Myrtle Beach, Mystical Style
The Wizard, The Witch and Man O' War cast quite a spell on Grand Strand golfers
By Steve Donahue
Until last October, I had never stepped foot in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
That, folks, is an embarrassing admission from a diehard, well-traveled golfer with nearly 800 courses in 50 states and 10 countries under his belt. While I'm pretty sure I had been the only golfer in North America-perhaps on earth-to have never previously teed it up in the public golf capital of the world, it sure was worth the wait.
Yes, Myrtle Beach definitely must be seen to be believed.
It only took five minutes on Highway 17-the 100-mile-long Grand Strand's main drag-for me to see why more than 3.1 million rounds are played on Myrtle Beach's 102 golf courses. The region is truly a kid-in-the-candy-store experience for traveling golfers who crave endless golf options, and countless apres-golf activities, including restaurants and bars-for every budget and taste.
It also helps that Myrtle Beach is perhaps the world's most accessible public-course mecca, as Myrtle Beach International Airport has nonstop flights on nine airlines from nearly three dozen U.S. cities.
I was part of a seven-person group (not surprisingly, I was the lone Myrtle Beach virgin) sampling the Grand Strand experience in four days, focusing on three highly acclaimed courses with distinct personalities, all owned and operated by Mystical Golf-The Witch, Man O' War and The Wizard.
We quickly discovered why Mystical Golf's terrific trio make for the ultimate "golf buddy" package destination. Mystical Golf partners with Oceana Resorts to create the Grand Strand's best stay-and-play packages for all seasons thanks to the three unique and thought-provoking courses, accommodations and gracious Southern hospitality.
Oceana Resorts' Patricia Grand Resort Hotel was our home for the trip and couldn't be more convenient for traveling golfers. First, it's right on the beach, with Atlantic Ocean views from every room. Second, it's just 10 minutes from the airport. Third, it's also close to world-class golf, dining and things to do, including Broadway at the Beach, NASCAR Speed Park, the Convention Center, Coastal Grand Mall and Tanger Outlets. And the hotel's own restaurant, Grand Central Station, is outstanding.
Several veteran Myrtle Beach visitors had told me over the years that after a few vacations it's hard to differentiate between the area's courses. Well, you'll never confuse The Witch, Man O' War and The Wizard-all designed by Dan Maples, a veteran unsung course architect who turned Mystical Golf President/CEO Claude Pardue's dream of three outstanding, totally distinct courses into reality. Golf Digest rates each from 4 to 4-1/2 stars and GOLF Magazine named them "The Best Value in America."
Pardue, an astute businessman and marketer, even personally designed each clubhouse to have its own personality, including medieval castle ruins at The Wizard and a low-slung, timbered clubhouse built on stilts over water at Man O' War, appropriate since water factors into 16 holes. Even each course's tee markers are unique. For instance, The Witch's tee markers, which resemble pointed witch's hats, are actually pointed stumps of cypress trees plucked from the Waccamaw Swamp that spawned the front nine. All three courses also feature well-stocked and creatively themed golf shops, outstanding food and beverage options, full practice facilities and world-class service.
When you're competing for business with 99 other courses in your backyard, great service is mandatory and unparalleled bang-for-your-buck is king, and The Witch, The Wizard and Man O' War provide both in droves. Pardue's goal is to not just give Myrtle Beach golfers world-class courses, playing conditions and customer service, but to also create an unforgettable, magical experience at each course that prompts gushing word-of-mouth testimonials and repeated return visits.
He has succeeded on all counts.
The 6,796-yard, par-71 Witch-often considered Mystical's signature track-was Pardue's first course, opening in 1989. The determined Pardue and Maples spent many hours dodging alligators, snakes and black bears in an attempt to find a brilliant collection of holes that magically transformed from a useless swamp into the spectacular front nine. Those holes wind spookily-OK, mystically-through 500 acres of tranquil cypress groves and wetlands. Holes separated by deep swaths of forest provide the feeling you're the only group on the course. More than 4,000 feet of wooden bridges snake through the swamp, and rolling hills add to The Witch's mystique.
Pardue opened The Wizard and Man O' War-which share a tract of land separated by a 100-acre lake-in 1996. The term "links-style" always has been thrown around recklessly when used to describe virtually treeless parkland courses, but The Wizard truly is reminiscent of a number of British Isles inland links and heathland courses I've played thanks to the layout's mound-framed fairways, deep bunkers and winding, bern-like ditches. Throw in the arched stone bridges reminiscent of St. Andrews' Old Course's Swilken Bridge and the howling wind-not to mention a 15-minute rainstorm-and we enjoyed a pretty authentic links-style experience on the 6,721-yard, par-71 gem.
