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Plenty of Thrills at Pawleys Island's Litchfield CC & The River Club

By: Steve Habel


There's no place anywhere like the Myrtle Beach area of South Carolina for great golf on a budget. Here, golfers of every skill level can find a place that's right for them. There are an abundance of courses that find a happy medium for hackers and low-handicap hustlers.

Litchfield Country Club

On the South Strand of Myrtle Beach - about 30 minutes from of the airport - are two courses, Litchfield Country Club and the River Club, that offer something for everyone.

The two courses - both run by the National Golf Management Company - are in the hamlet of Pawleys Island, one of the East Coast's oldest recreational retreats. Both courses, and the residential developments around them, were once portions of large rice plantations and are characterized by the terrain associated with the Carolina's Lowcountry: mostly flat wetlands dotted by oaks draped in Spanish moss.

Despite the fact that Litchfield CC is almost 20 years older than River Club, the two are very good companion layouts, their entrances barely a mile apart, making them ideal for the 36-holes-a-day outings so common to the area.

The 18th at Litchfield CC

Litchfield CC a South Strand Original

Designed by Willard Byrd and opened in 1966, Litchfield Country Club is the dean of South Strand layouts, meshing a traditional design with an established setting, top-notch conditioning and attention to detail.

Playing to a par of 72 and at 6,692 yards from the tips, Litchfield CC's mature tree-lined fairways and mid-sized greens contribute to its rating of 72.5 and 131 Slope. A round here is energized by bump-and-run options, encouraging creativity around the greens.

Only three of the 10 par-4s extend 406 yards or more and the longest (No. 3) is just 425. But the key to success here is finding the fairway. The par-3s are also a challenge. The 202-yard fourth and 219-yard 12th require a well-struck hybrid or long-iron. The fourth is a one-shotter that carries over water to a green flanked by a pair of bunkers. The putting surface tilts back to front; there isn't much danger in going long, so hit one more club than you think.

Litchfield's Clubhouse

Because of the constant doglegs, the par-4s at Litchfield CC must be tackled with care. An example is the 406-yard finisher, which curls to the right. Water left of the fairway is reachable and drives that get too close to the turn bring trees into play on the approach, which involves a shot across an arm of the pond and between two bunkers.

What you lose on the par-4s, you might get back on the par-5s, the longest of which is a relatively short 538 yards. The 520-yard 13th is Litchfield's signature hole. A lake is prominent on its entire port side and there's OB right. The approach is squeezed by a tree on the left, and the green is guarded on three sides by sand and at the rear by water.

Though many Myrtle Beach-area courses have tweaked their design over the years, Litchfield CC has maintained its original features. The course is straightforward and not overwhelming, giving you a chance to score.

Litchfield was awarded 4.5 Stars in Golf Digest's 2009 "Places to Play" list perhaps because it has an old-school feeling that transports golfers to simpler times. For more information, visit www.mbn.com/courses/litchfield-country-club.

The Island Green at River Club's 14th

Wide Corridors Invoke False Confidence at River Club

Designed by Tom Jackson and opened in 1985, the 6,677-yard, par-72 River Club was the second course built on Pawleys Island. Its front nine runs alongside some Litchfield holes, so the terrain is very similar. River Club's fairways are wide and inviting. But it's the approach shots - many to well-protected greens - that lead the course to have a 72.2 rating and 135 Slope from the tips.

Jackson scattered more than 100 bunkers about the grounds and water factors on 15 holes. Unlike the older Litchfield CC, eight River Club greens involve forced carries.

The putting surfaces are above-average sizep-wise, giving mid- to high-handicappers a fair chance to get on while challenging more skilled golfers to hit the correct segment of the green. Most of the trouble here is in front of or around the greens, so when selecting an iron for the approach make sure grab enough club.

The Famed No. 18 at the River Club

With only two par-4s extending over than 400 yards, River Club can wear you out with mid-length two-shotters. Two of the four par-5s - the buttonhook 496-yard sixth and 518-yard closer - can easily be reached in two, but trouble awaits at both.

The opener - a 388-yard par-4 - gives golfers a great idea of what lies ahead. The narrow first green is guarded in front by a pond and, with bunkers at the front-left an airborne shot is needed to find a safe landing.

The 352-yard par-4 fourth is River Club's easiest hole. It's a dogleg-right, with the turn bearing a deep bunker. Anything in the short grass will leave a short-iron in, making this a realistic birdie. On the other hand, No. 9 is a 413-yard, dogleg-right par-4 without much room for error. The landing area has a bunker along the right and OB left, and the approach is to a large, angled green impinged by bunkers.

The 14th, a par-3 of 186 yards, is considered one of the best short holes in the Myrtle Beach area. It features a large island green; shots short of the target are likely to end up in one of the four bunkers at the front.

The par-4 15th is not exceedingly long at 409 yards, but the right-bender requires players to carry water both off the tee and on the approach. Adding to the challenge is a shallow, hourglass-shaped green angled away from the fairway.

Most players who tee it up at River Club will recall how they played the par-5 finisher. This dogleg-left is short enough to be reached in two, as the tee shot that shortens the hole is played to a land spit engirded on three sides by water. If you have the gumption to venture that direction, the 185-yard second shot should be in your wheelhouse. With the clubhouse in the background on a hill above the green, it's a fine ending to a round.

The River Club boasts a creative design and is fun to play. Its straightforward routing makes it equally enjoyable for newcomers and veterans. The live oaks and native wildlife contribute to the ambiance, yet golf has always been the primary draw here.

Part of the Waccamaw Golf Trail, the River Club received a 4.5-star rating by Golf Digest and was named one of its "Top Places to Play" in 2006 and remains a favorite among returning golfers, a testament to its allure.

For more information, see www.mbn.com/courses/river-club.

Steve Habel is a freelance writer contributing Cybergolf news stories, features, equipment and book reviews and personality profiles from his base in Central Texas. He also works as a contributing editor for Horns Illustrated magazine, a publication focusing on University of Texas sports, and is a contributing writer for Golfers' Guide and Golf Oklahoma magazine, Texas Links magazines and Golfers Guide. Habel's main blog (www.shotoverthegreen.blogspot.com) features news on golf and the Longhorns, and another (www.checkinginandplayingthrough.blogspot.com) chronicles his many travels, including playing more than 600 golf courses since 2008. Habel is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and the Texas Golf Writers Association.