Golf

Wild Wing Plantation's Avocet Course a live, natural atmosphere

CONWAY

The owners of Wild Wing Plantation closed 45 of the facility's 72 holes in 2006 with the intention of redeveloping the property.

A recession and slumping housing market have slowed those plans to the detriment of the owners, but the benefit of the Avocet Course and all who play it.

Without housing or any ongoing construction around the layout, which accounts for 18 of the remaining 27 holes, the 1993 Larry Nelson and Jeff Brauer design exudes a feeling of seclusion. Few holes run parallel to each other and each hole is set off on its own and surrounded by trees.

"I really enjoyed the lack of homes and the isolated feel," said Juanita Rosenfeld, who took part in a review of the course in late January. "I really like the golf course. The layout was challenging and beautiful with plenty of water and not too many trees [in play].

"From one hole to the next you get a different look and feel. You go from one hole that's flat and tight with trees and water to another with mounding and it's open and full of traps."

Joining me and Rosenfeld, a retired mortgage banker with a 10 handicap, in the review foursome were Rosenfeld's fiancé, Mike Evans, a retired medical salesman with a 9 handicap, and Tom Potter of Conway, a retired bus salesman with an 18 handicap.

Rosenfeld and Evans recently completed a 13-month trip playing golf courses across the U.S. and are headed west after selling their North Myrtle Beach home.

An abundance of wildlife adds to the natural feel of Wild Wing, and the bird moniker fits the surroundings. On the first hole a bald eagle flew over the tee box, and one of more than a dozen blue herons along the outskirts of an adjacent pond was working to gulp down a 6-inch fish it had just plucked from the water. "I love all this nature," Tom said. "That's half the reason to play golf."

The layout is 7,127 yards long and seems longer because of four par-4s that measure more than 450 yards, capping out at 477. We played on a day that was soggy and a bit chilly, making the course play even longer.

"Not every course plays to its yardage from the tips," Mike said. "Today it played a lot longer than your typical 7,000-yard-plus course because the par-4s are what kill you."

Greens, which are a combination of PennLinks and A1 bentgrass, have several steep undulations and are often multi-leveled, accounting for much of Avocet's difficulty. They were still suffering the effects of an extremely hot summer that stressed bent greens at many Strand courses to their breaking point. All of the greens were spotty, and course owners have considered replacing them with an untradwarf Bermudagrass. "The bentgrass is suffering from harsh weather," Tom said.

The rest of the course was well maintained. "I really thought other than the wetness from rain, which is Mother Nature, it was in great shape," Juanita said.

There are few doglegs, fairways are rolling, mounding is prevalent - particularly around greens, water or wetlands is a factor on a handful of holes, and bunkers are fairly deep and penalizing.

"These are pretty holes but there's nothing easy about any of them," Tom said.

Likes

Tom enjoyed the entire facility, views from some elevated tee boxes, and friendliness of the staff. "I was in the clubhouse for awhile and the staff here is a really nice group of people," he said.

Juanita likes the forward tee yardage for her game, but realizes it might be long for many women. "About 5,300 yards is perfect for me because I hit a long ball, but it might be long for a number of ladies," she said. "I don't know that many women in the Myrtle Beach area who would want to play 5,300. They like 4,800 or 4,900."

Tom and Juanita both enjoyed the lack of homes, terrain changes and wildlife. "Seeing a bald eagle on the first tee was a bonus," Juanita said.

Mike liked that it was open off the tee "if you hit it straight," he said.

Dislikes

Mike and Juanita were disappointed that three of the six draft beers in the Players Club weren't on tap during the winter. Juanita said she would have elevated the facility rating to a '5' had there been more beer on tap and hot food available late in the afternoon when we finished our round.

Tee box selection for seniors can be difficult, with only the 6,028-yard white tees between the 6,614-yard magenta and 5,298-yard teal tees. The group was disappointed with the green conditions.

Mike enjoys doglegs that allow cutting corners, blind shots and instances of target golf, and Wild Wing doesn't provide much of that. "It's not tricked out enough to be a memorable day," he said. "It's a great course and fair, but it needs more hazards to come into play."

Par-3s

The 183-yard fifth hole is 157 from the magenta tee and features a slightly downhill tee shot from elevated tee boxes. Water is to the left and in front of a green that slopes to the right and there is a bailout area to the right in front of four bunkers.

