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We have played the majority of the courses in the Myrtle Beach area over the last 30 years, and are familiar with many of the rest. The toughest three finishing holes on the Grand Strand of South Carolina’s coast could very well be 16 through 18 at Pawleys Plantation. Even without the almost relentless breezes that blow in from the ocean just a half mile away, the three may be among the toughest in all of the golf happy state of South Carolina.
The fun starts at the 16th, a long par 4 dogleg left with a huge live oak at the corner that is far enough out to prevent all but the biggest hitters from attempting to cut the corner. Even the big boys have good reason to hold back, since beyond the tree is just about 20 yards worth of fairway before you reach the marsh, which runs from about 160 yards out all the way to the right side of the green. Only a large greenside bunker separates the marsh from the putting surface. The problem is that if you take the conservative route to the wide part of the fairway, you leave yourself anywhere between 165 to 210 yards to a green that has a very narrow opening, with the aforementioned trap on the right and a few mean ones on the left (especially nasty since the green slopes away from them). The green also slopes back to front, with the marsh and the Pawleys Island beach framing the area beyond. Should you rip your approach shot long and left, you could find yourself on the narrow neck of Tiff Eagle grass that connects the 16th green to the tiny 13th, the short par 3 that members love to hate (the hard, small green is surrounded by marsh).
Should you conquer 16 – and by conquer, we mean escape with a one-putt par – the all-carry par 3 17th could dash your hopes for a good score. Typically played downwind, the green is contained in front by a bulkhead that echoes designer Jack Nicklaus’ tutelage with Pete Dye in the early 1980s. The green is no more than 20 paces or so deep, tough to hit on the occasional calm days, nearly impossible on windy ones. The drop area to the right of the green is no picnic either, especially when the pin is way left. The long pitch shot must negotiate a strong slope upward in the green, as well as the putting surface’s strong back to front orientation. Hit too far over the green – we’ve done it a number of times – and out of bounds comes into play. If #13 has a rival for frustration, #17 is it.
The finishing hole is almost a relief, but don’t count on it until after you have hit your drive slightly to the right of the long bunker which appears to cut half the left side of the fairway. Play too safe to the right, and you might find yourself in the trees; at best, you’ll be hitting your approach shot from a bed of pine straw. Pull your approach ever so slightly (if you are a right-handed player) and the large pond that guards that side of the green will drive you straight to the 19th hole. The best pin position – we mean the easiest – is at front, as the green narrows as it moves back and the contour is decidedly toward the water, with only a narrow trap to save you from the deep. It is a good finishing hole, not a great one perhaps, but after the 16th and 17th, you don’t need great.
Pawleys Plantation is a gated community with its entrance on Highway 17 in Pawleys Island, SC. The club is semi-private which means that anyone can play it in the summer months. At other times of the year, first choice for tee times goes to those renting homes in the community and others staying at selected local hotels. The men's tees play at 6,522 yards with a rating of 72.5 and slope of 137. For the low single-digit players, the Golden Bear tees play at 7,026 yards with a rating of 75.3 and slope of 146. All properties in Pawleys Plantation are resales, with 2 BR, 2 BA condos starting around $200,000, patio homes beginning in the mid $300s, and nice single family homes beginning north of $450,000. Your editor owns a condo in the community.
The entrance to the 16th green at Pawleys Plantation is narrow in the extreme, with marsh and traps right and traps and out of bounds left.
#17 is all carry over marsh, typically downwind. The green is not deep, with out of bounds just 15 yards over the back.
The drop area to the right of #17 is no picnic either. The pitch shot is uphill to mid-green, then downhill and left if the pin is on the far side.
The drive on #18 is longer than it looks. It will take about 200 yards to clear the large left bunker. Play too cautiously out to the right, and the trees will block your approach shot.
The last approach of the day cannot be taken for granted. The edge of a large pond guards the front left, and if you fly it, a menacing bunker awaits beyond. The green tilts toward the water, so landing on either side of the green is a dubious option.