SUNSET BEACH, N.C.
Sea Trail Resort's Byrd Course is a prime example of why so many courses on the Grand Strand are replacing bentgrass greens with new ultradwarf Bermudagrasses.
The pine tree-lined Willard Byrd layout that opened in 1990 has been revitalized by the changing of the greens last year from bent to Champion Bermuda.
"The greens are great. They are huge, they don't have any blemishes and are really true," said Josh Unger of Myrtle Beach, a student at the Golf Academy of America who took part in a review of the course in late March.
"Any time you can get a green that's big and relatively flat that is ideal. These greens are big and they have some undulation in them but not too much, and they'll hold shots and aren't too hard."
Joining me and Josh, who carries a 10.4 handicap, in the review foursome were John Hasenstab of Murrells Inlet, a retired educator with a 17 handicap, and Grace Caravello of Conway, a retired Verizon systems analyst with a 24 handicap.
"This course had a tremendous variety of holes," John said. "There are many very nice holes with scenic aesthetics."
The greens were lightly overseeded with poa trivialis for the winter and that grass is being fully overtaken by the Bermuda this spring. "The greens held and putted great," John said.
The course's yardage of 6,740 doesn't require a driver off every tee and includes a number of doglegs both right and left. "A variety of clubs can be used off the tee and there's a high amount of risk-reward," Josh said.
There is some water on the layout but most of the difficulty stems from bunkers. Both waste and traditional bunkers pinch fairways, and 15 of the 18 greens are protected by multiple bunkers. "The course was very fair with good shots and not overly punitive for bad ones," John said.
The course's aesthetics include stone walkways to delineate parking areas at tees and greens, dead trees in some waste bunker areas, a plethora of wildlife including alligators and a variety of birds - there's an osprey nest on the 18th fairway near the green - and attractive housing, including Charleston-style homes on some holes.
"The course was in great condition," Josh said. "The manicuring on this course is really nice. They definitely take time and do the work to make it nice."
Women have a significant advantage on many holes with a total yardage of 4,621 yards. "The par-3s were easy for women and some of the par-4s were short enough to make it in regulation," Grace said. "The par-5s were short also."
The driving range has target greens and flags with measured yardages, and there is a chipping green with a bunker.
John enjoyed the tee-time separation of 10 minutes, compared to eight minutes at many clubs, and the policy to start every group on the first tee. "What a pleasant experience it is," John said. "We didn't push the group in front of us and we weren't pushed, and that must be attributed to the 10-minute tee times."
Grace thought the staff was friendly and helpful and enjoyed the rolling terrain in and around many fairways. "Fairways were hilly and fun to play," she said.
With combined green and cart fees between $40 and $55 year round, "it's a great value," John said.
Josh appreciated the tree-lined layout and detailed yardage book. "It's very detailed and helped a lot having not played the course before," Josh said.
There are small hole depictions on the scorecard and yardage books are available for $3, but there weren't hole depictions on tee boxes. "If we didn't have the yardage book we would have been lost because there were no hole descriptions at the tee boxes like a lot of courses have, and there are some things you can't see on the tee box," Grace said.
The sand was good when abundant in bunkers, but it was inconsistent and thin in spots and had sparse grass growing through some areas. "The bunkers were unkept and irregular in condition," John said.
Josh thought out-of-bounds stakes created by housing were too close to some fairways, and Grace didn't believe there was enough selection of women's clothing in the pro shop.
Par-3 distances are very manageable at between 174 and 202 yards from the tips. The 174-yard second hole measures 167 from the white tee and requires a carry over water to a green that is angled to the back right, slopes to the front and left, and is surrounded by four bunkers, including an expansive bunker to its left.
The 190-yard seventh is 167 from the white and has a drive over a waste bunker decorated with a pair of small dead trees. A mildly rolling green is situated between five bunkers.
