The Pawley’s Plantation offered nearly 600 acres of property for Jack Nicklaus to choose from when routing its single golf course, but it was all but inevitable that the Golden Bear would bring as many holes as possible close to the coastal salt marshes, for both dramatic views and dramatic carries.
Although the first 11 holes at this resort offering are no slouches, the course literally and figuratively opens up upon approach to the No. 12 green, looking out to the expansive wetland for the first time.
No. 13 and No. 17 are the signature holes, to be sure. They share a joint cart path / tee box that stretches nearly 500 yards across the marsh. At the south end, players will tee to an angled green that juts back into the marsh at an awkward angle. Although just 145 yards from the back tee, it may claim more balls than any other hole.
Players will return to the long tee for No. 17, where they’ll play a much longer shot 200 yards across the marsh to a putting surface that sits almost atop the water, pushed from behind by a lowcountry forest that’s equally eager to snatch your ball. Good luck!
The front nine has some wonderfully contoured greens, and though many tee shots require little in the way of tactical thought, a wayward approach shot can do quite a bit of damage to your score and your ego. The superior back nine is scenic and fun, and it delivers more enjoyment and picturesque settings than you’re likely to find for $50 anywhere else in the state.
Though not in terribly great shape, the greens at Pawley's Plantation offer some interesting strategic options, and I was grateful to have purchased a yardage book before the round to better understand the green shapes before my approach shots. Several of these approaches are semi-blind over large-lipped bunkers or hillocks that surround a number of greens throughout. Perhaps it was due to the course being wet from rain earlier in the week, but I couldn't help but wonder how much more fun the greens would be if they had some speed. I’m not talking US Open speeds, just maybe getting to 9 on the Stimpmeter would greatly enhance play.
Highlights include the heroic and penal one-shotters (3, 7, 13, 17), the long par-4 8th hole, and a masterful, short dogleg left at 16. It would be tough to encourage someone to play this course over Caledonia Golf & Fish Club, which sits on the other side of Highway 17, just a few minutes drive away. But Pawley’s Plantation Golf & Country Club is definitely worth the tiny greens fee you can pay if you’re vigilant for deals or willing to take on early morning tee times.
A classic MB area course. Several bulkheaded greens over marsh and tree lined fairways coming back in to the clubhouse.
One of the toughest architectural assignments is routing a course in close proximity to wetlands and being able to pull things together so that forced carries are kept at a minimum. In addition, the layout had to deal with a vast number of abutting home sites so getting everything to fit properly was no small feat.
I first played Pawleys Plantation not long after it first opened. The layout is typical of Nicklaus -- high caliber shotmaking is sine qua non. Players need to be especially mindful of one's golf skills -- or lack thereof. Playing the wrong tees at Pawleys can be an expensive hobby but to be fair to Nicklaus the design knife is not put to the golfer's throat unless the player does so without careful thinking and sound execution.
The key to playing well at Pawleys is doing so right from the beginning. Nicklaus turns up the design heat the deeper the round progresses. In my last visit in 2019 -- I thought the tree overhang on a few holes needed to be trimmed accordingly.
The inward half is among the best nines in all of SC golf. Given the close proximity of the wetlands -- the Nicklaus team smartly created a pathway connecting two parts of the back nine. When doing so you play two par-3 holes that use the same pathway with a sliver of green space set-aside for teeing areas. At the 13th you play a max of 145 yards going in a southerly direction. When you return the par-3 17th is played via the same pathway / tee area but in a northerly direction and to a length of 201 yards.
Pawleys Plantation is often overlooked by many golfers coming to the Grand Strand area because many people opt to play the slew of courses in the Myrtle Beach area and extending all the way into Brunswick County in NC.
A bit of tree pruning and a tad more attention on the quality of the turf and greens would be the right prescription for Pawleys Plantation to be an even higher rated layout. Make sure to bring your game because you won't find the goings easy if you're hitting it sideways here.
M. James Ward