Jack Nicklaus didn’t have to create many hazards at Pawleys Plantation Golf & Country Club. Nature provided just about all he needed.
Several holes running beside or over tidal marsh, and mature pines and oaks both alongside and in fairways give the 7,031-yard layout all the necessary defenses.
Of course, Nicklaus added a number of long fairway bunkers, ample greenside bunkers, mild mounding and green slopes just in case.
“The course will make you hit all of your shots,” said Tres Kirkland of Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., a musician, landscaper and charter fishing boat captain who took part in a review of the course in late July. “It’s quite demanding and makes you really think.”
Joining me and Tres, a 3 handicap, in the review foursome were Pawleys Island residents Ron Richardson and Owen Wright. Ron is a real estate agent and 12 handicap, while Owen retired from textile management, has a 14 handicap and sets course and slope ratings for the Carolinas Golf Association.
“This is one of the best laid out courses on the Grand Strand, if not the best laid out course,” Owen said. “The flow of the course and the layout are the strength of the course. Nicklaus knew what he was doing.”
The course has a striking finish, with six of the final seven holes providing marsh scenery. “I imagine you could just ride around and enjoy the scenery without even playing golf,” Tres said. “It looks so Southern with the live oaks.”
Trees in fairways are significantly in play on several holes, particularly the par-4 fifth and ninth holes, and the par-5 14th. And they’ve grown since Nicklaus left them there before the course opened in 1988. “Every single hole here is tree-lined unless there is marsh,” Tres said. “You sometimes have to hit under canopies.”
The course was in good condition, including its TifEagle Bermudagrass greens. “It’s always in good shape and has consistent greens,” Tres said.
Ron was impressed with the property in general. “From the facilities of parking, clubhouse, carts and course condition, this is a must play,” Ron said.
Owen enjoyed the demands of the layout. “You must have good course management skills to shoot a low score,” he said.
The entire group appreciated the scenery, particularly on the back nine. “The marsh views on the back nine are beautiful and the ocean breeze makes for a very enjoyable day on the course,” Owen said.
Owen believes the side of some cart path sections need to be filled in because they have worn low through use, the par-3 teeing areas are too small considering the amount of play the course receives – particularly the white tees and tees on holes 13 and 17 that struggle to remain plush atop a wooden cart bridge – and tree roots are a hazard.
“Pawleys has a considerable number of trees along the edge of the fairways and exposed roots are a problem in some areas,” Owen said.
Ron would be prepared for long rounds in peak seasons. “Because of the difficulty of the course and the timing of the tee times, spring and fall rounds can be in excess of 51/2 hours,” he said.
Tres didn’t appreciate any of the trees in the middle of fairways, especially considering there are plenty alongside fairways to create problems. “Aim for the fat side of the fairways because overhanging trees will eventually get you,” Tres said.
Aside from the 150-yard 13th, the par-3s measure between 172 and 201 yards, and between 131 and 162 from the white tees. “The par-3s are fair, but have narrow greens that are tough to hit from around 200 yards,” Tres said.
The 194-yard third hole measures 162 from the white and requires a shot over water that continues closely along the left side of the green. A long bunker leads to a pot bunker front-middle of a green that has a ridge separating higher left and lower right portions. There’s bailout room to the right, but OB lurks if you’re too cautious. “This is the prettiest hole on the course,” Ron said.
The 172-yard seventh measures 131 from the white, and a deep but narrow green has long bunkers both the left and right. “Trying to hit that green is like trying to put a thread through a needle,” Ron said.
The tee boxes on the 150-yard 13th and 201-yard 17th holes back up to each other on a wooden bridge that traverses an expanse of tidal marsh that must be carried to both bulkheaded greens.
The 13th green is a peninsula that connects to the 16th green to its right. It slopes forward on the right side and has a bunker back right. “A 136-yard shot (from blue tees) to a green that is half the size of the one on No. 17 at TPC Sawgrass gets your juices flowing,” Owen said.
Though National Golf Management has lengthened the 13th from 69 yards to 115 from the white tee, and has also lengthened it from other tees, Ron still believes it’s a quirky hole. “This course has 17 of the best holes you’ll ever play, but 13 keeps it from being a championship golf course,” Ron said.
