In 1990, the 18-hole Heathland layout opened for play at the 54-hole Legends Golf Resort in Myrtle Beach, the same year that P.B. Dye’s Moorland course debuted at the same venue. The Heathland was only the second course that Tom Doak had built, way before he became a well-known name in golf course design.
“My client here asked for an ode to the links courses of Britain & Ireland”, wrote Tom Doak in The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses , “and having lived there just a few years prior, I was determined to provide a counterpoint to the many courses of the era which sold themselves as Scottish. The flat site required wall-to-wall shaping, but we tried to show a measure of restraint, building due ridges across the property rather than mounding alongside each hole. Anyone who’s watched the Open Championship on TV should recognize my ode to the [St Andrews] Road hole green at the 7th and a tip of the hat to the Home hole at Royal Lytham.”
The Legends Heathland is a public golf course in Myrtle Beach and an early design by Tom Doak where he was requested to design with the attributes of a Scottish golf course. It is part of the three public golf course complex (Moorland and Parkland) with an enormous clubhouse. The owners of the golf resort also own two other golf courses located in other parts of Myrtle Beach, Oyster Bay and The Hertitage Club.
If inexpensive, “iffy” conditions, uninspiring golf is your goal, this is the place for you. On the day I played, the deal for my $75 was a golf cart, playing privileges, free breakfast, free lunch and two drinks. A replay rate was available for $30 to cover the cost of the cart.
You arrive to a large parking lot and your bags are placed in a bag drop “station” for one of the three courses you are going to play – The Moorland, Parkland or Heathland. After paying inside at the cashier with the name of your course, you proceed to go back outside, put a bag tag on your bag, and wait for your name to be called to have your bags loaded on the cart.
I did not go across the entry road to the range, but it looked large and okay as it has to be able to accommodate as many as 75 players at a time, possibly more.
I was paired with three others that I had not met which is why I chose to ride in a cart. Normally I would walk but I did not see any trolleys so perhaps if walking, you have to carry your bag.
I was curious about this early design by Mr. Doak, having played Riverfront the previous week which I thought was pretty poor on the front nine, and a bit better on the back nine, but overall a public course worth playing if one lived in the area and wanted some variety.
After arriving at the tee, the starter told us we were about to play the easiest course of the five resort course, using the phrase, “it is a confidence builder” several times. He also encouraged us to play the green tees, which are only 5903 yards. The back tees are 6800 and the white tees are 6355. The three guys I had joined up with decided to split the greens and the white tees so I joined one of their players and played the white tees.
With regards to my comment on maintenance, at a public course as busy as this resort, condition is always “iffy” because the course never closes if there is a chance to make money. In our case, our teeing areas were not yet mowed on our front nine, the fairways were not yet mowed on our first five holes. The tractors/mowers were on the course but having to work around the hundreds of golfers playing.
The course was wet throughout although it had not rained for several days. There were several muddy/wet spots which appeared to me it was because they were re-seeding some areas. I won’t fault them for that.
The course itself is boring. It is too forgiving and does not offer enough defense or even interest. The starter’s description of the course is very accurate – wide fairways, fairly level greens, open fronts to the greens, very few ridges or tilts in the greens. The golf course could use another 40-50 bunkers.
The golf course is also inconsistent. Holes five and six play through woods while the rest of the course is basically wide open. The fifth hole, a par five, has a wide open tee shot with only a fairway bunker in the center to avoid, but then the second shot and approach shot play through a narrow gap in the trees. The tee shot on the following hole, the number one index, has the player hitting off of manufactured teeing platforms through a chute of trees before reaching a wide fairway on the right side. These two holes are very much out of place to the rest of the course.
The finishing eighteenth hole is so wide open that one gets an unobstructed view of the clubhouse sitting 250 yards away. It is bizarre.
On several of the doglegs, a player can go right at the flag because the rough is not high and there are no trees, bunkers, water to provide defense. Three times I drove right at the flag and left myself with less than 100 yards versus shots that would have been 170-180. It is weird.
As for Scottish influence, the seventh hole supposedly is modeled after the seventeenth at St Andrews Old, yet this hole is a dogleg left and not a dogleg right and it is only the false front on the green that has anything in common with the seventeenth at the Old. Yet this green on the Heathlands has a swale like a biarittz green as part of it before rising again for its second half. And where is the hotel? It is always a turn-off when marketing people say this and it is nothing like the original. Nothing like it. Ugh.
So are their any good holes here? Possibly four, with two other “okay” holes.
The second hole is a dogleg right that is defended well on the right front of the green for those trying to drive this short par 4 of 338/323. But for someone who does not know the course, there is no reason to do so and you are left with a 50-90 yards second shot.
The third hole is an uphill long par 3 of 210/195 that has a large green and a small bunker on the left side. It is a semi-blind shot.
Nine is a par 4 of 442/418 and is fronted by a large bunker and does have a tilt to the green.
Thirteen is a par 5 of 539/521 that has a stream to defend against the second shot for the shorter hitter. The green sits off to the left up a slight rise making the hole longer. There is nice bunkering near the green. This is clearly the best hole on the golf course.
Sixteen is a longer par 4 of 447/428 with a stream to cross and a large fairway bunker to avoid near the green which is slightly raised.
Eighteen is a par 4 with a raised green. I mention it as one of the best four holes because it means the round is over.
My assumption, and it is only an opinion, is that the owner gave Mr. Doak a limited budget as well as a limitation on the land. I have seen gifted golf course architects do fabulous work on flat, boring land but they had to have the budget and support of the owner to do so. There is enough here to meet the interest of a high handicap player, but there is not enough interest for anyone truly interested in golf course design or who is a better player. Too many of the holes are alike, too many of the greens are alike, and the course has a shortage of defense.
My only other visit to Myrtle Beach was in 1980 as a present from my dad. I was just beginning to play golf at that time, but of the seven courses we played that week, my memory of them is that all but two were better than the Heathland. Obviously, Mr. Doak has done much better work and if given the chance and the budget, I am sure he could transform the Heathland into something much better……but that is not the goal of the owners of the Legends. This is a “golf factory” and as such, the Heathland meets the goal.
One final comment, the three players were staying as part of a golf package - 7 days/6 nights - golf, carts, lunch with two drinks, and lodging for $450 per person.
Tom Doak's second course and an early indication of his talent and abilities as a designer. Myrtle Beach abounds with courses that claim some resemblance to course in GB&I but his is one of the few that actually pulls this off. The tee shots are in general very generous and the greens large and challenging but generally very fair. A large number of fun and interesting holes. I really enjoy the par 4 ninth, downhill off the tee and then uphill for the second. This course has a nice rolling feel to the terrain and is open and virtually treeless, making it unique to the area. This course really doesn't play like a true links or heathland course because the turf is not firm enough, but if you play here you can get a reasonable glimpse of golf across the pond. I always look forward to playing here and I think the course has stood up well over the years.