As a regular visitor to the Grand Strand from a foreign country, Bob Garcia has a tendency to play courses that come highly advertised or highly recommended when he's in search of one of the area's better layouts.
This time, he found one without the benefit of the advance publicity.
Garcia, a clothing manufacturer from Guatemala City with a 12 handicap, took part in a review of Prestwick Country Club in late August.
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"I've never seen any advertising to entice me to come to this golf course," Bob said. "I've never heard anything good or bad about the club. I guess it's a hidden gem.
"I think the overall experience is excellent. It's an excellent golf course: scenic, challenging yet fair and in great shape. I love this course."
Joining me and Bob in the review foursome were Justin Losi of North Myrtle Beach, a bartender and 5 handicap, and Dick Miney of Myrtle Beach, a retired Department of the Army logistics manager with a 30 handicap.
Designed by Pete and son P.B. Dye, Prestwick was built to be private when it opened in 1989 but has been public for 15 or so years.
"It's very picturesque," Bob said. "I like the layout. It's pleasing to the eye because of the trees and the houses in and out of the trees that are all very nice and I like the way they're built into the terrain and into the woods."
Like most Dye courses, Prestwick has mounding on the outskirts of many fairways, undulation on both fairways and greens, penalizing pot and waste bunkers, some ornamental grasses even in waste bunkers, and a number of dramatic shots, particularly on approaches into greens.
The features aren't as severe as some of Pete Dye's other courses, however. "The layout is not boring, but there's nothing too over the top," Justin said. "I really like the layout and it's all right there in front of you. Pete Dye always puts his signature deep bunkers on a course, but this one doesn't have as many and I like that. Only on the ninth hole are they more noticeable."
The course can be difficult, but there are six sets of tees to choose a comfortable length. "It's challenging to any level handicap," Bob said.
The course was in good shape for our group, including TifDwarf Bermudagrass putting greens. "They are puttable and the reads are very true," Bob said.
"There are a lot of undulations in the greens but they're not overly done," Justin said. "Pete Dye has a tendency to get crazy with the undulations."
Prestwick has impressive finishing holes on either nine with a lake separating the two. The 18th hole is to the left of the lake and the ninth hole is on the right, and both lead to a grand clubhouse that sits behind and between the two greens.
The 441-yard, par-4 18th has mounding, rough and a series of bunkers down the left side, and a thin waste bunker buffering the fairway from the water on the right that runs beyond the green.
The 537-yard, par-5 ninth is only 486 yards from the white tee, but it turns left around water the entire length of the hole. It has mounding and rough off the tee to the right, a pot bunker in front of a deep but narrow green, and deep and very narrow bunkers on the right side in the landing area of the second shot and to the right of the green.
"These are some of the prettiest finishing holes on the Grand Strand and in this part of the world with the water and the clubhouse and the trees framing the whole setting, whether you're finishing on nine or 18," Bob said.
Bob appreciated the practice facilities, which included a short-game area complete with a bunker. "It's all very nice and they have everything you need," Bob said. "They have balls on the putting green, which you don't see at many courses, plus they had the chip shots and the bunker, and a lot of courses don't have that."
Dick enjoyed the course's offerings. "This course has a friendly staff and solid amenities," he said.
The entire group thought the course was in very good shape and liked its design, and Justin found the staff "very accommodating and helpful."
"The only thing I would change about this course is I would add some landscaping, but it doesn't really need it," said Bob, who also said he didn't see enough bathrooms on the course.
Justin thought the greens "were a little on the slow side," though Dick thought they were relatively quick.
Dick wasn't fond of the course's sand traps. "I don't like the Pete Dye bunkers," he said. "This man has no sense of fairness."
The par-3s are memorable and challenging, measuring between 152 and 246 yards - 135 and 193 from the white tees - with three 195 yards or longer from the tips. "All of the par-3s were a great test, each with its own personality," Justin said.
