Last week I blogged about my recent round at Caledonia Golf & Fish Club on Pawley's Island, just south of Myrtle Beach in South Carolina. While Caledonia, with its intimacy and charm, was designed to be a golfer's Heaven, golf course architect Mike Strantz desgined its nearby sister course, True Blue, to be a fight through hell.
True Blue, with its large fairways and greens and its seemingly larger, intimidating bunkers and waste areas, casts any effort at subtlety to the wind. The course is dynamic, bold, demanding from the first tee shot to the last putt, and unforgiving. In many ways, I find myself thinking of True Blue as something of a little brother to Strantz's most famous design, Tobacco Road in Sanford, N.C.
When True Blue opened for play it was met with some of the same controvery and critical success as Tobacco Road. It was ranked among the top 100 public courses in the country by multiple publications, yet golfers who played it either really loved it or really hated it. Feedback from paying guests indicated that the difficulty of the course would keep them from returning with any sort of regularity, if ever at all. As a result, Strantz was asked to soften the design in order to make it more friendly to average golfers.
I don't know if the resulting renovations had anything to do with True Blue falling out of the top 100 rankings, but it is absolutely a course that any fan of Strantz -- and anyone who loves the game -- ought to make a point to play if they find themselves in the area. I was glad I had the opportunity to visit during my recent trip to Myrtle Beach, and I'm pleased to be able to share some photographs from my round here.
The opening hole at True Blue is a dogleg left par-5 measuring a whopping 624 yards from the tips. From the white tees, it's a more manageable 499 yards. I played from the white tees (6,205 yards total), and all yardages presented from this point forward will be from the white tees. There is sand down the entire left side of the hole and a large waste area to the right of the landing area off the tee that also must be avoided in order to have an opportunity to score well.
Going for the green in two is a dangerous proposition as the long, narrow green is guarded not only by sand but by a small stream that winds itself around and in front of the entire green complex. Players who lay up should find themselves with little more than a wedge and a chance at birdie.
The high walls of the bunkers left and right of the green make getting up and down a tricky challenge for any player who misses the opening green.
Hole No. 2 should be a scoring hole given its length -- just 316 yards -- and wide fairway. There is potential tree trouble for a tee shot that is too far to the right, but most players hitting a hybrid or long- to mid-iron off the tee should find themselves in the short grass with a wedge or short-iron into the green.
The real challenge of No. 2 is finding the dance floor -- a long, very narrow green that demands precision and rejects the slightest offline approach, harshly sending errant shots into deep sandy waste areas that practically surround the green.
This photo doesn't do the third hole justice. At 141, the tee shot on this par-3 is played into an island green that is more than 70 yards long but barely 10 yards wide at even its widest points. Don't be short. Or long. Or left. Or right.
The 4th at True Blue is another 500ish-yard par-5 -- the second of three on the front nine -- that requires a tee shot out to the right and then plays way back to the left around or across a large lake. In some ways, it reminds me of the 6th hole at Bay Hill, though nobody is trying to fly this green from the tee with no direct line of sight due to an outcropping of trees that promise to block any attempt.
A daring tee shot down the left side of the fairway does offer the long hitter an opportunity to go for this green in two, provided one can carry the ball more than 200 yards through the air and has the nerves to try to do so. For those who play around the water, the wide, receptive green offers a reasonable opportunity for birdie.
The fifth hole is a fun challenge. Measuring 392 yards, it sets up visually to entice you to hit a big drive down the right side in order to avoid the large waste area that encroaches on the fairway from the left. A long drive down the right side, however, can leave the player blocked out from an approach to the green by trees as the whole sweeps back to the left. The ideal drive is a bold draw that plays around the waste area.
For the player who can find the left side of the fairway off the tee, the hole offers a straight-in look at the flag on a large green guarded by sand to the right. A shot played toward the left side of the green can be run up to the hole for a potential birdie.
