MURRELLS INLET -- If you have your mind on something other than your round of golf when you arrive at Indigo Creek Golf Club, have no fear.
The layout will provoke tunnel vision within a few holes. Indigo Creek is among the tightest courses on the Grand Strand, and the abundance of streams, wetlands, pockets of water and bunkers throughout the 20-year-old Willard Byrd design make focusing on a target a necessity on just about every tee box.
"It's definitely a target golf course off the tee," said Tom Bullock, a scratch player from Mount Pleasant who took part in review of the course in late April. "It requires precision. If you hit it even 275 yards off the tee, you're not going to hit more than two drivers if you want to score. It's not forgiving. You have to hit good shots to score well.
"There are some courses considered tight in Charleston and they aren't as tight as this course."
Joining me and Tom, a cart attendant at Bulls Bay Golf Club, in the review foursome were Karen "Keefee'' Keefe of North Charleston, a 9-handicap who is in real estate sales, and Jackie Chinners of Mount Pleasant, a Terminix pest technician with a handicap of 30.
Several varieties of trees that frame every fairway on the site of a former rice plantation often narrow landing areas and impede shots from the wrong side of fairways.
The course was playing firm and fast during our round, and out-of-bounds markers lurk just off some fairways, amplifying the need for accuracy. "It's really not a driver golf course," Tom said. "I don't think you even need a driver in the bag, even on the par-5s because they're tight."
Though it's tight, the manageable lengths of 6,747 yards from the back tees, 6,167 from the white and 4,923 from the red tees give you some options. "I think this course is very friendly for [high handicappers and women]," Jackie said. "I feel like I can get to the green in two on every par-4 and have a chance at par on every hole."
The course does not have yardage books, making local knowledge invaluable because several creeks and wetlands cross fairways and are often reachable off the tee. "This is definitely a place you have to play once to see where all the water and hazards are," Tom said. "It's definitely the most hidden water on a golf course I've ever played. From the back tee, unless you know it's there you can't see it."
Indigo Creek's greens are an older form of Bermuda but they were consistent and fairly quick. "The greens putt pretty well," Tom said. "There are some subtleties, but they're not bumpy at all."
Its sand is a more natural brown than some area courses. "I thought the sand was thick," Karen said. "It wasn't a clean sand you could predict."
The group found par-3s to be the strength of the layout. "The par-3s all have good character to them," Tom said. "They all have a good look to them, they have good yardages, they are all well-bunkered and the greens are all pretty small, too. They are good holes."
Both women in the group loved the course for its length and rewarding of straight shots. "This is definitely a course our ladies group would enjoy," Jackie said. "I felt if I hit a good drive, I didn't have to kill myself to get to the green. But it wasn't too short, either."
The group found the entire staff to be welcoming. "The staff was real friendly and showed a lot of professionalism," Karen said.
Jackie thought the course had continuity. "The layout of the course flowed very nicely," she said. "Some holes were more challenging than others but overall it's a great course."
Tom enjoyed the focus and precision needed on drives off the back tee boxes. "You have to be precise. If you're not hitting it well, especially off the tee, you'll make a number," Tom said. "As a scratch player you can appreciate that on every tee box you have to pick a line and hit a good shot or you're going to be in trouble."
The driving range was short, so anything more than a 3-iron may reach trees at the back of the range on the fly.
There are no yardage books, and the need for them is exacerbated by the lack of markers providing yardages to hazards in fairways that are reachable off the tee. "There is a lot of hidden trouble due to the lack of markers to hazards," Tom said. "It's hard to see water hazards from the back tees."
Added Karen: "I would love to see the club add yardage books."
Cart paths are bumpy from age and tree roots, and need to be redone. "The cart paths were rough to travel on," Karen said.
The 190-yard third hole measures 165 from the white tee and features high-lipped bunkers front right, front left and left, and water beyond a green that slopes toward the front except for the back portion, which slopes back right. "It doesn't give you much to look at from the tee except the pin," Tom said, "and it's a good green for the hole."
The 200-yard sixth hole is 155 from the white tee and has bunkers short right and short left that give depth to the green. The 198-yard 11th is 152 from the white and requires a tee shot over a bulkheaded water hazard to a postage stamp circular green with a large waste bunker left and short left.
The 180-yard 15th measures 145 from the white and has an expansive bunker covering the entire width of the front of the green. "They have great par-3s from every tee box with the distances and the bailout areas, and the bunkers to keep you honest," Karen said.
Length isn't demanded on many par-4s. Only one is longer than 405 yards from the tips and the longest par-4 from the white tees is 380 yards. "There are a lot of doglegs," Tom said. "There aren't many drivers off the tee. Better players require use of a lot of 3-woods."
The 390-yard first hole is a quick indication of what's to come. A water hazard begins 150 yards from the green on the right side and trees line the entire left side. The narrow 375-yard second hole turns right around a tree line that juts into the fairway and both a bunker and water on the left are reachable from the tee.
The 395-yard 12th hole is a 90-degree dogleg left requiring only a long iron to set up an approach at or inside 150 yards. A creek lies just beyond the dogleg. The 405-yard 13th is a rare straightforward and open par-4 with a number of bunkers, and the 375-yard 17th is a sharp dogleg left offering a chance to carry the trees on the inside of the bend.
At least a couple of the par-5s are reachable in two, particularly from the white tees, where the fourth and 14th holes played to 485 and 475 yards, respectively.
The 520-yard fourth has trees down both sides and features a creek that runs down the right side off the tee and crosses the fairway in front of the 150-yard marker. It continues along the left side of the fairway past the green. "That's a tight tee shot, especially for a par-5," Tom said.
The 535-yard ninth measures 515 from the white tee, turns slightly left off the tee and slightly right on a second shot over wetlands 180 yards from the green. The right third of the landing area off the tee is eliminated by a large bunker.
A water hazard narrows the fairway on the 509-yard 14th to about 20 yards deep in the landing area, forcing a daring tee shot to reach the green in two. The 530-yard 18th hole measures 505 from the white tee and features water pinching the fairway 80 yards from the green and continuing around the back of the putting surface.
"Every par-5 has a different feel to it," Tom said. "Some are forgiving, some not."
Karen liked the par-3 third hole. "It is listed at 165 yards but with the pin being on the back it was a great, challenging shot playing around 175 to 180 with the wind in your face," she said.
Jackie enjoyed the scenic, par-3 11th hole, which played 102 yards from the red tee.
Tom liked every par-3, particularly the third and 11th holes. "They all had very good appeal from the tee box," he said.
Least favorite holes
Both Tom and Karen chose the 420-yard, par-4 fifth hole, which measures 380 from the white tee, as their least favorite because of the uncertainty off the tee. Water crosses the fairway about 130 yards from the center of the green but you can't tell how far it is from the tee box and there are no markers. The hole's green has mild undulations and falls off a bit to the back left.
"No. 5 wasn't really marked well that I saw to show water hazards off the tee," Karen said.
Jackie thought the layouts of the par-4 10th and 12th holes made them play long from the red tees.