The 195-yard fifth is 164 from the white and requires a tee shot over a rock-lined wide creek that runs along the front and left side of a deep, two-tiered green protected on the left by bunkers in the midst of mounding and gnarly rough.
The 246-yard eighth is 193 from the white and is straightforward, with two bunkers to both the right-front and left-front of the green. The 152-yard 13th measures 135 from the white and is over water to a very undulating, bulkheaded green backed by mounding and pot bunkers back left and back right.
The 199-yard 16th has a downhill tee shot to a deep green protected on the left by a creek and on the right by a steep hill topped by thick underbrush and trees.
"All the par-3s are very challenging," Bob said. "It's easy to score high if you're not careful."
The par-4s measure between 340 and 470 yards from the back tees, and between 305 and 444 from the white. "Overall the par-4s are a solid set of holes," Justin said. "There is a good variety. It's not like you're hitting pitching wedges into all the holes or 3-irons into all the holes."
The layout begins with four consecutive par-4s: two that are long and two relatively short. The 383-yard first hole has a waste bunker to the right off the tee and bunkers and trees coming in from the left near the green.
The 448-yard second hole is a dogleg left around a deep waste bunker with trouble all around and below the green, and the 470-yard second hold is a beast with its length, but is straightforward with mounding left and trees and out of bounds right.
The 340-yard fourth hole is somewhat narrow with an approach shot over water to a bulkheaded, shallow green.
The 451-yard 14th and 386-yard 15th are similar in design in that they have greens that are elevated with railroad ties lining walls down the left side to valleys below.
"The par-4s are very playable and offer risk-reward options on some second shots," Bob said.
The par-5s are where the course is the most susceptible, with the possible exception of the ninth.
The 522-yard sixth hole is a birdie possibility measuring only 459 from the white and turning slightly right. The 529-yard 12th is 504 from the white and has a waste bunker left at the landing area and waste bunker right running about 150 yards to the side of the green. A pair of small bunkers protect the left side of the green.
The 531-yard 17th measures 499 from the white and features a creek that must be crossed on the drive and continues down the left side of the fairway until it cuts in front of the green to the right side. High mounds and a tree line above them line the right side of the hole, and the water angles along the front of the green to its back-right, creating longer carries the farther right you go.
"The par-5s were straightforward with the exception of 17," Dick said.
Bob enjoyed the par-3 13th, playing 144 yards from the blue tee, and the par-5 17th, playing 515 from the blue tee. "I like 17 because it's a very playable par-5," Bob said. "It's challenging enough if you want to go at the flag you risk going in the water, and the green itself is very puttable. If you're a long hitter you can take a shot in two."
Dick's favorite hole was the par-4 15th, measuring 332 yards from the senior green tee, featuring a downhill tee shot from the right side (level shot from the left tee boxes), a small tree on the right side of the fairway in the landing area, and an elevated green lined by railroad ties leading to the valley below on the left. "I enjoyed the elevated green with railroad ties," Dick said.
Justin was partial to the par-3 13th over water. "It's not a long hole but has a great view," he said. He also liked the par-5 ninth, which was named to the most recent The Sun News Grand Strand Dream 18, a compilation of the best 18 holes in the area. "It's a nice par-5 running along water with a great feel for the surrounding area," Justin said.
Least favorite holes
Both Bob and Justin chose the 10th hole as their least favorite. It's a very narrow 398-yard par-4 that measures 388 from the blue tee with a road beyond the tree line on the right.
"Of all the holes it was the narrowest fairway and probably the most bland," Bob said. "It's just straightforward, and that bunker on the left side of the green can give you some uneven lies and tough shots."
Dick's least favorite hole was the 412-yard, par-4 11th. It measures 344 from the white and 318 from the green, turns left to right over and around a vegetated waste bunker, and has a slightly uphill shot to the green.
"It's a difficult layout for a short hitter," Dick said. "It's tough to determine where to hit the tee shot."