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There may be 52 weeks in a year but the one where the boys come to MB certainly attracts more consideration and thought than any other. Finally the time for planning and anticipation was over and it was time to head to the airport to add another chapter to the Book of Myrtle Beach. As I haven't done a trip report for our last couple of trips I've probably gone a bit over the top here and this is a big one so log off now if you don't like long reads.
This is a trip by a fourball of UK forty-somethings, Frosty, George, Clarky and Orsie, where three of us are near 20 year MB veterans and our newbie still has 4 MB trips under his belt with this year being his third on the bounce. Other than a trip in September over the 9\11(we're not coming in September again) and a couple of trips in November we've always come in the Spring golf season but this was the latest we've been in that timeframe due to the fact that the Queen very kindly had her Diamond Jubilee this year which meant we got a couple of bank holidays at the beginning of June which seemed made for Myrtle and also got us away from having to watch all the Jubilee coverage.
George, Orsie and I flew out of Gatwick via Charlotte with US Airways and Clarky came in with Delta from Manchester via Atlanta. Since we started coming to MB in the early 1990s flight prices have increased considerably and this year they were over £600 (the exchange rate is currently about $1.50 to £1)for the transatlantic flights and the connecting flights to MB. In addition you now get charged for your second checked bag which when you are golfing is unavoidable. It was up to $70 dollars each way this year and I do think US golf trips by Europeans are already suffering as a result of the high flight costs and it will only get worse. One area that has improved a lot over the years is US border security as it used to be painfully slow and staffed with the people who must have failed the customer service exams in all other walks of life.
MB Airport is undergoing a huge change with a massive amount of building work going on. It actually looks as if what is being built is quite a bit bigger than the existing terminal. The guy at the Alamo desk said all the existing airport functions will shift to the new building and the existing terminal will be converted to restaurants and shops. The Alamo desk was quiet and they had so many minivans available we could even chose what colour we wanted - we went with blue if you're interested. For those coming from the UK Alamo always seem to be in the ballpark for the cheapest prices and we find their Alamo Gold package handy as it has everything covered and also includes a tank of fuel and three additional drivers as standard.
Our first pit-stop was at Wal-Mart to stock up on Yuengling, the ingredients for our evening Sea Breeze ****tails and water and soft drinks for the golf course. Then it was the first trip of many to Martins for some of us to get some balls for the week and to have a look at what was on offer. If you've not been to Martins before it's quite intimidating as in the UK we don't have golf stores to match the sheer size of the place. We also went to Golf Dimensions and as some have mentioned they seemed to be low on stock in some areas and gave a feel that they are struggling compared to their big competitor over the road. We weren't in the market for any club purchases this year but I have to say that while in the past it made sense to make your golf purchases in the States when you came to play as you'd be paying in dollars what you'd pay in pounds in the UK that is no longer the case and I think UK golf prices are now better than the US prices.
Essential first night purchases made it was off to our condo which for the second year running was in the Barefoot Yacht Club Villas. It's difficult to see how you could better these condos and the one we have has 4 big bedrooms, two with a massive super-king size bed and two with two queen size beds. They all have their own bathrooms and the main bedroom is so big it actually feels like a small condo in it's own right. A huge kitchen/dining-room/lounge area opens onto a decent sized balcony looking onto the Intracoastal Waterway, the huge outdoor pool and Barefoot Landing and the two bedrooms at the front of the condo have their own balconies. The only negative is the big flatscreen TV in the lounge has a dodgy remote control which made the nightly presentation of the statistics relating to the many different competitions we run from each day's golf a bit of a palaver but that's a pretty small gripe.
Rather than give a running commentary on a day by day basis I'll now go through the golf first then deal with restaurants, bars, other evening activities and general observations. I should of course say that all golf was booked through Brian at the Golfdesk and if you haven't used him before then do so.
Saturday 2nd June - The Witch AM and PM
One of our favourites that we've played on every trip to MB and probably always will. Yes it's not as upscale as the rest of the courses we play but it has a unique feel amongst all the courses we've played in MB starting with it's location in the wetlands through the many bridged cart paths across the swampy areas and probably most importantly has a great layout. The course are doing a free lunch and a couple of beers if that is a further reason for any of you to play there which was a nice bonus.
It was cart path only on the front nine for both rounds as it was very damp due to the heavy rain MB had had in previous weeks. The wetland areas were the wettest we'd ever seen them. The back nine was 90 degrees though and is on a much drier bit of land. Conditions were good although the front nine played long due to the lack of run on the fairways and the bunkers were very hard due to the recent heavy rains that had washed a lot of the sand away from the bunkers and there appeared to have been no effort made to rake them into at least a slightly improved state. I had my first hole in one on the short 14th during the AM round so I've now got another reason to have fond memories of the course.
