Mike Strantz was only 50 when he passed away in 2005 – a tragic loss to his family, of course, but his departure was also a serious blow to American golf course architecture as he was widely regarded as one of the more innovative modern designers and a man who was not afraid to take risks or dare to be different.
Critics might claim his bold designs went too far with the amount of earth that he moved on some of his work but they should realise that variety within the field of course architecture is healthy for the overall development of the game of golf and his creations certainly got golfers thinking on many different levels.
Strantz was a shaper for Tom Fazio in the 1980s but quit after eight years to pursue non golf related projects. He was later asked to look over some land at Pawleys Island with a view to laying out an 18-hole course on the 152-acre site and by 1993 he completed the first of nine solo designs – later projects would include Tobacco Road in North Carolina and the Shore course at Monterey Peninsula, California – when Caledonia Golf & Fish Club opened.
Remnants of the past are dotted around Caledonia – an old fish shed here, foundations and chimneys of old houses there, reminders of the property’s former use as a rice plantation and hunting and fishing club before golf arrived. Fairways are laid out over some of the best terrain in the low country with beautiful landscaping around many of the ancient old oak trees that were brought into the routing.
In Golf Magazine’s Top 100 Courses You Can Play book by Brian McCallen, the course is described as “the most delightful test of golf in Myrtle Beach”. The author continues: “Sporty from the Wood Duck tees at 5,710 yards, enjoyable for middle handicappers from the Mallard markers at 6, 121 yards, and a scintillating test for experts from the Pintail tees at 6,526 yards, this par-70 layout has exceptional pace and variety, with three par fives (two of them back-to-back) and five par threes on the card.
“The 9th proves that back breaking distance is not required to fashion a great hole. All of 118 yards from the back tees and flanking the oak-lined entryway, this tiny terror demands a nerveless carry over a sandy wasteland to a shallow green backdropped by a wall of thick-waisted oaks. Strantz turns up the knobs with five par fours in a row (holes 12-16), each measuring 400 yards or more from the tips. At two of the holes, a huge oak tree dictates strategy off the tee for the better player.
“Caledonia’s par four 18th plays opposite a limitless expanse of old rice fields, its fairway doglegging around the arm of a creek. Directly behind the green on the far side of the water is the clubhouse and its wrap-around porch set with rockers. It is an ideal post-round gathering spot. Caledonia, by the way, is still a Fish Club. Drop by on a Thursday from November to April, and those good ole boys may even invite you to their fish fry, which is usually accompanied by homemade slaw and the kind of grits only a professional Southerner can make.”
Tragically, architect Mike Strantz died way too soon at age 50 in 2005. His immense talents left the golfing world only a smattering of courses and by and large -- a number of them are crafted with jeweler's eye for detail. Strantz connected the golf to the land in a manner few architects really comprehend.
In the Palmetto State his work at Bulls Bay in the greater Charleston area is easily one of his finest creations. The same can be said for his work at Caledonia. Lacking a large site -- max of 150 acres -- and bracketed by an array of internal puzzles that only a gifted architect like himself would need to solve in order to present a routing with truly comprehensive shotmaking challenges.
Caledonia maxes out at just over 6,500 yards. In this day and age of behemoth courses with inane yardages -- it's quite entertaining to see a course that calls upon placement and positioning as its hallmark strength.
There's no question Strantz was not hesitant in moving dirt when called upon. Some traditionalists may wince at this but more often than not the manner in which Strantz did so is capturing the beauty of the location in tandem with golf holes / shots that work so well in harmony.
Caledonia flows exceptionally well. Like an exceptional baseball pitcher Strantz constantly keeps players off balance. There's also a solid stretch of high caliber par-4 holes -- from the 12th through the 16th -- that are each elusive to anything but superior play. The par-4 16th at is one of South Carolina's top holes -- the approach over water is both a delight for those who are successful and a terror for those who aren't.
The final hole ends the day in a grand manner. The par-4 plays 383 yards but the green is deliciously angled over water so again the approach is tested. The details of the greens and surrounding areas are what push Caledonia up the charts. Strantz didn't create vanilla or predictable situations.
Any visit to the Grand Strand area must include Caledonia because golf certainly needs more such courses where the fun meter is clearly very, very high.
by M. James Ward
Really nice course that is one of my favorites in e Myrtle Beach area. Although the course is only 6500 yards from the back tees the par of 70 and the short 115 yard 9th hole make the distance a little deceiving as the course plays much longer. Although there are many fines holes it is the collection of 400-450 yard par 4 holes that really make this course. Each hole is uniquely designed and memorable with the long par 4 16th is probably the best of the bunch. The greens are fair and the course is usually in fine shape. I have played here many times through the years and I always look forward to the challenge.
Richard Smith, Knoxville, Tennessee
During my visit to Myrtle Beach last month where I could play also Dunes Club and Prestwick, we also gave a ride to some more course like Wachesaw, Lion’s Paw, Tiger’s Eye, Panther’s Run, Heritage Club, TPC Myrtle Beach and True Blue. Out of all these I could not play I have to say True Blue is something really serious, a must play, and that Heritage has a superve back 9. And I finally got to play the renowned Caledonia Golf & Fish Club which I also missed in 2013 due to maintenance. It is a course that we have sold a lot and which customers have high ranked together with Dunes and True Blue. And they are right, it is a garden due to it’s beauty, plants, flowers, woods and great maintenance and also a very challenging layout. We played the tips which show 6500yds but as it was wet and windy, and as a par 70 plays long and tough. We started on 10th tee and the only negative spot is that final hole (9th, short par 3) is not the best way to finish on a course like this. If you can tee it off from 1st far better, but if not don’t worry the course will marvel you all the same. And as in Dunes, big alligators will be resting just out the water in the low waste bunkers. About the course I have to say it is fun, challenging, that greens roll just perfect and that if you don’t drive it straight there are no chances of scoring. The set of par 3s, even short 9, are nice and challenging specially 17th which looks very similar to Pine Valley’s 10th (Devil’s Asshole). Final hole has a short yardage, but as you have to lay up, the second shot is one of the toughest with water in front and club house at the end of the “picture”. There are some other holes which are great in design as 13th, 15th, 6th, 7th and 8th. A Must play and a course that many golfers will be attracted to play more than once.