The 186-yard 12th measures 163 from the white and requires a drive over a water hazard that extends past the left side of a wide green that contains a couple rolling areas. A bunker covers the entire front of the green and there are smaller bunkers back and back left. "It's a great par-3 over water with wind factoring in," John said.
Several bunkers are snuggled around the green of the 202-yard 16th hole, which is 155 from the white.
None of the par-4s were overwhelmingly long, measuring between 368 and 412 yards. "There's a good variety of par-4s," John said. "Some were easily reachable in two, some were tough."
The 387-yard first hole doesn't require a driver and is somewhat benign, though it has water far left. The 412-yard fifth is straightforward with five deep bunkers protecting the fairway and one protecting the front left of the green.
The 396-yard sixth has a fairly narrow landing area caused by bunkers pinching both sides of the fairway, with the left bunker prominent off the tee. The eighth, 10th and 11th holes are either sharp or slight dogleg rights, the 15th is a sharp dogleg left, and the 404-yard slight dogleg-left 14th has a very narrow landing area for a driver, with water coming into the fairway from the left that is blind from the tee and bunkers on the right.
"They have a nice mix of dogleg lefts and dogleg rights," Josh said. "There's a lot of risk-reward from the back tees on the hard dogleg par-4s. You can hit to the dogleg with a hybrid or take on the dogleg with a driver."
Three of the par-5s measure between 515 and 542 yards, while the final par-5 offers birdie and eagle possibilities. Only one par-5 is more than 495 yards from the white tees. "All the par-5s were fair and scoreable," John said.
The 525-yard third hole measures 468 from the white tee and features a drive over water to a fairway on the left that must be placed between a pair of fairway bunkers at the turn of a sharp dogleg right. The fairway is a narrow corridor through pines and is rolling with mild mounding on both sides. The green has a mild plateau back right and is protected front and left by one bunker and right by another. "It's a wonderful hole that requires a good drive and solid approach," John said.
The 542-yard ninth is 517 from the white and turns slightly left with five bunkers to maneuver beginning deep in the tee shot landing area. The 528-yard 13th is 493 from the white and has bunkers both left and right in the fairway off the tee, and a green-fronting water hazard cutting across the fairway beginning 70 yards from a green that bends around a back left bunker and features a mild ridge through the middle.
The short 469-yard 18th measures 442 from the white and is intimidating in the yardage book with water abound, but the landing area is generous. "Once you get off the tee you're good to go toward the green," Josh said.
"All the par-5s were reachable in two good shots, though No. 13 may require a layup short of the water with 80 yards in after that," Josh said. "They had tight landing areas off the tee with a driver but then the fairways opened up into large bunker-surrounded greens."
Josh's favorite hole was the par-4 17th, a 382-yard hole turning slightly right with an elevated tee, water down the left side and a green well-protected by four bunkers. "A good drive will get you around 130 to 140 yards into the green, and the hole is aesthetically pleasing from the tee," he said.
John enjoyed the par-4 14th, measuring 380 yards from the white tee, because "it required a center drive and punished you left or right." He also liked the par-5 13th and third holes. "The third, with a drive across water at an angle into rolling hills to a dogleg right, was a great hole," John said.
Grace liked the par-3 second hole, which measured 106 yards from the red tee and required a short shot over water to the green.
Least favorite holes
Josh's least favorite hole was the 407-yard par-4 fourth, a sharp dogleg left turning around a waste bunker and tree line. A tree extending beyond the waste bunker on the left side of the fairway forces players to hit a well-placed tee shot of 240 to 270 yards to have a clear shot at the green, and OB lurks on the right. "You really only have about 30 yards to place your ball in the fairway off the tee and have a shot at the green," Josh said.
John's least favorite hole was the par-3 16th. "It was the least aesthetically pleasing hole on the course," he said.
Grace's least favorite hole was the par-5 13th, which measured 382 yards from the red tee and required about a 60-yard carry over water to reach the green. "I had to go over the water on the fourth shot and couldn't make it over on the third shot, and I hate having to lay up like that and lose a shot."
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