Golf

Course review: True Blue offers pleasure and pain

True Blue Golf Club is akin to love-hate relationship for golfers.

It’ll test your limits, but you can’t help but enjoy it.

That’s often the artistry and allure of Mike Strantz golf course designs.

Strantz designed True Blue for a 1998 opening to join sister course Caledonia Golf & Fish Club.

It has formidable length from several tee boxes, expansive waste bunkers throughout the layout, dramatic and penalizing greenside bunkering, large and undulating greens that are often elevated, and several carries over water hazards and wetlands.

“It’s very hard to play for the first time,” said Canadian snowbird Robert Coiteux, who participated in a review of the course in early March. “You cannot let up on any shot as trouble awaits you.”

Joining me and Robert, a retired computer programmer and 15 handicap from Granby, Quebec, in the review foursome were Butch Cremeans of Longs, a retired railroad engineer and 19 handicap, and Mike Camacho of Myrtle Beach, a professional club maker and Medieval Times cast member.

True Blue is a 7,126-yard par-72 with some quirks. It has five par-3s and five par-5s. Three par-5s on the front nine give it a par of 37, and three par-3s on the back nine give it a par of 35. Three of the par-5s measure at least 599 yards, giving True Blue some of the longest holes on the Grand Strand, and there are back-to-back par-5s on the ninth and 10th.

“A word to the wise: Play the proper tees,” Mike said.

The former indigo and rice plantation has Lowcountry charms.

“What a beautiful golf course,” Mike said. “I just think the golf course is a very, very good golf course. I just love Mike Strantz designs. All of his courses are interesting. You stand on the tee of a Strantz course and it doesn’t look like you have any room but you have tons of room.”

With ample room off the tee despite the multitude of fairway waste bunkers, approach shots are the biggest challenge. “The fairways are very wide but trouble arrives on the second shot,” Robert said. “I enjoyed the course totally.”

The course was in good shape for our round, including TifEagle ultradwarf Bermudagrass greens. “The greens are as smooth and true as any in Myrtle Beach,” Robert said. “You never have any bumps on your putts. It’s really impressive when you consider the winter they’ve had here.”

No one in our foursome made a birdie. Butch got the better of the course early with pars on the first two holes, but the course quickly got revenge. “I started out well, before the sleeping giant awoke. It came out like a lamb then ate me like a lion,” said Butch, who has been playing three years and considers True Blue one of the two most difficult courses he has played.

Likes

The group found the staff to be friendly and helpful. Butch also liked the large greens and some elevated greens, and appreciated the multiple prisms on the flagstick that made it easy to lock in a distance with a range finder.

Five tee boxes give players an opportunity to find the right distance. “The separation of tee boxes is very fair for all levels of players,” Mike said.

Robert enjoyed the variety of holes and the way the course forces you to concentrate on every shot, and thought the beverage cart “came around just the right amount.”

The course was softened a bit in the early 2000s with the elimination of some blind landing areas, which Mike found successful. “I liked the fact that you can see where you are going on every hole. There’s nothing goofy,” he said.

A new free GPS app for True Blue and sister course Caledonia provides yardages and flyover footage on smart phones.

Dislikes

Because all True Blue bunkers are played as waste bunkers, they are often not raked well or at all by players after use and you run the risk of having a lie in a footprint or unkempt area, and the sand texture and compactness can vary because some areas of bunkers are used as cart paths.

Butch found there to be “way too many bunkers and waste bunkers in play and hidden,” and rain in the days prior to our round made many bunkers “wet and hard, making shots from them more difficult than usual.”

The group thought a course of True Blue’s caliber should have ball and club washers on carts, and there could be more yardage markers in the course’s expansive fairways. Robert suggested fairway poles for at least the 150-yard markers.

Par-3s

Par-3s measure between 158 and 208 from the back tees, and between 130 and 181 from the middle white tees. “The par-3s are beautiful and scenic, especially No. 3,” Butch said.

The 190-yard third hole has a long island green that angles to the left in relation to the tee boxes. The green slopes to the middle from the front and back, and to the left, and a waste bunker wraps around the front and right side. “No. 3 is very tough because balls hitting the green can easily go into the water,” Butch said.

The 176-yard seventh has a wide green coming off the side of a hill to the right. The two-tiered green has a plateau to the far right and slopes sharply off it with a waste bunker front and right. The 184-yard 11th has a near peninsula green in a waste bunker containing trees. The green is flat in the back and slopes to the front from the middle.