The 17th measures 150 yards from the white tee. The back of the green – which slopes right to left from a mild ridge down the center – falls off toward OB stakes, marsh is short, a bunker is left and a large oak takes up some of the bailout area to the right. “The 17th is probably the most difficult of the par-3s because of its diagonal green,” Ron said.
Par-4s measure between 361 and 461 yards, and four are longer than 440 from the tips. The 432-yard sixth has water down the entire left side of the hole, a single large pine inside the water line affecting the landing area off the tee, and a long bunker along the left side of a deep green.
The 452-yard eighth has a long bunker and water to the right of the green, and a tree is in the middle of the 416-yard ninth hole’s fairway 240 yards from the back tee. “That tree is right in the middle and there’s no way to avoid it,” Tres said.
The 361-yard 10th requires a layup short of a large bunker and water off the tee, and the green is protected by bunkers left and right. The 382-yard 12th turns right around a waste bunker and the view from the fairway is of marsh and oak trees along the left side of the fairway and green.
The 391-yard 15th is tight and turns slightly left, and the 444-yard 16th is both difficult and attractive. The tees shot needs to clear a few oak trees at the bend of the dogleg left and marsh comes into play on the right side 130 yards from a green that is nearly entirely surrounded by bunkers.
“Some of the par-4s are quite long and therefore very challenging, and added to that is the fact that many landing areas are somewhat cramped,” Ron said.
Par-5s measure between 511 and 563 yards from the gold tips, and three are less than 485 from the white. The 511-yard first hole turns slightly right, and the second shot can either challenge a long bunker down the right side to reach the green or lay up on the left. The green falls off middle left and back left: “It’s a good par-5 to start,” Owen said. “It’s not overpowering and gets you into the game.”
The 543-yard fourth turns left off the tee around a few large trees. Three penalizing bunkers protect the right side, though there’s more fairway to their right, a long bunker runs down the final 180 yards of the hole on the left, and a large right bunker protects a green that slopes to the middle and back.
A short but wide oak tree in a bunker 75 yards from the green on the 563-yard 11th takes up most of the fairway, leaving only a sliver on the left side open. The green slopes to the front and back from a middle ridge. “This is a three-shot hole because of that tree,” Owen said.
The 525-yard 14th turns to the right around marsh that runs the length of the hole and there’s a tree on the left side of the fairway 295 yards from the back tee. The green angles to the right into the marsh and has bunkers front right and back, and a good drive leaves a risk-reward decision on the second shot. “Par-5s give you a good chance to score, but it is total risk and reward,” Tres said.
Ron’s favorite hole is the 443-yard par-4 18th, which measures 321 yards from the senior yellow tee. The challenging finishing hole turns left around oaks and a long thin bunker bordering marsh, and a rolling green has water and a bunker to its left. “Eighteen just fits my eye,” Ron said. “With the slight dogleg left you can hit a soft draw into a spacious green.”
Owen’s favorite shot on the course comes on the par-3 13th. “It’s exciting hitting that tee shot,” he said.
Tres’ favorite holes included the par-4 12th because of the view and par-5 14th because of the hole’s risk-reward value.
Least favorite holes
Owen considers the drive on 15 to be very difficult, and was least fond of the par-5 11th, measuring 548 yards from the blue tee. “It’s a difficult hole requiring three accurate shots,” Owen said. “The green slopes away from you so the shot must be high to hold the green, and a shot must be hit over a very tall tree.”
Ron’s least favorite hole is the 390-yard par-4 fifth, measuring 322 from the yellow. A large pine in the left portion of the fairways adds to the difficulty of a hole that also has water fronting the green. “That tree comes into play too much on this hole,” Ron said. “If your drive is not far enough in the tight landing area, or too far left, you have no shot to the green over water.”
Tres found the 461-yard par-4 second hole to be “just plain hard, long and difficult.” It’s straight and narrow with mounding inside the tree line on both sides of the fairway, and the green is wider and more rolling in the back and narrow and sloping to the front from a middle ridge.