Many consider Man O' War Mystical's most-challenging course. Not only does water factor into 16 holes, but the 6,967-yard, par-72 layout is the longest of the trio, and when the wind is roaring as it did during our round, hitting the true-rolling, lightning-fast greens in regulation is a real challenge. Like its sister tracks, Man O' War's holes are strong throughout, but three holes are particularly memorable. The fairway and green at the 433-yard, par-4 ninth-which played dead into the gale for us-are essentially one island surrounded by water, making accuracy mandatory. And you'll face rare back-to-back holes with island greens-the 382-yard 14th and 173-yard 15th.
While I absolutely loved all three Mystical Golf courses, The Wizard was my favorite. In fact, each layout received multiple votes when a pleased Pardue asked everyone in our group which course was our favorite.
Myrtle Beach is also second to none when it comes to post-round activities, for every palate and budget. Our group enjoyed dinners at restaurants both upscale and laid-back. Greg Norman's Australian Grille, a popular fine-dining establishment at the Barefoot Landing Golf Resort, features outstanding seafood, steak and poultry dishes, plus a wide selection of wines, including the Shark's own.
On the southern end of the Grand Strand, we all loved the Murrells Inlet Marsh Walk, a half-mile stretch of seven great dining and entertainment establishments located on the picturesque Murrells Inlet waterfront. Wide-ranging menus are highlighted by fresh seafood and wood-fire grilled steaks, not to mention countless beer options, served in a laid-back atmosphere. We would eat our meal at one restaurant, then walk to a few other places for post-dinner refreshments.
While stay-and-play packages are Myrtle Beach's bread and butter, it's tough to beat the packages provided by Mystical Golf, which is offering the "Anderson Ocean Club Mystical Special" stay-and-play package through Sept. 7, 2011, for as low as $184 person in a shared suite. The package includes three rounds of golf (one per course); three nights' accommodations at Oceana Resorts' Anderson Ocean Club in two-bedroom suites with complimentary high-speed Internet access and furnished private balconies; lunch at each course, each day; daily breakfast at the Grand Central Station; and an "Instant replay" round for cart fee only ($23). Rates vary by date, and cart fees aren't included and will be added during the booking process.
"We continue to offer guests unsurpassed value with our Myrtle Beach stay-and-play packages," Pardue says. "With three courses providing country club conditions at public course prices and the comfortable Anderson Ocean Club accommodations right on the Grand Stand, we're the 'best bang for your buck' in golf travel."
You, like I did, will assuredly fall under the spell of Mystical Golf's three golf courses. As someone who tries to avoid playing the same course or courses time and again, I would absolutely have no problem spending another entire Myrtle Beach vacation-whether it's for four days or a week-playing repeat rounds on The Wizard, The Witch and Man O' War. Each experience is that good and unique, so here's a tip of my pointed cap to Claude Pardue and his magical, mystical world on The Grand Strand.
For more information on Mystical Golf or the Anderson Ocean Club Mystical Special stay-and-play package, visit www.mysticalgolf.com or call 843-282-2977.
WHERE TO PLAY
Man O' War: 843-236-8000; www.mysticalgolf.com
The Witch: 843-448-1300; www.mysticalgolf.com
The Wizard: 843-236-9393; www.mysticalgolf.com
WHERE TO STAY
Oceana Resorts: 866-469-7853; www.oceanaresorts.com
Patricia Grand Resort Hotel: 866-270-2162; www.oceanaresorts.com
WHERE TO EAT
Greg Norman's Australian Grille: 843-361-0000; www.gregnormansaustraliangrille.com
Murrells Inlet Marsh Walk: www.murrellsinletmarshwalk.com
Article Tags: Myrtle Beach, Mystical Style
Revised: 02/04/2011 - Article Viewed 22,321 Times
About: Steve Donahue
Steve has been an award-winning editor and writer in the golf-magazine industry since 1991, following more than 15 years as Assistant Sports Editor at one of Connecticut's largest daily newspapers. Currently a freelance writer/editor and Golf Digest Course Ranking Panelist, he has enjoyed lengthy full-time stints at several publications, including Golf Digest and Senior Golfer. He has played 700-plus courses in all 50 states and 10 countries.