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.”
This is a fun golf course. Mark White provides a fantastic play by play analysis and I will not pile on. A few thoughts from my perspective the course is not that long, however, between the omnipresent water hazards and mature oak trees it looks a lot tighter. Having said that, I encourage folks to play it more than once, as most holes have ample landing areas. The 12th-16th are especially strong par fours. A fantastic finishing hole with a water carry in front of the clubhouse. Pay no attention to the hecklers in the rocking chairs. One of the few courses in the area that I would pay to play again.
The Caledonia Golf and Fish Club is located on a small piece of land pinched by Kings River Road and the marshes/rice fields adjoining the Waccamaw River. Mike Strantz designed a marvel of a golf course on this small parcel expertly routing the course to take advantage of the river that formed a long pond with multiple fingers and another smaller pond.
Before his death at an early age, Mr. Strantz designed only seven golf courses, and substantially renovated/restored two others. I have played most of his more famous designs such as the Shore course at Monterrey Peninsula Country Club, Tobacco Road, and Bull’s Bay. I play True Blue tomorrow.
In my opinion, had he lived longer, Mr. Strantz would have been the architect that would have continued the approach most favored by Pete Dye in terms of not being afraid to move vast amounts of dirt. Mr. Strantz would have been the leader in an opposing style of design/architecture to the minimalists and naturalists who seem to garner all of the headlines today. While I like, even love many of the courses built by the minimalists, I really like what Mr. Strantz was able to do with the land where he was the primary designer.
With regards to moving dirt, rumor has it that when he worked on construction with Tom Fazio, that Mr. Fazio had to go back over what Mr. Strantz did in order to soften it. There is no doubt Mr. Strantz preferred to be bold/brash and unleash his creativity while trying to keep people guessing a bit at seeing something new. This is what one finds at Tobacco Road and to a lesser degree at Bull’s Bay. However, he certainly “tamed” his instincts at the Shore course and even at Caledonia. The result at Caledonia is a course that I think is the best course in the greater Myrtle Beach area. It’s only rival is the Dunes Golf and Beach Club, which a scratch player is likely to prefer.
The grounds that Caledonia rests on are spectacular. After a long drive up through a canopy of old oaks that continue to the plantation style clubhouse, one is reminded of a similar drive at May River at Palmetto Bluff. Yet somehow this is much prettier since the golf course is on both sides of the drive until a 90 degree turn to get to the clubhouse. The setting is stunning as it rivals playing on the grounds of an arboretum. Wildlife is everyone on the course; one should not be surprised at any type of animal or bird one might see. The beauty of the course can be distracting, but overall it definitely enhances the playing experience. Even if one were to have a high score on a hole here, one will find it hard to be disappointed, as one feels fortunate to be able to play amongst the lovely surroundings.
Mr. Strantz created very compelling green complexes, from the green surfaces to greenside bunkering and nearby mounding. He created ripples and undulations in the fairways, yet none of these are overly done as to create a shot that one cannot have a chance to pull off.
At 6526 yards from the Pintail tees (back tees), the course is considered to be short. It is a par 70 rated 71.8/138. Yet the course plays longer as it has five par 3’s and only three par 5’s. In addition, the ninth hole is only 118 yards. Add another par 5 and a longer par 3 and the course will be slightly over 6900 yards, obviously short by today’s standards but not overly so. The ninth hole is short simply because there was not adequate land available unless one wanted to relocate the parking lot. As it stands, the ninth hole is very good despite its shortness.
One could play here often and never tire of it such is the genius of the routing, the beauty, and the movement of the land. The routing creates many interesting playing corridors down through the oaks and bushes. There is an excellent use of sand to create a visual delight as well as bring doubt into play. Sometimes one has to be precise with their second shots, other times they simply need to know the slope of the green to use it to their advantage.
We played the Mallard tees due to the cold weather. It is 6131 yards, rated 69.3/134. There are two sets of lesser tees.
1. Par 4 - 375/350. This short opening hole has a narrower feel to it due to the trees down the right side and three bunkers on a rise on the left. Most players will be able to carry the bunkers. Bigger hitters will have to avoid the two bunkers on the right about 100-80 yards from the green and a single bunker on the left opposite it. The green has a front left bunker and a bunker on the right side. This hole is neither a guaranteed birdie chance or par chance as the green has two tiers and is very quick back down to the front with a higher right side.
