The course at Tidewater Golf Club and Plantation lies between the Intracoastal Waterway and Cherry Grove. It’s a highly regarded 18-hole layout that’s won many admirers since it opened in 1990.
The club expanded greens, improved drainage and cleared hundreds of trees in a 2014 renovation project by Kris Spence which totally rejuvenated the layout.
Eight fairways play along either the Cherry Grove Inlet or the Intracoastal Waterway, and many of these could be considered as a “signature” hole. Nonetheless, some of the inland holes – like the pair of short par fours at the 7th and 15th – are just as impressive.
The marshy waters of the Intracoastal come into play on holes 8, 9 and 16 to 18 but Tidewater’s most memorable challenges are framed by Cherry Grove, with the 3rd and 12th holes on the salt marshes the prettiest pair of par threes on the Grand Strand.
The 543-yard 13th might be the only par five in the Myrtle Beach area with views of the Atlantic Ocean, and the 430-yard 4th, doglegging gently left along the inlet to a heavily sand-protected green, is one of the area’s best two-shot holes.
Tidewater was designed by Ken Tomlinson, a tax attorney, as the only golf course he ever did. When it opened in 1990, both Golf Digest and Golf Magazine declared it the best public course to open that year. This was the first time that ranking was achieved by a golf course in the year it opened. The rumor is that Mr. Tomlinson said that he could not do better than that and retired. He did have some assistance on the design from Rees Jones before finishing it himself as a self-appointed expert due to his having played many of the finest courses.
The website for the course has some of the highest exaggerations I have ever read: “ a course that would attract a national championship or Ryder Cup event. Flowing with the natural contours of the land, the course challenges you with a range of elevation changes not often found in seaside South Carolina.” Other descriptions found on the web include “Tidewater is commonly referred to as the Pebble Beach of the East,” and the course rests atop river bluffs.
Tidewater is certainly not good enough to host a national championship, except perhaps for juniors, and obviously a Ryder Cup is out of the question due to the lack of space for spectators and infrastructure. There are far too many houses on the fairways and where there are fewer homes, it is due to either water or marshes. While there are several picturesque holes when having a water view, the views are equivalent to a 2 on a scale of 1-10 compared to Pebble Beach. The course does not have nearly enough length nor quality golf holes or greens to hsot any significant tournament. People should simply stop with the hyperbole.
Tidewater has some quality golf holes. The better holes, also the most memorable holes, all involve being alongside the water. With regards to the “inland” holes, there are only two that I like. It also has some very bland golf holes.
Tidewater has some good greens. It also has some horrible greens due that are one-dimensional.
It has very little interesting land features other than the water and marshes. There are no rolling fairways and only one true change in elevation, contrary to the website. While the views of the river, inter-coastal waterway, and a one-time look at the Atlantic Ocean are lovely, I could not any real bluffs.
The fairway bunkering is poor as is much of the greenside bunkering. There are no interesting movements in the fairways or near the majority of the greens.
The routing does take advantage of the water when it is available, but overall the routing is poor as it was done to accommodate building a sizeable housing development. While the course can be walked due to its flatness, there are several long walks from tee to green, sometimes involving going through tunnels built under roads to safely transport golfers in their carts. I would be surprised to see someone walking and carrying here. Difficult walks occur between holes #1-#2, #4 - #5, #5 - #6, #7 - #8, $9-#10, #10 -#11, #13 - #14, #14 - #15 and #15-#16.
The routing is designed to place as many holes as possible on the water with an expansive view which occurs at opposite ends of the course. The inland holes primary purpose is to connect these two points. The water holes are on the marshes bordering the Intracoastal Waterway nearer the clubhouse (#8, #9, #16-18) and near the marshes and House Creek (#3, #4, #12, #13). Because the land in between is flat, one could have easily built holes that would have made the course more “core” with the housing only on two edges as opposed to weaving in and out of the various housing developments. Almost any routing could have still had holes that incorporated the inland water features of marshes and ponds. But that is the result when one prioritizes selling houses over a golf course as the imperative is to place as many houses on a fairway for a “golf course view.” As for the belief that you do not notice the houses, the fairways are fairly generous yet I never lost sight of the housing in our round which took 4 hours and 40 minutes.
That is another criticism. This course is difficult, but it’s not 4 hours and 40 minutes difficult.