No. 6 is perhaps the strangest hole at True Blue in that it gives the superintendent the option of using either a left green or a right green. Measuring 346 yards, the smart play off the tee on this hole is a 200-yard shot you can keep in the fairway, followed by a short- to mid-iron into whichever green hosts the flag for that day.
The day I played True Blue, the flag on No. 6 was on the left green, which is guarded by a long waste area running down the entire left side of the approach and more sand right of the green. On those days when the right green is played, sand must be avoided to the right of the green, but there is an option to bail out left.
Possibly my favorite hole at True Blue, the 7th is a 151-yard par-3 played to an elevated and massively undulating green -- a green that measures more than 50 yards from front-left to back-right but is only 30 feet deep in its center. The putting surface looks so much smaller than it actually is from the tee, as the view of the green complex is domaniated by the wall of sand that threatens to doom any effort to score well on this hole for the golfer whose tee shot comes up short.
In true Mike Strantz style, the ideal spot to land your drive on the 335-yard 8th hole is an area you can't see from the tee. The hole can be played left of the waste area that dominates the right side of this hole, but playing left will leave you with a longer shot into the green and the possibility of having your approach shot blocked out by trees if you're a bit too long off the tee.
The ideal shot is directly over the waste area, carrying 225 yards or more to an area of the fairway that will leave you with well under 100 yards into this green. Play to the blind spot, and birdie becomes a higher-percentage possibility, but you've got to have the course knowledge and the nerve to take on the waste area and the treeline to the right with your driver.
At 517 yards, the 9th hole at True Blue is a fantastic par-5 that requires two incredible shots or three really solid ones to reach the green. Big hitters can possibly get there in two, but the required carry to reach the green with the second shot -- over bothe water and sand -- make laying up a more appealing option for most of us. The real question is whether you've hit your drive long enough to hit your second shot across the water, which will leave you with an approach shot inside 100 yards for your third ... or if you need to lay up short of the water, in which case you'll be hitting a mid-iron or more into an elvated green that is practically surrounded by deep bunkers.
Even with a wedge in your hands after crossing the water, the approach to this green is no piece of cake. The putting surface is hidden behind and below the face of a massive bunker. What's more, the green is relatively narrow and runs away toward two more deep bunkers beyond the green. It doesn't take much for what should be an easy par to turn into a challenging bogey on this hole.
No. 10 is a big, dramatic par-5. From the tee, the waste area looks daunting, and it'll take a drive of about 240 yards in the air to carry the sand and cut off any distance from this dogleg left hole. The safe play is to aim for the left side of the fairway off the tee and just make sure to find the short grass.
The second shot on 10 plays to a stretch of fairway that is hidden beyond and below a stretch of five deep bunkers that cross the fairway and threaten to derail any hope of a par for the unfortunate golfer whose ball fails to sail over them.
The third shot into No. 10 needs to carry a 15-yard-wide strip of thick natural grasses and bushes as well as a huge, deep bunker fronting two-thirds of the green. Combined, these impediments make it impossible to hit anything but a high ball into this green. For the player who successfully traverses all this hole puts in front of them and finds the green in regulation, the reward is a potential birdie putt on one of the flattest greens on the course.
The 11th hole at True Blue is a terrific little par-3. At just 130 yards, this hole should be a scoring hole, but as the green complex rises from a huge waste area, any shot hit short, left or right is going to find sand and a difficult up-and-down to a green that may not offer any straight putts longer than six feet, regardless of the pin position.
The 371-yard par-4 12th hole offers an inviting landing area from the tee. Balls hit to the right run the risk of finding the waste area, but there is ample room to hit anything from a long-iron/hybrid to driver and set yourself up with a short iron from the fairway.
The green on No. 12 is guarded by sand short, left, right and long. But none of the bunkers on this hole are especially deep, making them playable. And I should know; I holed out from the waste area short of the green on this hole -- a happy memory.
