blowfish Monday After the Masters Celebrity Pro-Am in addition to his Pine Lakes duties.

He seems the perfect personification of the club's former slogan: "Where Scottish tradition meets Southern hospitality."

Not to mention golf history. Founded in 1927 as Ocean Forest Golf Club and Inn and renamed Pine Lakes International when purchased by Fred Miles in the early 1950s, the club reeks of nostalgia and important dates. Such as April 30, 1954, when a group of Time-Life executives gathered in the Robert White-designed clubhouse (listed on the National Register of Historic Places) to conceive a new weekly magazine - you know it as Sports Illustrated.

Browse through the "Snug Pub," just off the larger, 2,200-square-foot Robert White Pub, and you'll find walls hung with photos of LPGA Hall of Famers Babe Zaharias and Patty Berg; a framed copy of the original Sports Illustrated first cover; and newspaper clippings detailing the 1928 completion of 27 holes and the clubhouse's 38 guest rooms.

History is a big selling point at Pine Lakes, says head professional Michael Abraham. "We have 35 or more weddings a year here, and a lot of people come (into the Robert White-designed clubhouse, with its stately white columns and original ballroom) just to look."

And since 2009, when the course reopened after a 2 ½-year, $27 million renovation by new owners Burroughs & Chapin, more and more come to play the course. Those who remember it from the "old days" find a totally different look created by architect/ renovator Craig Schreiner.

Gone are two original holes (replaced by the current fourth and fifth holes) and many of the pines that made the old holes' corridors downright claustrophobic. Gone, also, are two par-5s that were converted (but barely shortened) to par-4s. Now, with somewhat wider fairway corridors but also with four par-4s measuring 463, 437, 438 and 450 yards, the "old" course has new, and sharp, teeth.

A recent round with assistant pro Rich Moyer and club member Mike Schwartz (the club has 130 members; tourists and tournaments account for 90 percent of play, Abraham says) revealed the course's dangers: water on a dozen holes, deep soft-sand bunkers and elevated greens that tilt and slope precariously. Add chilly mid-March winds, and the new, par-70 Pine Lakes (a deceptive 6,675 yards from the tips) was all the challenge most would want.

One of the shorter but still daunting holes is the 180-yard, par-3 16th. With water right, a cavernous bunker left and a green that slopes severely left to right, this hole will leave a memory - and a mark.

Missing are some old Pine Lakes touches: bag attendants in kilts, and especially "Big Dog," a former staffer named Perry Bellamy who served golfers cups of clam chowder in the fall, mimosas in the spring at the 11th hole (now the par-3 second). Schwartz, whose father Lambo was a member from 1967 on and an intimate of legendary South Carolina basketball coach Frank McGuire, says state health department regulations did away with outdoor servings, though the chowder is available indoors.

The clubhouse's original wooden floors, chandeliers and crown moldings remain, though. And Clay Brittain Jr., in his 80s and an original inductee into the Myrtle Beach Hall of Fame (whose plaques are clustered around an outdoor sitting area), still takes lunch at the club.

Pine Lakes is an intriguing mix of old and new. Ask Boles about the course changes and he growls, "Five or six years ago, this (course) was a pussycat." Now, it's a young lion - with sharp claws.

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.