On Grand Strand Golf: Eagle Nest Golf Club will become longest course in state

A golfer tees off on the 18th hole at Eagle Nest in Little River.
A golfer tees off on the 18th hole at Eagle Nest in Little River.

The PGA of America and United States Golf Association have for the past few years endorsed a program called Tee it Forward, encouraging golfers to play shorter distances in the hopes of speeding up play and providing more playability and enjoyment.

Eagle Nest Golf Club owner Rick Elliott sees the value of the idea, and has added a few new forward tee boxes and U.S. Kids/family tee plaques in fairways.

But he believes the bombers in the game should be catered to as well, and they’ll soon be challenged at his course like nowhere else in South Carolina.

Elliott wants to have the longest course in the state.

New back tee boxes are being added to most holes at the Little River layout, and by this summer the 44-year-old Gene Hamm design should be approximately 7,900 yards.

About 1,000 yards are being added to the current length of 6,901 yards, though the course can now measure more than 7,000 yards when the back tee boxes are fully extended.

“Everybody keeps saying shorten things up and make things more narrow. I think the opposite,” Elliott said. “There’s an opportunity at Eagle Nest to push it to around 8,000 yards. We feel we can add a lot of distance to the golf course and make it a true championship layout. The new golfer wants to play a championship course and distance is important.”

The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island is considered the longest course in the state at 7,817 yards, according to S.C. Golf Association staff. It’s listed playing yardage for the 2012 PGA Championship was 7,676 yards.

The Roger Rulewich-designed Grande Dunes Resort Course is considered the longest course on the Grand Strand at 7,578 yards, and was listed at 7,618 yards before alterations a few years ago.

The additional distance is being added to 13 holes, as Elliott said holes 1, 9, 11, 14 and 16 won’t be expanded. The work is being overseen by superintendent Mark Duzenski, who was an assistant superintendent at Tobacco Road outside Pinehurst, N.C., with some contracted help.

The new tips will be called the “Perch Tees” and will be constructed to resemble eagle’s nests with elevation and ornamental grasses.

Trees have been cleared behind existing tee boxes and shots from the Perch Tees will often be through tree-lined chutes. Players will have ample room to land drives as there are just a few houses around the course on holes 8, 9, 16 and 17.

Dirt is being moved to build up the tee boxes, which will be surrounded by wire grass. “We’ll make it look like a nest as much as humanly possible. It will be a little different look than what we have now,” Elliott said. “It’s going to be for golfers looking for a challenge. Come challenge yourself at Eagle Nest and play the Perch Tee boxes.”

Elliott said he believes golf is on the rebound and young, talented golfers are a significant part of it.

“I think there will be a surge in golf package play,” Elliott said. “It’s going to be more of these young people who want to play with power. Golfers are bigger and stronger now and hit the ball farther. There’s a market for the uniqueness that Eagle Nest will offer.”

The new tees are part of recent and ongoing improvements at Eagle Nest. Additional work this winter includes renovations to drainage and cart paths. Noteworthy improvements started with the installation of MiniVerde ultradwarf Bermudagrass on greens in 2008 when the course was being run by Elliott’s father, former state Sen. Dick Elliott, who died in June 2014.

“The goal over the past three years has been better carts and better equipment to mow and manicure the golf course, so that’s been a good upgrade and steps in the right direction,” Elliott said. “We want to improve upon the reputation and add to the good things my dad did.”

Eagle Nest boasts one of the toughest three-hole finishes on the Strand, with the 449-yard par-4 16th, 616-yard par-5 17th and 185-yard par-3 18th over water and a front bunker. That stretch will be even more difficult with the lengthening of the final two holes. The 18th is expected to become a 240-yard par-3.

“I think that will be a challenge that will intrigue people – to play the longest course in the state with the three toughest finishing holes,” Elliott said. “If you don’t have a 3 handicap or better you may not want to try those. But the challenge will be there if you’d like to play.”

The IMG experience

Madison Elliott would have been a junior on the North Myrtle Beach High School girls golf team this school year, but she is instead a student at the International Management Group (IMG) Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

Elliott, who is Rick Elliott’s daughter, is hoping to expedite her golf learning curve and improvement in the Golf Boarding School Program at the prestigious academy.

“For our family it was a way to help her try to achieve her goals,” Rick Elliott said. “Her goals are to continue to do well in school and give herself a better opportunity to earn a scholarship to play golf in college. It was something she wanted to do. It’s her dream so we as a family want to support it.”

