NORTH MYRTLE BEACH
The owners and operators of Possum Trot Golf Club may want to ask Golf Digest for a recount.
As legend has it, the magazine ran a contest prior to the course's opening in 1968 that allowed its readers to choose the name.
For a course with a solid layout that is meticulously manicured with flower beds, ornamental grasses and plants, and numerous palm trees on every hole, being named after a varmint doesn't do the layout justice.
"I think the name hurts them," said Matt Doda of Myrtle Beach, a musician who took part in a review of the course in late November. "I would rather it be named 'Palm something' because there are so many palm trees around. That would be more appropriate and more appealing. It's definitely the least appealing name in the area - being named after a rodent."
Joining me and Matt, a 4 handicap, in the review foursome were Joe Kralich of Myrtle Beach, a server and bartender with a 20 handicap, and Amy Hurst of Myrtle Beach, a retired Anheuser-Busch administrative assistant with a 17 handicap.
"It has a lot of character," Amy said. "It's pretty. It has a nice look from the tees. It's not your typical cookie-cutter course where they squeeze as many holes into the land as they can."
The Russell Breeden design offers some elevation change, creating blind tee shots on a few holes, and numerous doglegs. "I liked the challenge the architect created off the tee," Matt said. "Difficult tee shots were common."
The course has aged gracefully with the help of some personal attention from the maintenance staff, which includes two summer renovation projects that closed the course in the past six years. The variety of trees on the property made for colorful fall foliage. "The landscaping is amazing," Amy said. "They do a good job with that. I like the mini-gladiolas and knockout roses. They were beautiful. It's nice to have color on a course."
Though just off U.S. 17, the layout has a secluded feel and the holes are well separated. "It's very quiet to be right off U.S. 17," Amy said. "It's very peaceful. Some courses you hear sirens and road traffic all the time. It's just a fun, relaxing, enjoyable round of golf. It's just an enjoyable afternoon."
Fairway bunkers are minimal but greens are often well-protected by traps. "The bunkers are all in good shape and all have nice soft, white sand that is easy to hit out of," Joe said.
With poa trivialis winter overseed grass overtaking the TifDwarf Bermudagrass on the greens, the putting surfaces were full but fairly slow. Putting greens are relatively small and had only subtle breaks. "I enjoyed the flatness of the greens," Matt said.
Walking is allowed in the afternoons and it's a very easy walk, and an extensive practice facility includes Mike Passmore's Simply Great Golf Academy.
The amount of time put into maintaining flower beds and other ornamental plants and areas is noticeable. The group thought the staff was friendly. "A nice landscape combined with a good staff makes for a good day of golf," Joe said. "It's an interesting course, challenging yet fun."
Both Amy and Joe thought the green fees of between $42 and $81 depending on the season, and local rates of between $29 and $35 year-round were more than fair.
Matt appreciated a limited amount of housing and out-of-bounds stakes on the course, and the plethora of palm trees. "I loved the palm trees," he said. "They add a nice accent to the course and I think they're good for the tourists, especially."
Amy and Joe thought the clubhouse could use some modernization. "The clubhouse seems old but inviting," Joe said. "The ambiance is dated."
Amy didn't think the course was very demanding from the 5,153-yard red tees. "It's woman-friendly in that you really have a chance to get on the greens in regulation and there aren't many long carries," Amy said. "But it's not penalizing or challenging. Perhaps the gold tees would have given more challenge."
Matt didn't think many of the individual holes were memorable, and thought the greens could have been quicker. "For the time of year the greens were average," Matt said.
Neither Joe nor Amy liked the blind landing areas off the first couple tees. "Driving blind off the first couple tees makes you feel clueless as to which clubs to use," Joe said. "It's a little frustrating."
The par-3s measure between 185 and 208 yards and include the course's signature hole in the 203-yard 13th. It is 163 from the white tee and features a bulk-headed water hazard fronting the putting surface that gets longer the farther left you go nearly to the back of the green. The green is backed by four bunkers. "It's challenging because you can't go short or too long," Joe said.
The 208-yard sixth hole measures 150 from the white, and a green framed by several palms has bunkers front-left and front-right and a bulk-headed creek 20 yards in front of it.
The straightforward 185-yard eighth hole is 170 from the white tee, and the 205-yard 16th is 168 from the white and has a bunker left and waste bunker with vegetation right of the green.
"The holes are fairly long for par-3s but they're fun to play," Joe said. "I appreciate a challenge."
Par-4s vary in length from 360 to 460 yards from the tips, with five 410 or longer, and from 340 to 430 from the white tees, with all but two less than 400. Nearly all of them dogleg left or right.
"The par-4s were challenging because the tee shots were either blind or uphill," Matt said. "All of the green complexes were quite fair."
The 415-yard third hole has a small green and tall dead tree with wiry branches to navigate on the left off the tee. The 410-yard fifth hole has a downhill tee shot around three tall palms on the inside corner of the dogleg and a well-bunkered green. The 438-yard ninth is a slight dogleg left uphill par-4 that often plays into ocean breezes.
The 460-yard 11th is the No. 1 handicap hole on the course with an uphill approach to the green. A par yields a free beer in the clubhouse.
The 385-yard 14th is a slight dogleg left with water short of the left landing area, the 393-yard dogleg-right 15th has a mild ridge splitting the front and back of the green, and the 426-yard 17th has a very deep bunker with a high grassy lip protecting the front-right half of the green.
The par-5s measure between 500 and 535 yards, and three measure less than 490 from the white tees. "The par-5s were the easiest holes because of how short they were," Matt said. "They also provided the easiest tee shots."
The 533-yard first hole has a blind tee shot over a knoll to an ample landing area, then a downhill second shot to a green with a bunker left, pond well right, and bunker well in front of the green on the right.
"I like the fact that you start with a par-5," Joe said. "You don't find that often. It gives you a chance to hit a few shots and if you're going to make a 6 or 7 it's better on a par-5."
The 530-yard fourth has an open tee shot and blind uphill second shot to a green protected on the left by a bunker and water hazard enhanced by a fountain and a handful of palms along its bank. A bunker also protects a bailout area on the right.
The 500-yard 10th turns right off the tee and slightly left on the second shot, with water on the portion of the fairway about 100 yards from the green. The pin can be tucked behind bunkers on the left-front of the green.
The 535-yard 18th has water fronting a green that only long-hitters have a chance to reach in two shots. "The par-5s are not so long that you feel beat up," Amy said.
Amy liked all of the par-3s. "I love the par-3s from the red tees," she said. "They're attractive."
Matt's favorite hole was the 203-yard 13th. "It was intimidating off the tee but had ample landing area," he said.
The 13th was also Joe's favorite. "I love the challenge of the water in front, even though I went in it twice," Joe said.
Least favorite holes
Amy didn't like the fact the red tee box on the par-3 eighth hole, which measured 138 yards from the red, was moved in front of a pair of water hazards and offered no obstacles to the green. "No. 8 lost its punch when it was moved up and right," she said.
Matt's least favorite hole was the 390-yard, par-4 second, which turns right around a hilly area of thick vegetation known as "Heartbreak Ridge," and the fairway can run out on a drive on the left side. A small tree also lurks in front of a right-front bunker at the green. "No. 2 was my least favorite because it seemed misleading off the tee," Matt said.
Joe's least favorite was the par-5 first hole because of the drive. "Driving blind on the first hole makes you feel uneasy about how the rest of your round will be," Joe said.
To view Blondin's blog, `Green Reading', or Q&A Forum `Ask Al,' go to TheSunNews.com.