If hole No. 12 felt a bit tame, hole No. 13 reminds you from the tee that True Blue has sharp teeth. The waste area that runs down the left side fo the hole from the teeing ground appears to be almost trying to tear into the fairway. Visually, the hole makes you want to hit your ball out to the right, but the real diabolical nature of Mike Strantz is revealed in the fact that there is another waste area right that is difficult to see from the tee and stretches from about 210 yards to 270 yards -- perfectly placed to capture the tee shot of anyone who tries to bail out.
Golfers who do find the fairway will find themselves with a mid- or short-iron shot into an elevated green fronted by a series of deep bunkers that can make par an impossibility. The day I played the course, I watched a playing partner fail to escape one of these bunkers three times -- hitting his ball into the face of the bunker time and again -- before finally turning around and playing back to the fairway. Ouch.
No. 14 is another short par-3, measuring just 138 yards. The 60-yard-wide green gives the superintendent options for the pin placement that can make this hole play completely different from one round to the next. When the pin is on the right side of the green, it requires a high shot that carries all the way to the putting surface and must land soft in order to hold the putting surface. If the pin is on the left side of the green, the hole will play longer but offers players the option to hit a low running shot just left of the small pot bunker.
The 15th hole at True Blue is the final par-5 on the course, measuring 506 yards. The hole is reachable in two for big hitters, but for the rest of us, the hole prioritizes precision over power. Waste areas left and right border the fairway the entire length of the hole and will quickly turn a would-be par into bogey or worse.
The hole is essentially straight, as the crow flies, but the shape of the fairway calls for a draw off the tee, a fade for your second shot and then another right to left ball on your approach to the wide, eleated green. There is a lot of room up the neck to run a ball into this green for the long-hitting golfer who attempts to reach the putting surface in two.
No. 16 is a pretty mid-length par-3 -- a 181-yard hole that calls for a carry of about 165 yards to clear the water that fronts the green complex. The hole does offer players an opportunity to bail out left into the waste area in order to take the hazard out of play off the tee, but doing so sets up a precarious sand shot across a green that slopes away from the golfer and toward the water on the right.
The 17th hole at True Blue is a terrific risk-reward hole. Drives played to the right side of the fairway risk finding the lake that runs the entire length of the hole, but a player who safely lands his tee shot on the right side of the fairway will be afforded a shorter approach into one of the smaller greens on the course. Players who elect to stay left off the tee may take water out of play, but any ball that finds the waste area down the left side of the hole will almost certainly result in a bogey or worse.
A drive to the right side of the fairway will leave the player with a shorter approach to the green on 17, but the shot will be almost entirely over water. Drives to the left side of the fairway give the player an option to run an approach shot into this small green.
No. 18 at True Blue is a spectacular finishing hole. From the tee, the player's vision is dominated by a deep bunker that hides the bulk of the fairway from view and beckons the golfer to aim farther left than is truly necessary, bringing the hazard left of the hole much more into play. In truth, any shot of 200 yards or so, aimed directly over the large bunker will find the fairway and leave the player with just a short- or mid-iron into this long, narrow green.
In this overhead picture from MyrtleBeachGolfMasters.com, it's easier to see how much fairway really exists over the bunker off the tee. It's also easier to see how the hole becomes much more difficult the farther left and back the pin is placed on the long, narrow green guarded by water down the entire left side and behind. The hole is made more difficult by the fact that the green slopes right to left and front to back, meaning players who bail out right on their approach will still face the very real possibilit of running a pitch shot through the green and into the alligator-infested water beyond.
Always nice to have spectators while you putt out on 18 ... even the kind with razor-sharp teeth. ;)
While True Blue may not currently reside on the Top 100 rankings lists published by the sport's major media outlets, it remains a fantastic exampleof the artistry, brilliance and unique vision of golf course architect Mike Strantz. It is unlike any other course in the Myrtle Beach area, a fantastic test of golf and a course that ought to be experienced by anyone who loves the game.