Before Michael Burnside became head golf professional in March 2012 at Myrtle Beach’s Long Bay Golf Club
– a Jack Nicklaus Signature Course and, along with Pawleys Plantation Golf & Country Club
, the only two Nicklaus designs on the Grand Strand
– the Milwaukee native once worked at Myrtle Beach National’s King’s North
, a creation of another golfing giant: Arnold Palmer.
Burnside still remembers the rainy day back then when “The King” showed up unannounced to ride the course in an SUV and see how his design was being maintained. “He just walked in and got a hot dog,” Burnside said, laughing. “Everyone was saying, ‘Is that who I think it is?’”
While Nicklaus, to Burnside’s knowledge, has never shown up at Long Bay or Pawleys Plantation in search of a snack, like Palmer his name and imprimatur carry considerable weight in attracting players. This fall, Long Bay and Pawleys Plantation are celebrating the courses’ 25th anniversary – both were built in 1988 – by offering deals that make playing either, or both, a destination trip for avid golfers.
The two courses (originally private before opening to the public in the early 1990s) also serve as living history lessons. During his career as an architect, Nicklaus’ style has evolved and, some say, softened a bit. In 1988, though, the Golden Bear was not far removed from his playing prime, and he was designing courses that would test the 18-time major championship winner and suit his strengths.
“This is an early example of Nicklaus the architect at his most challenging,” Burnside says. Indeed, Long Bay – 7,025 yards at its longest – features links-style mounding alongside and throughout fairways, smallish elevated greens, water on seven holes and vast stretches of bunkering that some consider almost penal. Pawleys Plantation, 7,031 yards from the back tees, has less sand and larger, less elevated greens, but makes up for that with plenty of water, marshland hazards and tight fairways guarded by old-growth forests.
Which course is more difficult likely depends on players’ preferences. Regardless, “there are no ‘candy’ (easy) holes on either course,” Burnside says.
During a recent two-day visit to both courses, that assessment proved on-target. Long Bay, located along S.C. 9 in the town of Longs, about 15 minutes inland from North Myrtle Beach
, is roomier and thus a bit less daunting. Burnside’s favorite holes at his course (he’s also head pro at nearby Aberdeen, another National Golf Management course) are the par-3 fifth hole, guarded by water and two front bunkers; the par-5 seventh (water to the left front of the green, surrounded by nine bunkers); and the 18th, a dogleg right with water along the right side from dogleg to green.
Long Bay’s signature hole is the short (352 yards maximum) but intimidating par-4 10th, with its fairway surrounded on three sides by a waste bunker and finishing at an elevated, mounded green. “The impression is there’s not a lot of room, but there’s more than it seems,” Burnside says. “The key is getting it in the fairway.”
Pawleys Plantation, located on U.S. 17 just south of Pawleys Island
, gets into players’ heads early. Its No. 1 handicap hole is the close-confines par-4 second, where “there are mounds and brush on the right, trees on the left,” Burnside says. “It’s a tight driving hole,” he says. The par-3 13th and 17th holes both tee off from atop a dike, with carries over marsh to the greens.
Still, while all that sand and well-guarded, elevated greens (at Long Bay) or narrow playing corridors and reedy hazards (Pawleys Plantation) force players to think their way around, both courses from the appropriate tees are enjoyable for all levels of golfers, Burnside says. “Long Bay has a reputation that it will beat you up,” he says, “but we played the World Amateur ladies here (in late August) for two days, and they loved it.
“(Long Bay’s) elevated greens can be intimidating; the approach shots and the smaller greens are the course’s main line of defense. Still, it’s more open off the tee than Pawleys.” Both courses’ greens are popular Champions hybrid Bermuda, a smooth-rolling yet easier-to-maintain surface.
The real challenge of Long Bay and Pawleys Plantation is the logistics of playing both, since driving time between the courses is 45 minutes-one hour. “Most who play up here (at Long Bay) will play the north end,” Burnside says. “You only have a handful of players that come up here (from Pawleys Plantation) or go down there from here.”
This 25th anniversary year, though, might be the time to try it. From now until Nov. 17, in fact, the courses offer a fall special: Play four rounds, and add a fifth round for $25.
For information on Long Bay and Pawleys Plantation, as well as other 25th anniversary specials and packages, call (866) 241-5992 or visit www.MBN.com