The 158-yard 14th has a downhill tee shot to a wide kidney-shaped green with connected small, pot-like bunkers front middle and back middle and waste bunkers to the front and left. “Stay out of the pot bunker of doom that is pin high when the pin is in the middle of the green,” Butch said.

The 208-yard 16th has water front and right of the green. Waste bunkers run along the water’s banks and to the left of the green, which is perched well above the water.

“The par-3s were fun to play from the gold and played to different yardages, which allowed me to use different clubs,” Robert said.

Par-4s

The 449-yard 17th and 437-yard 18th holes provide a difficult finish. The 17th has water down the entire right side and a waste bunker to the left off the tee, and the hole turns back into the water for the approach.

The 18th requires a tee shot over water that runs down the entire left side of the hole. The fairway is elevated above the water and a waste bunker on the right off the tee. The very deep green angles to the left along the water and slopes sharply to it. “It’s a beautiful hole but blind shots from the right side are very difficult,” Butch said of the 18th.

The fairway runs into a waste bunker about 100 yards from the green on the 367-yard second hole and an oak tree in the right side of the bunker can affect second shots into a narrow green in a hollow.

“All par-4s are well protected and require you to be in the correct area for entry,” Robert said.

The 433-yard fifth hole is a slight dogleg left with a waste bunkers on either side of the fairway, the 404-yard sixth requires a tee shot over wetlands and has two greens – left and right – that are both well bunkered, and the 407-yard 12th is a slight dogleg right along an inside waste bunker.

“The course has quality par-4s with a good mix of yardages,” Mike said.

Par-5s

The shortest par-5 is 548 yards. “The par-5s are long,” Robert said. “Even from the gold tees they are a lot of work.”

The first hole is 624 yards – though it shortens to 499 from the white – and turns left around a waste bunker leading to an elevated green protected by a creek crossing in front of it and bunkers nearly surrounding it. “At 499 from the white tees it’s very fair,” Butch said. “The elevated green on the first hole looks imposing.”

The 548-yard fourth hole turns left around a lake from tee to green and can be reachable in two shots if you’re willing to take on the water. The green slopes sharply to the left toward the water. “No. 4 is beautiful and interesting around the water but it’s difficult to go for the green because you need to carry water 200 yards or more,” Butch said.

The 548-yard ninth is a mild dogleg left with waste bunkers on either side of the fairway and wetlands crossing the fairway between 140 and 90 yards from a green that is elevated and tucked behind a deep and high-lipped bunker.

The 599-yard 10th is a dogleg right with a row of bunkers in mounding to carry on the second shot. Wetlands front a green that angles to the right along a waste bunker and slopes to the front from the middle. The 602-yard 15th has waste bunkers left and right off the tee. The hole turns slightly left along a waste bunker below the fairway to a mildly rolling elevated green. “Holes 10 and 15 are insanely long par-5s,” Butch said.

“The par-5s are very long but fair,” Mike said. “Lay up areas are well-defined and two are very good risk-reward holes.”

Favorite holes

Butch enjoyed the par-5 fourth hole, which measured 493 yards from the white tee, the par-3 16th measuring 181 from the white because it’s “a beautiful hole with a long carry over water,” and the 18th, which measured 406 from the white. “It’s a beautiful hole with a large green that requires accuracy,” Butch said.

Robert also liked the 18th. “That’s my idea of a good finishing hole,” Robert said. “In fact the last three holes are great.”

Mike’s favorite hole was the 382-yard par-4 eighth hole, a dogleg left around/over a mound and waste bunker containing vegetation. A downhill tee shot may not require driver, though one can be used to get near a green that is very elevated with a bunker left, small bunker front right and collection area right. “It’s a very good hole,” Mike said. “It can be played honest or you can go for it.”

Least favorite holes

Butch found two par-5s to be excessively long and difficult. He thought the par-5 15th, playing 577 from the white tee, “was just so very long with lots of waste bunkers,” and on the 10th, which is 559 from the white, he hit three good shots but was in the wetlands shy of the green. “And with the pin in front there’s no room,” Butch said.

Mike’s least favorite hole was the 190-yard par-3 third. “The left side of the green is too severe,” Mike said. “A ball that lands on a par-3 12 feet left of the hole should not end up in the water.”

Robert’s least favorite hole was the 410-yard par-4 13th, which played 372 from the gold tee. The hole has waste bunkers down the left and right side and bunker crossing the fairway 40 yards from the green. “I have to lay up with a short iron because I was in no-man’s land after the drive,” Robert said.

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