The 176-yard eighth is 164 from the magenta and is both attractive and daunting. Elevated tee boxes rise above a water hazard fronting a wide green with steep pot bunkers front and back and rough depressions buffering the green from the water. The green has ridges separating the front and back as well as the right and left sides.

The 227-yard 12th is 207 from the magenta, with a deep, menacing bunker containing grass islands right and front right of a wide green. "This is a man's par-3," Mike said. The 196-yard 17th is 181 from the magenta requiring a slightly downhill tee shot over wetlands to a double green shared by the sixth hole to the left, though you can't see that half of the green from the tee because of the tree line.

The longest par-3 from the white tee is 166 yards, and from the forward tees the par-3s are 100 or shorter on the front nine and 130 and 143 yards on the back nine. "The par-3s are easy from the forward tees because they're short but they're beautiful with well-guarded greens," Juanita said.

Par-4s

"The par-3s are fair; the par-5s are fair; the par-4s are a bear," Tom said. "The course has a great layout, though some of the par-4s are too long for the average guy. They're too long from even the white tees at 400-plus yards, though most of the par-4 holes are enjoyable for the average player."

The 402-yard first hole and 422-yard second are relatively benign, though a fairway bunker takes up the left half of a wide landing area on the opening hole. "The first two holes are good starting holes and give a player a taste of what's to come," Tom said.

The 477-yard third hole requires a downhill second shot over wetlands that come within about 30 yards of the green. It's 373 yards from the forward tee. "I'm a fairly long ball hitter but without hurricane winds behind me I'd never reach the green in regulation," Juanita said.

The 362-yard ninth has two groupings of three bunkers adding difficulty to a split fairway. The 433-yard 10th has long fingered bunkers down the right side of the fairway and an uphill second shot, and the 400-yard 13th has a slightly elevated green amidst mounding.

The 308-yard 14th is 283 from the magenta tee. You can go over water toward the green with a fairway beginning 60 yards from the green or go left over bunkers to a fairway. "Go for it," Mike said. "There's plenty of room [short of the green] on the right. I like holes like this."

The 16th is 470 yards and begins a tough three-hole finishing stretch, and the 453-yard 18th turns left over a narrow lake, allowing you to cut the corner. A ridge splits the high left and low right portions of a green protected on the left by a large bunker featuring mushroom-cap grass islands. "This is a beautiful finishing hole," Tom said.

Par-5s

The par-5s on the front nine are long and the par-5s on the back are less than 520 yards and potentially reachable in two. "There are beautiful layouts on the par-5s," Juanita said. "They're very fair, allowing driver on all tees with fairly open landing areas."

The 551-yard fourth hole is 526 from the magenta tee. It winds through trees and there are wetlands 30 yards in front of a green split by a ridge down the middle. The straightforward 576-yard seventh is 553 from the magenta and has bunker front left and front right of a green that was changed to a plush Mini-Verde Bermudagrass.

Both the 510-yard 11th hole, measuring 485 from the magenta, and 519-yard 15th, measuring 476 from the magenta, have water coming in from the left side of the green, though it comes more into the fairway on the 15th. The 11th turns right after the tee shot and its green slopes to the front, and the 15th has bunkers on both sides of the fairway on the drive.

Favorite holes

Juanita's favorite hole is the par- 15th, which measures 429 yards from the forward tee. "It's beautiful and fair, with ample landing areas for first and second shots and an approach that requires a mid-iron," she said.

Mike liked the 18th because it's a "good, long finishing hole," and the 14th because of the risk-reward aspect of the hole.

Tom's favorite hole was also the 14th, which measured 265 yards from the white tee. "It's a good risk-reward," Tom said. "Even an average drive could reach the putting surface in the summer."

Least favorite holes

Juanita's least favorite hole is the par-4 sixth. The 462-yard hole is 346 from the forward tee, has trees to the right and water to the left off the tee, and a long bunker on the right side of deep green that has three distinct levels and extends to the 17th green.

"It has a narrow landing area for the drive, and if you don't go in the trees on the right or water on the left you have a wood on your approach," she said. "Then when you reach the enormous undulating green you expect a windmill and clown face."

Both Mike and Tom thought the 470-yard 16th, which measures 418 yards from the white tee, was excessively difficult. "It takes a perfect drive to even have a chance," Mike said.

Tom said the hole is "too long for the average senior player."

To view Blondin's blog, `Green Reading', or Q&A Forum `Ask Al,' go to TheSunNews.com.

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