I will give the course a pass on the conditioning due to playing it on December 5 on a sunny but chilly day when the temperature did not go above 48 degrees. Yet, it was clear that the conditions of the bunkers was inconsistent, often being less than one might desire.
With all of that said, one should still make an effort to play Tidewater if one is in the area, whether a resident of the county or in the greater Myrtle Beach area for a golf visit. The “highs” of the course are very good, with the best holes being holes #3, #4, #8, #12, #15, #16 and #18. The rest of the holes are not memorable or they have a poorly constructed/conceived green.
From the Black tee the course is 7044 yards par 72, rated 73.9/148 due to the amount of water on the course. The Blue tees are 6771 yards rated 72.6/144 which is a stern test. We played the White tees are 6323 yards rated 70.6/135. There are three sets of lesser tees.
1. Par 4 – 526/516/482. After a short drive to the tee from the practice range, having to navigate crossing two roads, one arrives at a par five that is straight. There is s single fairway bunker on the left. Houses and trees line both sides of the fairway. There are three center bunkers that begin about 100 yards from the green with a final bunker on the front left. All of the bunkers are shallow. The green is slightly raised with a more pronounced fall-off on its left side. It is not a memorable hole.
2. Par 4 – 398/383/350. This hole has three shallow bunkers down the right side. The green is placed slightly off to the right with long, shallow bunkers on both sides. The green is relatively flat.
3. Par 3 – 160/152. This hole has the green playing slightly downhill from the tee. There are two large bunkers fronting the green. Behind the right side of the green are two additional bunkers. A final small bunker is placed center left. Off the left side is marsh. The green has a substantial two feet vertical ridge running through it. We had a back left pin position and balls are very difficult to stop if coming from a front bunker or chipping down to it. They are more likely to run off the green, although I was able to stop my bunker shot and make the putt. I like the hole.
4. Par 4 – 430/416/400. For me this is easily the most picturesque and best hole on the golf course. The marsh/water goes down the entirety of the left side of the fairway. The hole bends to the left curving with the water’s edge. There are two bunkers on the right side to catch those trying to play away from the water/marsh. There is a dip before the green, one of the few changes in elevation on the course. The green is surrounded by six bunkers and is somewhat heart shaped with a strong right to left and back to front tilt to the green. If only there were more green surfaces and complexes like this.
5. Par 4 – 468/456/433. This is a long, straight hole with large bunkers to either side of a flattish green. This hole feels like it is another 50 yards longer than the yardage. I did like the hole.
6. Par 4 – 412/398/387. Water comes into play on this hole with a rectangular pond coming in from the left about 210 yards from the white tee. A stream then connects this pond to a smaller pond placed at the back right of the hole. The green has no bunkers but it has some decent surrounds with a false/ridge front. The green tilts to the left. It is an okay golf hole.
7. Par 4 – 359/344/300. This hole has a manufactured hill with the green placed atop it surrounded by six bunkers. Due to the height of the green, the fronting bunkers are the rare “deep” bunkers on the course, yet the grade is not enough to prevent a view of the green if one is only halfway down them. It is a gimmicky hole that many will see as fun or be glad to play one of the “breather” holes.
8. Par 5 – 485/475/457. The par on this hole should be changed to a 4. This is the second most scenic hole on the course although a plaque at the tee says do not be distracted by a lighthouse (there is none so it must be a joke). The hole has water down the entire left side with a portion of the fairway bulging out to the left providing a safe landing for those worried about hitting into the houses along the right side. A large area of back-to-back bunkers begins about 120 yards from the green. There is a sliver of sand down the left side all the way to the green. The green has two bunkers at the front and then five bunkers wrapping around the green which has a decent slant to it on the right side.
9. Par 3 – 182/173/162. This hole plays slightly downhill with the marsh to the entire left of the hole. There are two bunkers at the rear and one on the front right which might normally be the “bailout” area. The green is long but a disappointment as it is one-dimensional with a tilt right to left and no other contours.
10. Par 4 – 409/383/343. This hole plays over water twice, both off the tee and with the approach shot. The green is placed left to right behind the water and appears to be thin, but actually offers a fair amount of room. You cannot be short as you will be wet. It is a hole that one has seen often.
11. Par 4 – 454/437/401. One uses the tunnel again to make a very long drive to the eleventh hole which plays as a dogleg left with trees and houses lining both sides. There is a tree on the right corner that prevents those from trying to cut the dogleg without fading the ball around the corner. A bunker is placed on the right about 100 yards from the green with a bunker on the left opposite it. The green has a bunker to either side and is very thin at its front and gets wider at its back. All of the bunkers are shallow. I like the hole even though is a quite similar to the second.