2. Par 5 – 571/533. The fairway has gentle rises and falls in it as you play parallel to Kings River Road on the right hidden behind the trees. The tee shot must stay out of the bunker on the left and not be close enough to the single tree protruding out from the right. Further up about 220 yards out are tow bunkers on the right. The fairway becomes very narrow near the green where three deep bunkers are 30-20 yards short of the green. There is another bunker on the right middle of a green angled left to right with a higher back right tier. I like this hole because of the movement of the land in the fairways particularly as you near the green as well as a very good green complex.
3. Par 3 – 187/175. This long par 3 played shorter for us as we had a left front pin. You play over a waste area that ends about 15 yards short of the green which is very long and three tiered due to a back left plateau. There is a long bunker on the left side of the deep green. It is a nice par 3 that is visually attractive from the tee. This green is the farthest point from the clubhouse.
4. Par 4 – 396/357. My host says he nearly always messes up this hole even if he has a great drive (which he did). This is another visually attractive hole on this dogleg right where one must stay out of the long waste bunker and two bunkers down the right side and be both long and center/left in order to have a view of the green. The waste area bunker continues to the inner corner of the dogleg as a thin, raised bunker. It is delightful to look at. There is a small bunker about 15 yards short of the green on the right and a long, wide bunker to the left of the green. Mr. Strantz used the trees and a marsh area just shy of the green to create a natural playing corridor into this green. My playing partner did mess up the hole but after driving into the right hand waste area, I was able to play out to the left and salvage a par. The green has a much lower front part and a back plateau with a right to left slant.
5. Par 4 – 419/387. This hole weaves a bit left and then back to the right due to the placement of two bunkers on the right and one on the left. The slightly longer hitter will likely be able to drive past these bunkers while the average length hitter will have to consider them. The final consideration off the tee is a tree on the left close to the fairway that can block the line to the green. The green has no bunkers as Mr. Strantz created what I called a “loading-dock approach” with the fairway narrowing to perhaps ten yards and rising to an elevated green with various separated seven feet fall-offs to both sides. Well off to the left is a pond. The entrance to this green and the green complex is not something one will often see and I very much appreciated it.
6. Par 3 – 157/135. Playing from an elevated tee to a very long green that bends right to left, this green makes it feel like it could be three different par 3’s depending on the pin placement. There are two bunkers left short of the green that should never be in play and one on the right that should also not be in play but all three bunkers add to the visual experience of a very attractive hole. The green has two bunkers on its right side that are small and two deep bunkers on the left side. The front of this green could be as little as 105 yards from the tee while the back left (our pin position) requires one to carry those bunkers. The green has three tiers to it and various slants. I got excited for a second as my tee shot finished 4” away.
7. Par 4 – 399/346. I really like the seventh, playing across a pond to a fairway going to the left with a green placed back to the right behind a large oak. To see the green one has to be left but that brings trees, water, and a long bunker into play. As mentioned, going right leaves one either in the trees or having a blind shot into the green that must be high enough to clear that large oak. The green has a tier to its right side and is sloped back to front. It is an excellent use of the water and trees to create a compelling hole.
8. Par 5 – 528/512. This dogleg right found me not quite able to reach the fairway as it is a longer forced carry. There are four small bunkers on the right side at the beginning of the fairway. Average length hitters should not take them on but longer hitters will clear them and find a speed slot on the right side. There is a fairway bunker on the left side that is really meant for the tenth hole. The pond cuts in front of the green and shorter hitters will always choose to lay up. The green complex has four bunkers built into the hill behind the green which has a second tier that can bring balls back down to the lower level as well as rises on either side that will bring balls back onto the green. This is a true risk-reward hole for the better players. It is also another visual delight as you get closer to the green.
9. Par 3 – 118/110. This short par 3 plays over a waste area that fronts the most of the front of the green with a bunker on the front right. Behind the green are three very tiny bunkers, but it is more likely a ball hit long is going to bound into the trees or perhaps even into the parking lot. The green is very wide but it is a thin green. If one hits the green one will likely have a short birdie putt which I converted.
10. Par 5 – 553/531. The final par 5 on the course is an interesting hole as the tee shot is over a pond. The longer hitters have to avoid a bunker on the left and the beginning of a large waste area on the right that continues nearly all the way to the green. For the shorter and average length hitters the play is out to the left side to provide a good view of the green which sits on lower ground behind the waste area off to the right with two small bunkers on the left side. The green is long and has interesting micro-contouring in it compared to the other greens. I found it very interesting how Mr. Strantz dug down to build this green, thereby creating a blind shot if coming in from the right which was my approach, in a sense disguising the type of shot one needs to execute.
