Golfers in South Carolina may see railroad ties and assume Pete Dye was the inspiration, but Clyde Johnston was paying tribute to the biography of a different golf course architecture icon: Donald Ross.
Glen Dornoch Waterway assembles a number of elements into one singular concept. On one hand, there is Ross’s origins at Royal Dornoch, from which Johnston takes inspiration for the railroad ties seen throughout the course. On the other hand, the American architect aims to emulate the Scot’s works here across the inland holes, which feature doglegs through the forest, punctuated by pot bunkers.
The third element is not Rossian at all but it’s tough to avoid: The quality of the terrain in the South Carolina lowcountry, and the title "Waterway." Marshland abounds and Johnston incorporates it as a midpoint carry on par fours, or as an outright forced carry — such as at No. 17, which plays 200 yards across the marsh to a long green.
The course makes it known from the onset that the challenge of the opening 15 holes are a build-up to the final trio, which it deems to be among the most challenging stretches in the region.
Our starter explained to us that this course is target golf, and boy, he was right. Lots of forced layups, then forced carries to the green. It’s not my favorite style of golf, but is engaging. If you can’t reliably get the ball in the air, it’ll be a frustrating day, as a couple of my friends found out.
I found the course to be largely forgettable. The last two to three holes on each nine are solid holes, but all others feel like repeats of themselves with all the forced carry or layup shots. The good holes are also the ones that have nice views of the intercoastal waterway. I’d play the course again, but not at the rate I paid.
Glen Dornoch’s first hole is extraordinarily welcoming, especially for us hookers. A decent drive will leave with a wedge. The 2nd hole is a longer straightaway par 4. Only really bad tees shots will end up in the water in front of the tee box. There is also a micro-pot bunker left, not sure about that and two bunkers in front of the green. The 3rd is a good birdie oppty. It leans left with a six-pack of bunkers in front of the green. A 300 yard drive will have you putting for eagle. I ended up going bunker to bunker. The prudent play is probably layup right to your favorite wedge yardage. The 4th is a forgettable par 3. The 5th is a big boy par five that bends left. Off the tee aim at the fairway bunkers in the distance. Your second shot will need to clear gunch, if you hit a lousy drive best to lay up. There is also a brook bisecting the fairway in front of the green at a 60 degree angle. This green is about 60 yards long and skinny. Good hole. The 6th is a sharp dogleg right with a fairway bunker thru the fairway. There is gunch right, do not get cute, hit it straight and no more than 250 yards. The 7th is another forgettable par three that is a club longer than the 4th. The 8th is a long par five downhill ending at the intercoastal. Off the tee straight is best but on the second right is better. The green is protected by a gaggle of bunkers. The 9th is the longest par four with water all the way down the right. Good luck avoiding the bunkers en route to the shared green with 18, deservedly the number one handicap hole.
The back starts with a par five that leans a wee bit right. This is another hole with a gunch carry that will have most of us playing it as a 3 shotter. The 11th’s biggest challenge is a cross bunker that will eat up mediocre tee shots. The 12th is a short par four and a birdie oppty. The only real challenge is the water hazard in front of the green. The 13th is a dogleg left par five with a water hazard on the inside elbow. My advice, play it as a three shotter. Off the tee hit it straight. For the second favor left of center as the tree line sneaks in from the right, of course don’t get crazy as the water hazard is lurking left. The 14th is the best par 3 so far, but….The 15th is a straightaway par four with a tree in a bunker just right of center in the fairway about 130 yards from the green. As an unabashed hooker, I favored the left side. The 16th is a tough par four. Favor the left of center off the tee and do not hit it more than 260 or you will be in the gunch. This green has a wraparound bunker right front to back left. The 17th is finally the par 3 that you have been waiting for. A water carry with bunkers right. The 18th is a tough finishing hole. S shaped with fairway runouts. Big hitters can go to the left fairway, it is a very small landing zone. If you play to the right fairway you cannot hit it more than 250 and you have almost made it a 3 shot hole. A ravine separates the left and right fairways.
One of the better courses in the Myrtle Beach area. The par fives and 9 and 18 make the course. Other than 17 the par 3s are disappointing, but, I would play it again.