If you want to play some of the best golf holes around the globe, International World Tour Golf Links can cut down on traveling expenses.
The layout features 27 holes that are modeled after famous holes from 23 courses in six countries and 10 states. Among the courses represented are St. Andrews, Augusta National, Pinehurst No. 2, TPC Sawgrass, Winged Foot, Olympic Club, Oakmont Country Club and Baltusrol.
Some holes are close to the real thing while others are only a resemblance, but they all combine for a fun and memorable round.
"The design featuring amazing holes within a 30-minute drive from home is awesome," said Troy Dowling of Myrtle Beach, who took part in a review of the course in late February. "You see these holes on TV and watch the pros play. The escape to the course from the office to play these dream holes is well worth it."
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Joining me and Troy, a real estate agent and property management company owner with a 4 handicap, were Bob Tomassetti of Myrtle Beach, a salesman with a 15 handicap, and Bill Kasten of Sunset Beach, N.C., a retired Chicago policeman with a 10 handicap.
We played the Open and Championship nines, and the facility also has an International nine. The course's length isn't overpowering, as the longest any 18 holes will play is about 6,688 yards. The Open-Championship 18 measures 6,525.
Other design features including two island greens in the span of three holes on the Open nine and sharply sloping L93 bentgrass greens present the challenge. "The island greens and severity of the greens provide the difficulty," Bob said. "It's certainly not the length."
The stretch of holes 4-6 on the Championship nine is a notable stretch, inspired by the three holes comprising Amen's Corner at Augusta National, complete with rock bridges. A replica of the par-3 16th at Augusta National is on the Open nine.
"Where else can you play four holes from Augusta National," Bill said. "I've been to Augusta four or five times and the holes are pretty close.
"... It's one of the nicest places to play in Myrtle Beach. It's great for out-of-town guests."
The service may be as noteworthy as the layout at World Tour. It was named the National Golf Course Owners Association Course of the Year for 2004 and employs ambassadors, a version of rangers who check on groups a few times a round and perform caddie-like duties. The course has a greeter at a guard gate, GPS systems on carts, cart covers available for cold or rainy days, club cleaning after the round, and bag drop workers who take the cart to your car in the parking lot after a round.
"It's first class treatment from the front gate check-in to loading your clubs upon departure," Bob said. "World Tour I believe prides itself on attempting to provide a PGA Tour-like experience and I think they come close."
World Tour features L93 bentgrass greens. "It's nice to play a course where the greens are fast and rolling so nice," Troy said.
The green speeds are made more difficult by severe slopes on many holes. "They were tough greens, especially where the pins were placed," Bill said.
There is little housing and very few out-of-bounds stakes at World Tour. "One thing that makes this course really enjoyable is there are no OB stakes," Bill said.
Troy liked the fast and consistent greens and was impressed with the amenities and service. "The practice facility is top-notch and the entire facility is first-rate," Troy said.
Bob appreciated the care put into the grounds, saying he liked "the overall condition of the facility and course, including a first class practice area. The grounds here are beautiful."
Our ambassador was Nicholas. He greeted us at the first tee and checked on us a few times, appearing to reboot a GPS system, hold the flag, fix ball marks and provide advice. "The ambassador guy is really a nice touch because he's out there looking after you all day," Bill said. "If you hit your ball in the woods he'll look for it for you."
Troy and Bill thought the hole locations on some particularly difficult greens, including the ninth hole of the Championship nine (Bay Hill 11th), were extreme. "Someone needs to inform the greenskeeper about average golfers," Troy said. "Some of the pin placements were unbelievably tough."
Bill thought it was too difficult to hold the green on the Open's short but difficult par-3 third hole (a replica of TPC Sawgrass' 17th). "It's tough to hold that green even with a well-struck shot," he said.
Bob wasn't a big fan of the Uplink GPS system on the carts. "It didn't work at first and was not as informative as others," he said. He also thought the course was expensive with walk-on rates between $80 and $190. "It's too pricey for locals," Bob said.
