NORTH MYRTLE BEACH -- The Norman Course is the least heralded and has traditionally been the least requested of the three resort courses at Barefoot Resort.
That means a lot of people may be missing out on a layout that is more fun and scenic than difficult and incorporates what may be the resort's best piece of property along the Intracoastal Waterway.
The front nine features a lot of sand and the presence of the Waterway brings water more into play on the back nine. It is the backdrop of the ninth hole, is viewable on six of the final nine holes and is an integral part of four holes.
"The waterway holes are just gorgeous and you don't get that on many courses," said Becky Ray, a 30-handicap and retired court secretary from Calabash, N.C., who took part in a review of the course in December. "It's an absolutely gorgeous course. You can get into trouble on almost each hole but it can be a very enjoyable round of golf."
Joining me and Becky in the review group were Becky's husband Steve, a retired boat trailer salesman who carries a handicap of 18, and Scott Neville, a 7-handicap and police officer from Woodbridge, Va.
Despite the presence of the Waterway, there are few water hazards creating forced carries on the course. Bunkers, which are often deep, present the difficulty on most holes. The sand was consistent for the most part and well manicured, with the exception of an occasional rock. "The course is in great condition," Steve said. "The fairways and greens were excellent."
The greens are A1 bentgrass and were in excellent shape. "I like these greens a lot," Becky said. "I'm not used to this grass and these greens, but I'd like to get used to them."
The back tees allow a driver on possibly every par-4 and par-5. "I think it plays a lot easier from the tips than the [6,487-yard] black [tees]," Scott said. "You have a lot of decisions to make from the black. From the tips you can hit driver about every hole."
The course has housing - mainly condominiums - on or near most holes. "I'm surprised at the number of condos out here - more than I'd like on a golf course," Steve said.
As a member of Barefoot Resort, Scott appreciates the quality of golf on Barefoot's three resort courses designed by Greg Norman, Davis Love III and Tom Fazio. They opened simultaneously in 2000. "I think the fact they have three really good golf courses on the same piece of property is pretty phenomenal," Scott said. "They're always in good shape no matter what time of year you play."
The local fee was $80 when the group played, "which I think is pretty fantastic for this golf course," said Becky. She also thought the 4,953-yard gold tees were very manageable for women. "It's very lady-friendly," she said. "All holes are reachable if you're playing well."
Scott liked the fairness of the course and ability to see everything off the tee: "I think it's a fair golf course. What you see is what you get," he said. "There's nothing tricky about it, but there is sneaky trouble. If you make a bad shot it will cost you some strokes. But it also allows you to recover without too much of a penalty."
Steve enjoyed the greens. "Bentgrass greens make a world of difference from Bermudagrass greens, and these greens were beautiful," Steve said.
Golfers have to take a shuttle down a road to reach a huge and pristine driving range, and teeing areas at the range that day were nearly 100 yards from the drop-off point. "The driving range was very nice and well-marked, but it's unusual for a resort course to have to carry your clubs so far to the hitting area," Becky said.
Faded paint on the yardage markers made it difficult to distinguish colors. "The tee box markers need to be repainted," said Steve, who also would have liked different flag colors for pins on the front, middle and back of greens. They were all green. "If they're not going to provide pin sheets they should make the flags different colors," he said.
Scott thought the condos affected the course's aesthetics. "Most of the course is through condos, but there are a nice stretch of holes along the Intracoastal Waterway," Scott said.
The 203-yard 10th is a stunning hole that measures 176 from the black and is perhaps the most memorable on the course. The hole sits atop a bluff along the west bank of the Intracoastal Waterway and features a steep downhill tee shot to a green situated between the Waterway on the right and a large bunker front left. "I loved the look of the Waterway beside the hole," Steve said.
The green is also well below the cart path on the left, and you need to walk down a steep hill to get to it. "Myrtle Beach is so flat you don't expect to see hills like this," Becky said.
The 194-yard third is 170 from the black and features a long green with a long and deep bunker left and red-staked wooded area right. The 175-yard seventh is 148 from the black and requires a carry over a waste bunker. Deep bunkers protect both sides of the green.
The 170-yard 16th is 160 from the black and has a slight downhill tee shot to a green backed by the Waterway. Becky thought the 16th rivaled the 10th for beauty. "The prettiest par-3 was the 16th with a downhill shot to the green with a view out to the waterway," she said.
The 377-yard first hole is straightforward and relatively easy. The 427-yard fourth hole has a big waste bunker with vegetation on the right side of a landing area and another waste bunker beginning deep in the landing area on the left.
The 448-yard sixth measures 431 from the black and is the course's No. 1 handicap hole for a reason. You need a big drive, especially into the wind as we were, to take the wetlands crossing the fairway from 80 to 60 yards from the green out of play.
The 327-yard eighth is a dogleg right that measures only 297 from the black and features a waste bunker down the right side and a myriad of bunkers in front of and around the green.
The wide 420-yard 11th has a waste bunker that comes across the front of the green from the left, and is followed by a pair of tough par-4s. The left portion of the green on the 438-yard 12th is tucked behind wetlands, and the 440-yard 13th has a waste bunker down the left side of the fairway and both trees and out-of-bounds stakes right of a wide fairway. The Intracoastal, which runs along the right side of the 387-yard 14th hole, sits behind the 13th green. The 409-yard 17th is slightly uphill and has the waterway along the right side.
"The par-4s were challenging in both yardage and bunkering, but not overwhelming for a mediocre player," Becky said.
Both nines conclude with par-5s. The 568-yard ninth measures 533 from the black and plays slightly downhill with bunkering down the left side and a creek down the right that crosses the fairway beginning 75 yards from the green on the right and 50 yards from the green on the left. The green is elevated behind the creek and a trio of deep bunkers on the right begin 70 yards from a green that slopes sharply to the left and front.
"The par-5s were tough with hazards in front of the greens," Steve said.
The 552-yard 18th measures 506 from the black and turns sharply left off the tee around a waste bunker, giving the illusion there is little landing area. Wetlands front the green, so a drive that drastically cuts the corner is required to reach the green in two.
The 571-yard fifth hole is a pretty hole cut through hardwoods that measures 511 from the black, has bunkering down both sides of the fairway, and has a slight dogleg on the second shot. A deep bunker protects the right front of the green. The 526-yard 15th is a slight dogleg right that measures 511 from the black and is birdieable.
"From the tips the par-5s allow for attempts at reaching them in two with a good tee shot, but they will bite you if you miss," Scott said. "They also allow a fair chance at birdie or par if you choose to lay up."
Becky enjoyed the par-3 16th and 10th holes, and Steve also liked the 10th the most. "It is a surprise when you come to the top of the hill on the 10th tee and see the waterway along the right side," she said.
Scott's favorite hole was the ninth. "It's a nice par-5 along the Intracoastal Waterway that is reachable in two," Scott said.
Least favorite holes
Becky thought there was too large an area of waste bunker on the par-4 fourth hole, and though she loved the look of the par-5 ninth, she said, "it was too difficult for me with the wetlands and the bunkers to shoot between and around."
Steve also liked the ninth the least, finding trouble a few times. "I should have looked at the yardage book closer and paid more attention to the GPS," he said.
Scott's least favorite hole is the dogleg-left par-5 18th. "You find yourself in between clubs on the tee box," he said. "You have to cut the left corner with a driver, but you have to be careful not to hit it through the fairway on the right side."