Sunday 3rd June - True Blue PM
Three of us had played True Blue many years ago and as it had been a nasty, grey, wet and windy day when I think we all hacked it around during a PM round after playing Caledonia in the morning it hadn't made much of an impression on us and and we hadn't been back. For whatever reason it made the line-up this year and we really enjoyed it which just goes to show that the weather and how you play can have a big impact on your view of a course. A really nice layout which does have a lot of waste bunkering which can sometimes be gimmicky but I think it works here. I actually think it's a better course than it's more complimented sister Caledonia. The 4th was a really good par 5 in a crescent shape round water - a much better hole in my view than the the 9th at River's Edge that gets a lot of press as the options to lay-up or go for it are fairer. Carts were allowed on waste areas and fairways and the cart girl was probably the best of the week - 8/10.
Monday 4th June - Tidewater AM and PM
For three of our fourball this is in our view the best course in MB and again is one we've played every visit. A terrific layout with lots of great holes and if you're coming to MB I think you should try and play it. The 4th is my favourite hole in town due to the location as well as the design.
Conditions were very good and while it looked as if the greens has been verticut at some point you had to look hard to notice and it didn't affect putting. The staff were probably the friendliest and most helpful all week with the starter Bill, who we remember from previous trips, being particularly good. Carts were the fastest we had all week and were fitted with GPS. The previous two days had been lovely and sunny with temperatures in the 80s but without the humidity we were expecting in June. Today was mostly overcast and we got some rain that started on the 5th hole and and lasted for a couple of holes. We often seem to get rain at Tidewater for some reason - maybe it's to make us Brits feel at home. Despite all the rain the water level in the second pond on the 10th hole in front of the green was the lowest we've ever seen - you could actually run off the fairway if you drove it too far down the right side of the hole and still be on dry land for about 12 feet after the end of the fairway.
Mention must be made of Orsie's first ever Eagle on the par five 8th where he hit one of his signature fairway woods to about 8 feet and then holed the putt - two eagles for the group in three days - there must be something in the Yuengling.
Tuesday 5th June - TPC PM
We were greeted with a wet and grey start when we opened the curtains in the condo. We called TPC to check the situation there and at that stage it looked more promising for the afternoon but on the drive down south things didn't improve and as we pulled into the course the skies got even darker and the heavens opened. While we're well used to golfing in the rain this was just a bit too wet so we sorted out four rainchecks as our schedule meant it wasn't really going to be possible to reschedule TPC for later in the week as all our remaining rounds were in the north end. Disappointing but not the end of the world as the day's break from golf gave Orsie who has back trouble the chance of a bit of recuperation and allowed us all to catch up with some shopping at Hollister and Abercrombie & Fitch in the mall by the airport and at the shops at the Tanger outlet up by North Myrtle Beach. Again some advice for anyone coming from the UK who wants to do some shopping for themselves or family, this is still tremendous value as at worst you will pay in dollars what you'd pay in pounds in the UK and even better than that for brands like Hollister and A&F which are still relatively new in Europe and very much premium in terms of prices.
Wednesday 6th June - Grande Dunes Resort Course AM and PM
The favourite course of our fourth golfer and again a top class facility in all ways. First course to include range balls in the cost and also had GPS on the carts. The one criticism I have of the course is that other than the par 3s there really isn't any trouble off the tee as the fairways are absolutely massive with the one exception being the 17th hole which goes to the other extreme of having water all the way up the left hand side of the hole which tends to make you over-compensate and push your drive too far to the right into trouble. As a result we might switch this to be our opening course rather than The Witch which can be pretty tight off the tee as the wide open fairways should lend themselves to a first round where there might be some rust to be knocked off.
Unfortunately the weather was only a slight improvement on Tuesday with a grey start and quite persistant heavy rain at times. We did manage to lose the waterproofs towards the end of the afternoon round and finished in sunshine which was good. The tree which used to be in the middle of the fairway on the 15th hole and often interfered with the second shot seems to have been removed.
Thursday 7th June - Barefoot Love AM and Barefoot Fazio PM
Love was a scheduled round and Fazio was a replay to make up for the missed round at TPC. We've always booked our PM rounds but when you go in June which was clearly outside the main golf season a facility like Barefoot with 4 courses available should be pretty easy to get a replay on. Even though the Dye course was shut we got a time on Fazio which was our preferred option an hour after we finished on Love which allowed us to have lunch on the veranda of the very nice Barefoot clubhouse and be served by an absolutely stunning brunette who I think was called Ginger strangely although I think we heard her say to someone her surname was Rodgers which might explain it.