The Open's seventh hole and Championship's fifth are replicas of Augusta National's 12th and 16th holes. The Open's seventh is 170 yards over water and features a bunker left, front right and back right, and the Championship's fifth is 155 yards with a creek fronting a green protected by a front bunker and pair of pot bunkers embedded in a mound behind the green.
"The par-3 holes were fair and challenging," Troy said. "I was wondering how my shots would compare [to pros on TV] and I soon found out."
The Open's third hole (TPC Sawgrass' 17th) is 132 yards and a tiny green slopes sharply to the back right and has a high-lipped front pot-bunker. "That's possibly one of the toughest on the beach from any tee," Bob said.
The attractive 126-yard Championship third hole (Royal Troon No. 8) has a downhill tee shot to a "Postage Stamp" green with water right and pampas grass short left.
The 10 par-4s on the Open and Championship nines measure between 344 and 455 yards, with six shorter than 400 yards.
The 455-yard, par-4 fourth hole (Augusta 11th) is perhaps the toughest hole on the course, featuring a long approach to a green protected by water to its left and back. The 401-yard Open fourth (Colonial Country Club 12th) has a narrow fairway that turns slightly left along a tree line and has water down the entire right side. "This is one of the toughest par-4s on the course, and it's not because of its length," Troy said.
The Open's 370-yard first hole and 354-yard ninth are patterned after St. Andrews' first and 18th holes and have open fairways. A creek fronts the first green. Both the Open's 344-yard sixth (Pine Valley 12th) and Championship's 360-yard eighth (Oakmont 14th) are inundated with bunkers.
"There are several tight fairways," Troy said. "Driving the ball well sets you up for mid- to short irons. Otherwise, you're asking for a long day hitting four and five irons into fast greens with tough pin placements."
The Championship's 491-yard second hole (Cypress Point 10th) turns slightly right and has a green surrounded by bunkers, and the 485-yard sixth is a well-done replica of Augusta National's 13th. It features a drive over a creek that runs down the left side of the fairway and cuts back across the hole in front of the green.
The Open's 531-yard second hole (Pinehurst No. 2's 16th) turns right to left, has a number of bunkers around the green and a wide fairway bunker taking up the left side of the landing area of a drive over a small pond.
The fifth hole of the Open nine is a 542-yard replica of the 15th hole at English Turn in Louisiana featuring an island green. "That is a great par," Troy said. "At 542 yards, two great shots still leave a short wedge with all the challenges you want: 360 degrees of water and bunkers front and back. It's still no easy wedge."
"Being reachable for big hitters makes all four par-5s enjoyable with plenty of hazards from tee to green," Bob said.
Troy enjoyed the three holes that comprise Amen's Corner at Augusta National and the Open's par-3 third hole (TPC Sawgrass 17). "You stand on the tee box with loads of pressure wondering if you're going to hit the island green," he said.
Bill liked the two holes inspired by St. Andrews and his favorite hole was the Open's seventh hole (Augusta 16th), which played to about 170 yards from the gold tee the day we played. "I think it's the best of the par-3s on the course because of the yardage and the club you have to hit," Bill said.
Bob was partial to the Open's fifth hole (English Turn 15th), and the three-hole stretch culminating with the fifth that circles a lake. "Holes three, four and five on the Open course consist of two island greens, are divided by a lake the length of the par-4 and par-5 fourth and fifth holes that also includes an aviary island," Bob said. "It's beautiful."
Least favorite holes
The least favorite hole for both Bill and Troy was the 420-yard ninth hole on the Championship nine, inspired by the 11th hole at Bay Hill Club in Florida. They believe the hole's downfall is the severe rolling slope from back right to front left of a long but thin green angling along water on the left.
"The hole is beautiful," Troy
said. "You've got to like the character of the hole. It has water up on the left and bunkers on the right bottlenecking into a small thin fairway. I hit a good 7-iron 15 feet above the pin, but the green is so unbelievably sloped I had to putt my line almost 15 feet away from the hole only to watch it slide almost 15 feet down the slope, leaving an 8-foot uphill putt."
Bob's least favorite is the Open nine's third hole (TPC Sawgrass 17th), which measures 115 yards from the white tee. "It's a very difficult green to hit," Bob said.