When Bob Reuter arrived at Tidewater Golf Club in 2004 to become the Myrtle Beach course’s assistant professional, he knew it was one of the Grand Strand’s most celebrated designs, having been named by both Golf Digest and Golf Magazine as the best new public course in America in 1990.
But the Huntsville, Ala., native admits he was confused when he saw the name of the course designer: Ken Tomlinson.
“Actually, I had never heard of him before,” said Reuter, who had seen courses by the world’s top architects: Tom Fazio, Pete Dye, Jack Nicklaus and others. “And I was kind of surprised when I heard this was his only course (design)."
“I thought: well, maybe he got lucky with a beautiful piece of property. But it’s also a great design.”
In fact, Tidewater technically is not Tomlinson’s only course design – which is part of one of golf’s more unusual architecture stories.
In the mid-1980s, Tomlinson – a Columbia-based attorney – and several other golf-obsessed partners set out to build “the Augusta National of South Carolina.” They located property near Clinton in the SC Upstate and hired legendary player Arnold Palmer’s company to construct their dream course, Musgrove Mill.
But Tomlinson, fascinated by the process of course design, eventually concluded that Palmer’s designer, the late Ed Seay, was producing what Tomlinson considered a “cookie-cutter” course – not the unique design he and his partners wanted. So Tomlinson stepped in, took over the project and finished it his way, to rave reviews.
Thus inspired, he found a 600-acre site in North Myrtle Beach, positioned along the Intracoastal Waterway. In 1990, a year after delays caused by Hurricane Hugo in 1989, Tidewater opened for business. Honors from golf publications soon followed.
“In ways, I think it’s like the Ocean Course at Kiawah,” Reuter said. “It feels the same, with the grasses and green surrounds, the vegetation and wildlife, a lot of similarities. The only difference – but it’s a big one – we don’t have blind tee shots, and I like it better that way."
“Otherwise, (Tidewater) has wide fairways, greens that aren’t terribly small but are well-guarded – it’s a second-shot golf course.”
A dramatic course, too. That becomes evident at the par-3 third hole, named “Stranded,” where players must deal with deep bunkers, an elevated and undulating putting surface and the threat of the Intracoastal Waterway’s marshland, hard along the left side. The par-4 fourth, “Futch’s Site,” is a longer version of the third, with left-side views of Cherry Grove Beach across Cherry Grove Inlet and sandy dangers all around.
Another wicked par-3 is the 12th, “Wishing Well,” where players fire from 145-189 yards over marshlands to a green protected by bulkheads and bunkers. Water, in fact, comes into play on 15 of the course’s holes.
A restoration project in 2014, including rebuilding and re-surfacing (with MiniVerde Bermuda) the greens, which over time had become overly contoured with extreme humps and bumps, returned Tidewater to its original design. Bunkers also were dug out and more sand added.
“(The greens) are back to where they were, more playable,” Reuter said. The result is a true ocean golf course, with breezes off the nearby Atlantic contributing to the challenges for golfers, as well as scenic views from tee to green.
Not bad, in other words, for a first-time (or second-time?) amateur architect.
1400 Tidewater Drive, North Myrtle Beach, 843.913.2424