11. Par 3 – 167/153. This is a nice par 3, its length being between the yardages of the third and sixth. The hole offers a thin stream but including the marshes/banks area is about ten yards wide although in the summer the small stream can be completely dry. It works mainly down the left side of a green angled right to left and tilted a bit like a redan. The green is thin at the front but widens as it works it way let behind more of the stream. There are two bunkers short of the green on the right that catch balls for those trying to bail out. I hit a poor tee shot that was right at the flag but fat which landed in the wet mud just over the small stream but hit a miracle shot in for a two, my third birdie on the par 3’s.
The course now has five consecutive par 4’s and all of them are good ones as they are varied in land movement as there are several doglegs, bunkering, and the green complexes. They all blend expertly into the land with several of them taking advantage of a single oak tree to dictate strategy.
12. Par 4 – 405/395. Playing over a pond to a rise in the fairway, the key is to drive it far enough or left enough to get a view of the green on this dogleg right. There are two bunkers placed right of the fairway for the shorter hitters. The trees on the right will block the view of the green. There is a center-line bunker as the fairway shrinks to half of its size as it turns right. I do not think this bunker is in play except for the longest of hitters but certainly can come into play for those who have hit it right and are merely trying to get back into play. The right side of the fairway is lower than the fairway as you near the green with several small bunkers placed ten yards from the middle of the green. There is good land movement in this grass area below the green. This green is angled left to right and is thin. The back half is particularly thin, perhaps only nine yards wide. An oak tree is at the very back right of the green so it can effect a pitch onto the green if one has missed ten yards right to a back pin. If missed to the right, the green is about six feet above you with a steep cliff on that right side. One has to hit a precise high pitch from that right side grass area and it will likely still not hold the green. I hit a good sand wedge from there to that back pin location and was rewarded with a ball sitting just into the fringe on the left side of the green which I rolled in to save par. Obviously, the preferred way to play this hole is to run a shot in from the left side of the green. I like the imagination one has to use on this hole at the green.
13. Par 4 – 398/380. This hole is a sharp dogleg left, bending 90 degrees. The smart way to play the hole is to drive left as close as possible to another large oak. If one advances beyond the oak, one will have an approach shot of as little as 80 yards and no more than 120 yards. The safe line is to drive right but one can have a shot of 175 yards. Where one decides to put their tee shot is very important on this hole as the green is nearly an island green, surrounded on 90% of it by waste area or a bunker. A pond sits both behind the green and off the right side where the sand/waste area narrows. Mr. Strantz dug out the sand surrounding the green to a depth of about eight feet. The green is circular with a lot of subtle movement in it. I could not make up my mind about the seven feet putt I had to save par and should have gone with my original read. I like this hole as much as the previous hole for the use of the tree to dictate the play as well as the uniqueness of the green versus others on the course.
14. Par 4 – 415/363. This hole plays along the pond with water going down the entire left side. Heavy trees are down the right side on this dogleg left. There are three bunkers, the final one being a long bunker placed down the left side where another large oak tree was kept that influences one’s strategy on the tee. One has to bomb the tee shot over the tree which only the longest hitters can do, or play right of it. The back (Pintail) trees are over a swinging bridge which brings the water even more into play as it makes the dogleg sharper. The green is long and thin and placed against the water to its left. There is a small bunker on the front right that becomes a scary shot as it would be downhill to a green with water on the other side. The green is tilted towards the water and if one lands within three feet of the bank of the pond, the ball will be wet.
15. Par 4 – 462/411. The longest par 4 is a dogleg left with a carry over a short waste area but with a long bunker on the left inner corners. The trees are somewhat thick on both sides, more so on the left. This is the longest bunker on the course at roughly 80 yards. The tee shot must be to the right but too far right and one has added another 20 yards to an already long approach shot. Near the green are two flanking bunkers just shy of it. There is a mound built on the left side that will block any attempt to run a shot onto the green. The green is sharply pitched back to front with various ripples on the left side and a back tier. The middle of the green has a bowl where putts coming from the right downhill will be hard to judge the pace while putting from behind or towards it will have a very sharp break to the left down the bowl. It is another hole that is very good.
16. Par 4 – 417/400. This is a dogleg right with two bunkers on the right and one on the left. Bigger hitters will fly all of these bunkers with a speed slot on the right side of the fairway. The green sits behind a pond with a small pot bunker on the left side. The green has a shelf on the back side, more pronounced on the left that one should be able to use as a backboard. The green seems to have a vertical tilt but actually does not have much of one.