These rounds confirmed to me Fazio is the superior course to Love although both are very good courses. We've only played Dye and Norman once each and they would complete the line-up in that order in my opinion. Obviously very handy courses for us staying at the Yacht Club Villas 2 minutes away. Love was much wetter than Fazio with 4 holes being cart path only in addition to the par 3s. Fazio is tough and you should make sure you select the right tees to play from as there are some reasonable carries off the tee required which could make for an expensive round in terms of balls if you pick the wrong one for your groups ability.
Friday 8th June - Grande Dunes Members AM
A new course for all of us and a very nice one too. Has the same feel as the Resort Course being very open of the tee although not as picturesque due to the Resort Course having the Intracoastal Waterway holes. We had the place to ourselves when we arrived which given the exclusive nature of the location made you feel pretty special. You need a code to get into the gated community where the Members club is located and while there are a lot of very wealthy areas round a number of the top end golf courses in MB I thought this felt like the one where the most serious money was to be found. It did feel a bit unreal and too sanitised in some ways though although I appeciate a lot of the homes will be not be primary residences and so may not appear as lived-in as ones elsewhere.
I think our group would play it again although it would ideally be combined as a 36 hole day with the Resort course but with the limited tee-times available to non-members I don't think that would be possible. My personal view is that the Resort course is better and that it will struggle to retain it's place in our line-up. Definitely one to play if you haven't played it yet.
Lunches were usually at the golf courses and would be hot dogs, hot sandwiches or a burger - all were very good. This year we ate in bars more often than actual restaurants. I'll list them in the order I think we ate in them:
Dino's - Our breakfast venue of choice every morning and another cornerstone of our MB trip. As good as ever and sets us up for the day. We only missed out on the Sunday morning as we had a later start and the queue was well out the door when we got there - the McDonalds breakfast we had instead was a poor substitute for the excellent Dino's fare.
The Office Italian Pub - Think this is quite new and is on Lake Arrowhead Road almost next door to Biminis. Felt like a locals place but was pretty quiet on the night we went which I think was Saturday. Had an absolutely stunning older brunette working there, I think called Anna, who we unfortunately later found out only works there on one night. The menu was Italian and we had pasta and pizza which was all fine without being anything to write home about. Was probably closer to restaurant prices rather than bar ones and given that it doesn't have the pub games options that Backyard has or the reputation Biminis has then I think it might struggle.
Backyard Bar - Behind a petrol station almost next to the Dolls House. A good place to have some bar food and beers, watch some sport on the TVs and play some pool/darts etc. We ate here twice and the BLT sandwich was the pick of the choices being absolutely huge. If you need any passes for the strip clubs then they have them for pretty much all the venues in a rack outside the toilets that you just help yourself to.
Rossi's - An old favourite of ours and one we visit every year. It was early in the week when we went and later in the evening so it was almost empty with little or no atmosphere. Two of the group shared the mixed hot hors d'oevres, which are the best thing on the menu, one had pasta and I had one of the Italian combinations of veal and pasta. My food was average at best and we felt the bill was pretty steep for what we had. Might be time for Rossi's to be benched although the starters might save them.
Oscars - We were late out this night and fancied a burger. After failed trips to Fuddruckers, where we arrived 15 minutes from closing and bailed out as it looked a bit barn-like and empty, and Hamburger Joes where the door was locked, we ended up at Oscars which turned out to be a result as it was a nice busy bar with plenty of TVs for sports and decent bar food majoring on burgers and sandwiches. If you have a healthy appetite or worms you might be interested in the Oscars Special sandwich which I think was $10 and seemed to list enough food for a family of four for a week. Our waitress was a very chatty girl from Cherry Grove who was very nice and we all had great fun going through a number of words that have different meanings on each side of the Atlantic. All in good spirits as she'd told us she owned three different guns and had used the rather large ring she was wearing to help her punch out four Mexicans who approached her with not altogether gallant intensions in a supermarket car park after a late shift in the bar. She was quite happy to show us her ring although it was too small for us to get our fingers all the way into it.
China Dragon - delivery Chinese for the quiet night in of the week. Not bad and very big portions so order accordingly.
Cagneys - Another old favorite and in our view the best venue for Prime Rib. Instead of taking on their 24oz side of beef three of us went with the more conservative special option of 12ozs of Prime Rib with Shrimp. Excellent and if I was you I'd get the Rib and Shrimp blackened.
1. Highway 31 really is a very good way to get around Myrtle and the signposting is much improved as I seem to remember us taking some wrong turns when using it previously.
2. Apparently there is a bit of a battle between the taxis and the owner of Thee Doll House/Crazy Horse who is running a shuttle bus between them. You may find the cab drivers directing you elsewhere when you ask about clubs. Always remember too that the cab drivers pick up a fee for taking you to each club - it's around $5 a head and I know some pay more to ensure the cabbies push their product
Well that's it - another MB trip in the can and we're already looking at dates for next year which looks like being across the end of April/beginning of May - can't wait.