While you’re enjoying the views and layout of The Pearl’s East Course, one thing you won’t admire are the houses. There are none.Hence, there are no white out-of-bounds stakes on the course, either.
That allows you to fully appreciate Dan Maples’ 23-year-old layout featuring holes winding through marsh, wetlands, water hazards, Calabash Creek and a variety of trees including pines, hardwoods and willows.
“I loved the course in general and thought the aesthetics were extraordinary with many marsh areas, interesting trees and wildlife,” said Earle Steele of Cornelius, N.C., a home builder with a 24 handicap who took part in a review of the course in July. “This is a fair course and forgiving in that there is no OB. You’ve got room to miss shots.”
Joining me and Earle in the review were Melvin Fields of North Myrtle Beach, a residential builder with an 18 handicap, and Philip Evich of Myrtle Beach, a retired U.S. Immigration agent with a 22 handicap.
Philip enjoyed the challenges presented by the nature around and through the course. “I like golf. I don’t want a course to be too easy,” Philip said. “I like Dan Maples courses because he tries to incorporate the existing nature into his layout rather than dictating the layout to the nature.
“No two holes are alike and there’s something different from each tee box.”
Maples left too much nature for Melvin’s liking, with trees in the middle of the ninth and 10th fairways. “You work your whole life to hit the ball straight and get penalized for it,” Melvin said.
The Pearl is one of the few remaining facilities on the Grand Strand with bentgrass greens. It features L93 bent and the greens were true. They were also soft and receptive, a product of heavy watering in the summer months. “The greens were very receptive,” Melvin said.
The course also has a fair amount of elevation change: “I felt the change in elevation and the undulation of the course, which is unusual so close to the ocean,” Melvin said.Most of the holes on the East Course, which is adjacent to the West Course that opened simultaneously, are tree-lined, setting up a closing stretch along marsh and Calabash Creek. “Those three closing holes are three of the prettiest holes I’ve ever seen,” Earle said. “It was a different look with the marsh and sideways trees.”
“This is a pretty piece of property,” Melvin said. “I’ve seen a few places I’d like to put a house.”
Those are in the works at The Pearl, but they are not there yet.
Philip enjoyed the length and playability of the course from the gold tees. “The Pearl East is a fair test of golf for the senior player at 5,657 yards,” he said. “Trying to play on anything over 5,600 yards becomes hard work and is not an enjoyable golf experience.”
The group enjoyed the scenery, and Melvin particularly enjoyed the stretch of holes 6 through 14.
“The middle section of this course is really attractive,” Melvin said. “From hole 4 on there’s pretty much water every hole. It’s one of the prettiest courses I’ve played, to be honest. It was a pleasure to play.”
The entire group took exception to at least a couple pin placements on slopes or at the crest of slopes. “Pin placements on some holes I felt were unfair to the average golfer,” Melvin said.
Some of the bunkers had standing water in them following a night of torrential rain, while others were in fair shape despite being damp. Grass was scant on some tee boxes, particularly in shaded areas.
The par-3s are all of a challenging length, measuring from 177 to 215 yards from the black tees and 167 to 199 from the blue tees. “There are no gimmies on the par-3s,” Philip said. “Every par-3 is a test. They all played long and it’s hard to finesse a long iron into a green.”
The 202-yard second hole, measuring 171 from the white, is slightly downhill and there is a trio of circular bunkers in a triangular formation forcing you to carry a 21-yard deep green. The 215-yard fifth measures 185 from the white and has a long bunker to the right of the green and smaller bunker to the left.
The 185-yard 12th is 147 from the white and requires a slightly downhill tee shot over water to a green that slopes mildly to the front, and the 177-yard 14th measures 158 from the white and has water running along the left side of the entire hole and a bunker front right. “The par-3s were very good,” Melvin said.
There are a number of doglegs both left and right mixed in with relatively straight holes, and landing areas are ample despite each fairway being primarily tree-lined. “I thought the par-4s had very good and wide landing areas to help with tee shots,” Melvin said.
The course’s first par-4, the 349-yard third hole, is a potential birdie hole, the 416-yard fourth is a sharp dogleg left and the 412-yard seventh is a sharp dogleg right. The difficulty in the 353-yard eighth lies in a green that is plateaued on the left third and otherwise slopes sharply to the front and right.
The 404-yard sixth hole features a downhill drive to a wide creek with a fairway wood or long iron, and an uphill approach shot of at least 160 yards to a green on the right. “With the rock wall lining the water hazard it’s scenic and makes you test your golf game,” Philip said. “This is a unique and tough golf hole.”
The 364-yard 16th is a sharp dogleg right featuring a downhill short-iron second shot to a green nestled in the midst of marsh and trees. The 418-yard second hole is a dogleg left around the marsh. “This is a great golf hole in a beautiful setting,” Philip said.
The par-5s measure between 510 and 572 yards, though only the 18th is more than 500 yards from the white tees, and both nines close with a par-5.
The 572-yard 18th is a beautiful beast of a hole that has marsh and water running along the entire left side and elevation changes throughout the fairway. The hole turns left along the hazard for the approach shot.
The 541-yard first hole turns slightly right around a trio of bunkers in the landing area and is a pretty benign opening hole.
The 510-yard ninth is a double dogleg of sorts. It’s a sharp dogleg right around a bunker in the right corner of the landing area off the tee, then turns to the left around water on the left, with water on the right on the second shot and a wide tree in the middle of the fairway between the hazards about 70 yards from the green.
“I’d play that hole driver, 7-iron, chain saw,” Melvin said. “When you hit a good drive on a par-5 you should have a look at the green. To not have much of a second shot is tough. ... I thought the par-5s were a little too difficult to maneuver.”
The 521-yard 13th has water left and a bunker right deep in the landing area off the tee.
Melvin enjoyed the 185-yard 12th hole requiring a nearly full carry over water to the green. “It’s a great little par-3 that has a great view and green complex,” he said.Earle’s favorite hole was the par-5 18th. “It’s one of the most beautiful holes I have seen,” Earle said. “It’s a great hole, very long and tough. It’s just an enjoyable setting to play golf.”
Philip liked the short 331-yard, par-4 11th hole that features a creek circling a peninsula green with water on all but the left side, and also liked the closing stretch of holes 16-18 because of the “scenic beauty of the marsh of Calabash Creek.”
Least favorite holes
Melvin wasn’t fond of a pair of trees in the middle of the fairway in the landing area on the 402-yard, par-4 10th. “What is the purpose of the two pines in the middle of the fairway?” Melvin asked. “I don’t think a golfer should be penalized for a great golf shot by being behind a tree in the fairway.”
Earle’s least favorite hole was the par-4 sixth, which played 385 yards from the blue tee and 347 from the white. “I placed two balls into the water,” Earle said. “It’s a hard hole.”
Philip did not identify a least favorite hole.