12. Par 3 – 189/179/145. Often described as the signature hole due to the forced carry over the marsh to the green, the hole has two design weaknesses. The first is that the green is overly large with an easy bailout area on its left side. The second is that the front bunker between the marsh (about six feet down) and the green is too thin. A ball finding this bunker is either going to be against a steep 3 feet high face or will roll back against one of the wooden bulwarks, in both cases leaving no shot. While having a bunker here is a good idea as it would provide a chance at recovery, the bunker needs to be at least 3-4 feet wider. It will not detract from the hole. The green tilts left to right and back to front. It is a visually pretty hole and falls short of its potential due to its design flaws.
13. Par 5 – 543/529/475. From the back tees this is a good hole playing from a man-made peninsula behind the twelfth green. From the white tees the bunker short of the fairway and bunker left are not in play. Farther up about 100 yards short of the green is a small inner bunker placed on the left side. The entirety of the right side is marshes/House Creek. The green has a large fronting bunker with a bit of depth that continues down the right side and three on the left side. The green has a higher plateau on its left side. We had a front right pin position so if one is on the plateau or putting from the back, one must judge the pace correctly.
14. Par 4 – 457/425/411. This hole plays over water for the approach shot with a green that is sloped substantially back to front with three rear bunkers. I feel like this hole lacks distinctiveness.
15. Par 4 – 354/339/323. After another long drive one arrives at a dogleg left with trees and houses on both sides. The second shot must carry the marsh and three fronting bunkers to a green angled left to right. The green has a higher back plateau.
16. Par 5 – 560/538/521. Finally, the long drives to get to a tee have ended and one plays to a narrow fairway with bunkers left and right. Trees and houses line the hole which weaves its way but ultimately is going to the right. There is a dip in the fairway about 150 yards from the green where it also narrows. A bunker is placed well off to the left about 100 yards from the hole preceded by an area of marshes. The green has front bunkers on the corner and one at the back left. Behind this green is the Intracoastal Waterway offering an unobstructed view of the condos on the opposite side of the water. The green slopes back to front but has no other change in direction.
17. Par 3 - 208/193/177. This hole plays uphill with a tree on the left side that can come into play. The green is surrounded by four bunkers but none are in the front. The green is sloped back to front but has nothing else going in as it is one dimensional. I did not like this hole due to the poor design of the green.
18. Par 4 – 450/435/410. This hole plays as a sharp dogleg left with marshes down the left but trees and houses down the right. The fairway bulges to the right to provide a chance for salvation although it leaves a long approach shot that must navigate a break in the fairway due to marshes. The green mirrors the ninth in terms of being long and also one dimensional. The only difference is the water is on the opposite side.
My advice on whether to recommend Tidewater is simple. If you do not like to play golf in a riding cart, do not come here. If you expect to play in four hours or less, do not come here. If you want to play a course with many memorable holes, then Tidewater is worth it. Despite the flatness, one-dimensional aspect to too many greens, the shallowness of most of the bunkers, and the blandness of several interior holes, there are six-eight holes here that are very good due to their location and having the better greens and green surrounds. It is a nice public course that I am sure could have been much better if it had been built as a “core” golf course.
A top 10 in the Myrtle Beach Area and must play. Several bulkheaded greens jut out into or sit behind arms of the marsh.
What's interesting about Tidewater is how the course originated. Tax attorney Ken Tomlinson had wanted to have a golf course in the greater Myrtle Beach area but after testing the waters with Rees Jones, Tomlinson opted to create the course himself.
Tidewater is one of the Grand Strand's top courses.
Now, what's important to keep in mind is that Tidewater provides quality golf but the myriad of details that potentially could have elevated it higher are missing.
A truly talented architect has the wherewithal to anticipate elements a novice -- no matter how skilled they may think they area -- can provide.
You can clearly see that in the vanilla green designs. They are good but the intricate nature of what they could have been is missing. A quality architect provides greens that go far beyond your garden variety basic ones.
But, like I said at the outset -- Tidewater still is well done. Tomlinson was keen to avoid adding redundant elements -- in the tee-to-green area -- when playing you need to a full range of shots in order to post a quality score.
For someone who was doing their first course the net result is quite good.
by M. James Ward