Golf

Bob Gillespie

SOUTH CAROLINA INSIDER

 

Beauty – and a beast: Caledonia Golf & Fish Club is Myrtle Beach’s Augusta National

Posted 10/3/2013 11:52:00 AM

Marc Guertin has spent the past 20 years in the Litchfield Beach-Pawleys Island end of the Grand Strand – which is almost exactly how long Caledonia Golf & Fish Club (where Guertin has worked since 2000 and is now head professional) has been in existence.

That’s not totally a coincidence. In fact, Guertin says, a reason he moved from a previous job in the area was because “I wanted to be on the golf side and I wanted to be at one of the best” courses in the area.

In fact, he now works at what some rankings consider THE best course in Myrtle Beach. The Mike Strantz-designed layout, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary in January, is one of a handful of area courses rated 4 ½ stars by Golf Digest – TPC Myrtle Beach, a Tom Fazio-Lanny Wadkins collaboration, is the Strand’s lone five-star – but no course, not even TPC, is more popular.

In 2010, Golf Digest ranked Caledonia No. 1 on its “Top 60 in Myrtle Beach” listing. And in April, Golf.com’s “Must-play Golf Courses in Myrtle Beach” had Caledonia first on that list, too. The course draws some 40,000 rounds a year (vs. 30,000-plus for True Blue). So why is the course so popular?

“It’s a neat piece of property, (built on) a 350-year-old rice plantation,” Guertin says. “And Mike Strantz was an artist by trade, and he put that into his designing. I’ve seen a pencil sketch of No. 17 that he did” during construction, “and it’s a black-and-white version of what’s there today.”

Strantz, a Mount Pleasant resident who later died of throat cancer, was a master at blending art and design during his brief career. His method was essentially to sketch his holes and then let work crews craft them to fit the images. That’s true of most of Strantz’s creations – Caledonia neighbor True Blue, Bulls Bay near Charleston, Tobacco Road and Tot Hill Farm in North Carolina, several courses in Virginia – but especially so with “the fish club.”

When Caledonia and True Blue first opened, a popular saying was that “Caledonia is the pretty one, True Blue the hard one.” While Guertin doesn’t buy into that – “to me, Caledonia is tougher, because it’s tighter” than True Blue – he doesn’t dispute his course’s beauty.

In fact, Caledonia has a 15-man maintenance crew, but also a 20-person landscaping team (shared with True Blue) whose duty is to make sure the course is a treat to the eyes as well … and not just those of golf junkies.

“Credit our owners (Ponderosa Inc., formed by area families) and their love of this property,” Guertin says. “They devoted a lot of time, and money, to the landscaping. There are always fresh flowers, because they’re dug up and replaced with new ones every few months. The biggest thing is the time and effort spent to keeping the course properly maintained.”

That attention to the details of the course’s periphery is the main reason, Guertin says, that Caledonia has earned a reputation as “South Carolina’s Augusta National.” Like the home of the Masters, aesthetics are as important as the strategic design.

Don’t think, though, that Caledonia is all glamour and no teeth. Like Augusta National, the course is a parkland-style layout (vs. True Blue’s links look), and also like Augusta, it puts a premium on placement of tee shots and approaches to the greens. “It’s a shot-makers’ course,” Guertin says. “You definitely have to be accurate off the tee; you can’t score from the rough here. And sometimes it’s better to miss a green in the right place than to be on the green in the wrong place.”

Two perfect examples of combining looks with strategy are Caledonia’s two finishing holes. The 17th, a 175-yard par-3, has a vast sand bunker that wraps around the elevated green (and makes up most of the land between tee and green) – stunning but also intimidating. The 18th plays to the left of a lake, then requires a carry over the water and marsh to a large but well-bunkered green.

Guertin’s personal favorite is No. 16, a dogleg-left par-4 with trees along the right side and water and bunkers guarding the left side. “There’s a landing area between two bunkers, and the approach is downhill and across the lake,” he says.

In fact, Guertin says, “I tell people it’s a golf course that’s full of potential signature holes.” Just like Augusta National.

For information and/or tee times, call (800) 483-6800 or (843) 237-3675, visit www.fishclub.com or email caledoniagolf@sc.rr.com.