17. Par 3 – 175/156. The final par 3 is surrounded by a waste area to an elevated green. There is a center pot bunker in what appears to be a tongue of the green. The green is adequately large and one of the flatter greens on the course.
18. Par 4 – 383/377. The final hole is a memorable one playing as a sharp dogleg right to what appears to be a thinner fairway but actually offers a lot of room. However, the water does pinch in from the right the farther up one goes with scattered trees down the left that are in play. The tee shot needs to be only 210-240 yards. The green sits on the other side of a pond and is hard against the pond at its front. It is particularly thin on the right side. The left side has more width and three bunkers behind it while the right side has a single bunker behind the green which tilts back to front. I misjudged the wind and under-clubbed and was short and wet as was one of my playing partners. Our third member of the group changed his club and hit it pin high to the left pin location. Interesting, the drop zone is on the other side of the pond about fifteen yards from the left side of the green where I got up and down to save bogey. It is a compelling hole and a visual delight with the rice marshes to the right and the lovely clubhouse behind where we later had lunch and watched twenty groups come in. On average, one out of four was dry with their approach shot.
I consider this to be the best golf course in the area because of the beauty of the setting, the routing, the variety of the holes in their shape, and the variety of the greens and the green surrounds. While the Dunes course is a better test of golf for the scratch players, it is not as much fun and I simply do not like the Waterloo thirteenth hole.
Caledonia was Mr. Strantz’s first solo design and it is a gem. I am glad he was selected to build the course as I am very doubtful that any other designer could have built as good as he did with the land he was given.
If the "region" is defined as the greater Myrtle Beach area this is a "5" but if it is the state, this is a 4.5.
Perhaps THE best course in Myrtle Beach! The finishing hole is fantastic with an approach over water directly toward the clubhouse back porch. This is the start of Mike Strantz's brilliance, a low country classic. Tee markers are duck decoys! I could play this course every day.
This is my favourite course in Myrtle Beach and possibly the most enjoyable golfing experience I've had in all of the low country. I am a strong advocate for shrinking golf, by that I don't mean shrinking the amount of people playing golf but shrinking the size of the golf courses. With the cost of maintenance of the modern 7,500+ yard courses and the time it takes to play a long course, I think we need to look at shrinking courses back to a more manageable size and get away from courses where you automatically pull the driver on every non par 3 hole. Having played the disappointing Streamsong Black earlier this year which is vast, open and seemingly unmissable wide fairways, the parcel of land the Caledonia sits on is tiny, although the course does not feel short. I have played some compact courses where wayward tee shots find their way onto other holes but the architect at Caledonia has amazingly been able to make every hole feel separate and interesting with small elevation changes and exquisite routing. The only hole that doesn't fit in the routing well is the par 3 9th, which is a tiny hole that feels like it has been added on at the end, although you'd never notice if you are playing on a golf cart and stopping to sample some of their tasty halfway snacks.
The conditioning of the course is often to a pretty high standard for a public course, although it does sit low beside the Waccamaw River and is prone to wetness. I first played this course in April and the course was in full Magnolia bloom, but throughout the year, they still have a bunch of beautiful flower beds which gives this property a little bit of an Augusta feel. With the old plantation style clubhouse, the low country charm is in abundance and the 18th hole has it in full display. Although the tee shot on 18 is only a 220 yard iron shot, the approach over the water to the green is one of the most beautiful finishes you'll ever experience.
If you are in South Carolina, you have to play this course and True Blue (its sister course) which sits just across the road, you will not be disappointed.
In my opinion this is the best course in the Myrtle Beach area. Mike Strantz has done a terrific job designing a wonderful layout in a limited area of property. Not long by modern standards but a well designed course does not need to be long. The Par 3s are wonderful and all the Par 4s need you to think about tee shot placement rather than just blasting a driver. Last but by no means least do not miss out on the clam chowder at the turn.
Caledonia is the best course in Myrtle in my opinion. It is a Mike Strantz course and his first solo. It doesn't have the ostentatious risk reward choices that Strantz exemplified with much of his work. It's more subdued. But it is present. Conditioning is great. Staff is welcoming. The 18th is just a perfect finish for groups with multiple foursomes. It is an absolute must play in Myrtle. Don't pass on the chowder at the turn either.
Caledonia is a great course that's a ton of fun to play. I've only been there once but am chomping at the bit to get back. Outside of Kiawah's Ocean Course it is the best course I've played in SC.
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.