Madison attended summer camps at the IMG Academy two consecutive years and was recruited to enroll full-time. Her father said she didn’t enroll as a sophomore because she wanted to play for longtime NMB girls golf coach David Small in his final year of coaching.

Rick Elliott said her daily schedule involves playing golf or receiving instruction from about 7:30 a.m.-noon, academic classes from 1-6 p.m., a study hall and lights out.

Several sports are taught at the academy and her roommate is a basketball player from Atlanta.

“It has been a good experience for her, very positive physically, mentally and with fundamentals,” Rick Elliott said. “She’s got some great coaches down there. It’s like golf on steroids.”

Despite being in the midst of a swing change, Madison returned home to play in the Charles Tilghman Junior Championship at the Surf Golf and Beach Club from Dec. 12-13 and shot a pair of 79s to finished ninth among 18 girls.

“She’s taking the gamble this year to improve her fundamentals and hopes to improve her scores this summer,” Rick Elliott said.

The academy features a 6,900-yard golf course, double-sided driving range with multiple target greens and a putting green, as well as a 10,000 square-foot weight room and covered performance turf/track. Rick Elliott said Madison has gained nearly 15 pounds of muscle already.

Her parents and younger sister, Caroline, have visited her at the academy a few times. Whether she’ll return to the academy next year hasn’t been decided. “What she’ll do next year will be up to Madison,” Rick Elliott said.

Preseason Classic nearing

There are openings for fewer than 10 two-person teams for the upcoming second annual Myrtle Beach Preseason Classic from Feb. 1-3, which is being run by marketing cooperative Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday.

The 54-hole event has a limit of 200 players and costs $199, which includes a Greg Norman pullover welcome gift, random prize drawings and an awards luncheon.

Host courses are Arrowhead Country Club, Wizard Golf Club, River Club, Blackmoor Golf Club, Barefoot Resort’s Norman Course and True Blue Golf Club. The round formats are best ball, combined team net score and Texas Scramble.

Organizers plan to accept entries through the end of the week, when they will flight the tournament, which sold out with 200 players last year.

“I think we’ll get close to that 200,” said Golf Holiday tournaments director Jeff Monday. “I think people are still hanging on to see what the weather is going to do because it is that time of year.”

State leaders, honorees

At the South Carolina Golf Association’s annual meeting on Jan. 9, Steve Fuller of Bluffton was elected to serve as association president. The 59-year-old Fuller is a development partner with Colleton River Plantation Club in Bluffton and has served on the SCGA’s executive board since 2004.

John Lopez of Murrells Inlet now serves as the Immediate Past President and Rick Miller of Pawleys Island was reelected to the board.

The SCGA has 283 member clubs with over 57,000 individual golfers in the membership system. The SCGA office also houses the S.C. Junior Golf Association and the S.C. Junior Golf Foundation.

The annual meeting was held in conjunction with Golf Day, which recognizes the SCGA’s year-end award winners and also the 2015 S.C. Golf Hall of Fame ceremonies.

The Hootie & the Blowfish Monday After the Masters Celebrity Pro-Am tournament board was selected to receive the Tom Fazio Service to Golf Award for its exceptional work during the event’s 22 years, including the past 14 at Barefoot Resort and Barefoot Landing.

Rick Cloninger of Fort Mill won his fourth straight Senior Player of the Year honor and University of South Carolina senior Matt NeSmith earned the SCGA Player of the Year title.

Golf Channel personality and former PGA Tour pro and Georgia Tech All-American Charlie Rymer of Fort Mill was inducted as the 65th member of the S.C. Golf Hall of Fame. He won three consecutive S.C. Junior titles and the U.S. Junior championship.

Best in Carolinas

Four first-time winners and two previous honorees have been named 2015 Richard S. Tufts Players of the Year by the Carolinas Golf Association.

The six amateur winners are: Scott Harvey of Greensboro, N.C. (Men), Lori Beth Adams of Burlington, N.C. (Women), Gary Robinson of Fayetteville, N.C. (Senior Men), Pat Brogden of Garner, N.C. (Senior Women), Christian Salzer of Sumter (Junior Boys) and Ashley Czarnecki of Greenville (Junior Girls).

The awards are given to the top golfers based on the CGA amateur rankings at the end of the calendar year in each of the six categories. Harvey won for a record fifth consecutive year and Brogden won for the fourth time in the past five years.

Award winners will be honored during Carolinas Golf Night and the CGA Annual Meeting at the Country Club of Charleston on Friday, Feb. 19.